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How Khalil Shakir has earned Josh Allen's trust – and why that could be big for the Buffalo Bills' receiver

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Khalil Shakir has acquired the most valuable trait that a wide receiver for the Buffalo Bills can possess.

“I have a lot of trust in him,” quarterback Josh Allen said of the team’s second-year veteran. “I think he’s only going to continue to grow in his role.”

What exactly that role looks like in 2023 remains to be seen, but there were signs at the end of Shakir’s rookie season that pointed to him being ready to assume a larger role in the offense. Shakir was targeted seven times during the Bills’ two playoff games. For comparison, he had the same number of targets from Weeks 9-18 of the regular season, a stretch of nine games.

“He knows his position. He knows the ‘Z,’ he knows the ‘X.’ He’s going to have a really good year,” Allen said. “I’m not quite sure what (Shakir’s role will be) and how it’s going to look like for everybody, but the dude shows up every day with a smile on his face. He’s ready to work. He works extremely hard, and our relationship on the field is growing, just reading his body language and such. So, I’m very excited about what he’s showing right now and what he has to offer for this team.”

Shakir had 10 catches for 161 yards and one touchdown in the regular season as a rookie, then added five catches for 91 yards in the postseason. 

“I so badly want to bring a Super Bowl here to Buffalo,” Allen said. “And I just don't want anything to get in the way of allowing me to be the best quarterback that I can be for this team.”

“Definitely, a year in this offense helps out a lot,” he said during a phone conversation with The Buffalo News on Thursday. “When you first get here, you're learning all the plays from all the different positions, so being in it a year, it definitely feels like things have slowed down a little bit, but at the same time, still have a lot to learn within the offense, as well, so continuing to grow every day is also on my mind, as well.”

The depth chart at wide receiver behind Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis is fairly wide open. Shakir figures to be in competition with free agent additions Trent Sherfield and Deonte Harty for the No. 3 receiver role. Keep in mind, too, that the team used a first-round draft pick on tight end Dalton Kincaid, and it is likely that the team will use more "12" personnel – meaning one running back and two tight ends are on the field at the same time. In that package, the team likely will play just two receivers.

Nevertheless, the point remains: Playing time at receiver is up for grabs.

“My mind is on 'Control what you can control.' Showing up every day and putting my best foot forward is something I can control,” Shakir said. “Trent and Harty, having those guys in the room, they're awesome. We all bond pretty well, help each other out when we're out there on the field. If I'm doing something wrong, the receiver room, as a whole, will be one of the first to point it out and let me know, so it's been great.”

It is not uncommon for the Bills to ask their rookies at receiver to learn a specific role at the position, which strengthens the team’s depth. That was true for Shakir last year.

“He’s a conceptual learner, and he’s fine-tuning and getting better at his craft,” said Adam Henry, the team’s new wide receivers coach. “I’m just telling him the ins and outs and just owning the multiple roles and knowing the whole offense. When we first got together, nobody had a position – he just learned the offense – and now we’re sectioning off to where we’re going. He’s really, really progressing in the details of his routes and making sure he’s (improving) on the top of his routes and his breaks.”

As a rookie, Shakir, who stands 6-foot and weighs 190 pounds, ran 181 passing snaps. On those, he lined up in the slot 111 times, and out wide 70 times, according to analytics website Pro Football Focus. There was a clamoring among some Bills fans for him to play more, although that could have been in part because of the frustration with the inconsistency of the team's primary slot receiver last season, Isaiah McKenzie. Partly because of that frustration, the Bills re-signed Cole Beasley late in the season. Beasley's second stint with the team ended up making a big impression on Shakir.

"The first time I watched ‘Bease’ practice, I was like, my jaw dropped all the time just watching how he moved, how he ran his routes,” Shakir said at the end of the 2022 season. “I’d ask him what his plan was when it’s man coverage or when it’s zone and everything he was explaining to me, it was ... stuff that I had never thought about before. So definitely him coming in, he definitely taught me a lot, and I appreciate him for being willing to teach me about the game and teach me all those little details. It is definitely awesome to get to know him and learn from him.”

With McKenzie released and Beasley not re-signed, the primary slot role – presuming Kincaid doesn't occupy that role full time – is there for the taking.

Shakir averaged 8.3 yards after catch per reception last season, according to advanced statistics compiled by Pro Football Reference, which led the team. That ability to make plays in space will be big if he is to have an expanded role. On the flip side, his two drops on 23 targets in the regular season and playoffs was a drop percentage of 11.8 that was the second-highest on the team, behind only Jamison Crowder’s 14.3%, according to Pro Football Focus.

“I've got to continue to stack days, but I can't stack days without completing one,” he said. “Wake up, refresh my mind. Don't get too high, don't get too low. Stay neutral within the process, as well. When you come in, the playbook from college to the league is a bit different. It could be a lot more. But at the end of the day, for me, it's sticking to what I know, and that's studying everything every single day. Showing the coaches that I do know all the different positions and just making sure that I stay on top of it.”

“There he goes. One of God's own prototypes.

A high-powered mutant of some kind, never even considered for mass production.

Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

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