Khalil Shakir settling into new role with Bills as a team leader


Staff member

Wide receivers can sometimes earn the label of being divas in the NFL.

The Buffalo Bills might have known a thing or two about that last year. Allegedly.

They have absolutely nothing to worry about when it comes to the one returning receiver who caught a pass for the team last year, however.

Khalil Shakir is about as far from a diva as a player can get at the position. He is also in line to step into the significant void left by the departures of Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis.

“I’ve always been a guy that’s just do my job, and then do what I’m supposed to do – the correct way, the way that they’re teaching it, the way we’re doing it in preparation – and then everything else will fall into place,” Shakir said this week. “So, for me, it’s just always been, if I’ve got to go in there and block 50 times, go in there and block 50 times. If I’ve got to go in there and run a route, run a go route and run off 50 times, I’m going to do it. I’m huge in what goes around comes around.”

Not surprisingly, that approach has earned Shakir the trust and admiration of this teammates and the coaching staff.

“Seeing his evolution last year was huge,” offensive coordinator Joe Brady said. “He’s an extremely bright player. Like, the intelligence that I talk about, that is Khalil Shakir when he’s out there, and his feel of the zones and understanding the man, can play outside, play inside.

“He’s everything you look for in a wide receiver.”

Shakir proved over the final 10 games of last season and the Bills’ two playoff games that he’s ready for a bigger role in the offense. He finished those 10 games with 31 catches for 537 yards. In the postseason, he finished with 10 catches for 75 yards and two touchdowns.

Khalil Shakir is the only returning receiver on the Buffalo Bills’ roster who caught a pass from quarterback Josh Allen last season. Harry Scull Jr., Buffalo News

“You’re going to continue to grow. You’re going to continue to develop,” Brady said. “You’re going to get a feel of defenses and how to run routes and leverages. There are so many more elements than just running routes just on air. So from the evolution of next (season), I think there is a lot on Khalil, and, fortunately, his work ethic and his approach, there’s no reason he can’t continue to grow.”

A couple of plays really stood out. Against Miami in the regular-season finale, Shakir took a short pass and exploded down the left sideline for a 46-yard gain, hitting a gear that he had not previously shown. Then, against Pittsburgh in the wild-card round, he scored on a spectacular, 17-yard catch in the fourth quarter to ice the win – displaying incredible balance as he dodged defenders on the way into the end zone.

“Honestly, man, I was just playing football,” Shakir said about that play. “It’s funny. People are like, ‘How did you do that?’ For me, I caught the ball and just reacted and just played ball. I wouldn’t say it was just like the statement thing, but I think it definitely showed a lot of my capabilities and what I can do.”

Bills wide receiver Khalil Shakir pulls away from Steelers defensive tackle Cameron Heyward on his way to a touchdown during the fourth quarter at Highmark Stadium on Jan. 15. Buffalo News file

That understated approach pretty much sums up Shakir. He is, admittedly, not a vocal leader – something he is working on improving – but when he steps into the weight room or between the white lines, he is determined to set the right example. Given that he is now the most experienced receiver in the offense, even at just 24 years old entering his third NFL season, that’s imperative.

“Obviously, it was very visible with Stef last year when he would step onto the practice field and running from drill to drill, just how intense he was and how ready he was every time he touched the practice field,” Shakir said. “We’re all professionals, and we all kind of know that right here, right now, this practice is the most important thing. We have to make sure that we take every rep serious.”

Shakir enters the 2024 season firmly entrenched among the Bills’ top three receivers. Right now, that group also looks to include rookie Keon Coleman and Curtis Samuel, who was signed in free agency.

Given that both of them are new to playing with quarterback Josh Allen, it will take time for chemistry to form. Shakir, then, figures to be leaned on heavily, especially early in the season.

Ultimately, however, there is an expectation that the Bills will spread the ball around a lot more than they did last year, when Diggs dominated the time-share.

“Everybody eats,” is how Brady describes it.

“That’s the mentality he’ll tell us all the time,” Shakir said. “That’s whether you’re running a certain route, you got to go and you got to clear for your buddy who’s coming running an out route, or whatever it is. What goes around comes around. If you got to sit there and run a go 50 times, do it full speed 50 times, then that 51st time it might be you running that out and somebody else is clearing the ball for you, you know?”

Shakir understood that Diggs was one of the best receivers in the league, so it made sense to filter the offense through him as much as possible. The Bills don’t have a receiver on the roster at that level, so the “everybody eats” approach might be as much necessity as it is a choice.

“Our mentality as a receiver room is everybody’s trying to learn every different spot so we can play fast and not have to think about it,” Shakir said. “If you’re playing Z, and you got to run a go so the F can get open, you got to do it. Then, five plays later, it’ll probably flip-flop. I definitely think us trying to spread and spread the ball, and get everybody open, get everybody involved, just allows for us to have so much more targets. As a group, we all know what we’re doing.”

Shakir finished last season averaging 7.2 yards after catch per reception. Among wide receivers, that ranked third in the NFL behind only San Francisco’s Deebo Samuel and Kansas City’s Rashee Rice. In an effort to improve on that skill going into 2024, Shakir has spent significant time in the weight room this offseason to add the necessary strength to run through tackles when it is required.

“It’s weird, right now, because we’re not in pads, we’re not hitting, we’re not tackling,” he said, “but I think it’s more of just a mentality, of when you catch the ball right now, working up field, whether the dude tagged off on you right away or not. It’s just putting in your brain that when you catch the ball, and you make a move, do that now, (so) then when the pads get put on, it just happens, you know?”
Love Shakir....looked awesome last season......dude is young and talented and only gonna get a whole lot better IMO when he gets the ball!
Love Shakir....looked awesome last season......dude is young and talented and only gonna get a whole lot better IMO when he gets the ball!
I've got a feeling he's gonna take a big step up this year