A 22-year-old Khalil Shakir had his first breakout game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 3 of 2022, his rookie season.
On just his fifth target of his career, Shakir lifted his body into the air to make a catch in triple-coverage. The former fifth round pick caught his first career touchdown later in the game, catching a low ball from Josh Allen and shaking off his defender on his way to the end zone.
Roughly 15 months later, Shakir once again made his presence felt in a game against the Steelers — this time in the Super Wild Card round of the NFL Playoffs as the young receiver continues to establish himself as a key part of the Bills offense.
The Bills, who jumped out to a 21-point lead late in the second quarter, led the Steelers by just a touchdown with 6:30 remaining in the fourth quarter.
In need of a final blow, Allen found Shakir on a quick slant around the Pittsburgh 15-yard line. He was met by Pittsburgh safety Minkah Fitzpatrick a few yards off the line of scrimmage, where the play should have ended.
Fitzpatrick grabbed Shakir from behind and threw him to the ground instead of holding on and bringing him down. That proved to be a mistake.
Shakir, just inches from the ground, threw his hand down to stabilize his body, backpedaled two steps and turned around, fighting his way into the end zone for what broadcaster Jim Nantz appropriately called "the play of the night."
"It felt like he didn't wrap up and when you're out there, everything's moving so fast, you're just reacting," Shakir said after the Bills' 31-17 Super Wild Card win.
For legendary former Bills receiver Eric Moulds, who works out with Shakir in the offseason, the play was nothing out of the ordinary for a receiver the three-time Pro Bowler thinks is ready to make a name for himself.
"I wasn't surprised at all because I've seen it all summer," Moulds said. "I think a lot of fans are really getting a chance this second half of the season to see the hard work that Shakir put in."
Shakir caught a league-high 14.3 percent of his targets above expected and has caught 16 straight targets dating back to Week 16. The second-year receiver is averaging 13.6 yards per target, the highest mark in the NFL. While he is averaging just over 2.5 targets per game, Shakir has been a reliable weapon for Allen. Moulds said that he advised Shakir to focus on seemingly small details, which has helped the young receiver carve out a role on the offense.
"I told him I didn't want him to just be a receiver that caught the ball. As you can see, he blocks, he's one of the guys that they put in a lot of the blocking game. I wanted him to be a complete receiver because you got an outstanding number one in (Stefon) Diggs and (Gabe) Davis is your number two, so you got to make your way to be the number three," Moulds said.
Diggs, Davis, Dalton Kincaid and James Cook are more targeted than Shakir, but the product of Boise State has seen his usage increase significantly over the course of the season.
Between Weeks 1 and 7, Shakir was in for just under 27 percent of Buffalo's offensive snaps. After tight end Dawson Knox had wrist surgery, Shakir's usage shot up to nearly 77 percent of snaps. Even with Knox back on the field, Shakir has remained on the field for a majority of snaps in all but one game.
His uptick in usage could be attributed to the consistent approach Moulds described he saw from Shakir during their time together over the summer.
"I look at Khalil — and I've trained a lot of pro athletes, college athletes — and the thing with Khalil was consistency," Moulds said. "He's never late, he's always on time, 15 minutes ahead of time, and he works his butt off six days a week and never complains. All he does is smile and work hard."
While head coach Sean McDermott said that Shakir's 40-yard dash time or other measurables didn't jump off the charts, general manager Brandon Beane and his staff did an excellent job of evaluating the intangibles that make Shakir a valuable addition to the offense.
"He takes a team-first approach to his work and, whether he's highly involved in the game plan or not as involved, you don't notice a difference and I think that's really speaks volumes about who he is and again, the amount of respect that his teammates have for him, because he's all about the team," McDermott said.
Both Shakir's team-first mentality and his consistency can be seen in his availability. Shakir has yet to end up on the injury report this season, playing in every game.
While he's not always a focal point of the offense, Shakir's ability to make plays in key moments has led to the young receiver making a name for himself and paved the way for plenty more opportunities in the future.
"He's one of those players that I think, if he does what he's supposed to do, he'll be with the Buffalo Bills for the next 10 years," Moulds said.