ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The Bills have very few holes to fill heading into training camp, but one of the position battles is for the kick and punt return duties.
Andre Roberts departed in free agency after earning Pro Bowl honors as a return man in each of the two seasons he spent with the Bills. Roberts averaged 28.5 yards per kick return and 8.9 yards per punt return over that time, including leading the NFL in KR average in 2020 at 30 YPR.
There are a handful of candidates to replace Roberts, beginning with Isaiah McKenzie.
McKenzie handled kick and punt return duties more early in his career, but showed how dynamic he can be when holding the job week 17 last season against Miami, with McKenzie returning a punt for an 84-yard touchdown, the first by a Bills player since 2014. Overall in his career, McKenzie has averaged 19.2 yards over 20 kick returns and 9.5 yards over 39 punt returns. His involvement on offense as might give him an upper-hand over others in the competition as the Bills look to maximize roster spots.
Brandon Powell was signed to a one-year deal in March. He held return duties for the Falcons in 2020, averaging 20.2 YPR on 17 kick returns as well as 8.9 YPR on 17 punt returns. Similar to Roberts, Powell likely would not be involved much at all on offense, seeing 18 targets in 15 games last season, catching 12 passes for 69 yards and 2 TDs.
Marquez Stevenson was a 6th round pick by the Bills this spring. Kick returns were his specialty at Houston, averaging 26.1 YPR over 34 career kick returns. Most impressive were the three kick returns for a touchdown Stevenson had the past two seasons.
One final wild card could be Christian Wade, although with the NFL extending the International Pathway Program roster exemption, I'd call it quite a long shot for Wade to do enough to lead the Bills to have him part of the final 53.
I'd call McKenzie the likely winner of the job, especially because he'd fill two roles with one roster spot, freeing up things at other positions. Stevenson also could be in the mix as the Bills have shown they value draft picks come cut day. Maybe they split duties, with Stevenson taking kick-offs and McKenzie punt returns.