Fantasy Outlook: Buffalo Bills
Here’s the latest in our team preview series, a look at the 2015 Buffalo Bills.
The Buffalo Bills will be one of the most difficult teams to forecast in fantasy football because they’ve undergone a dramatic overhaul this offseason. New coach, new (potential) quarterbacks, new star running back, new tight end, new slot threat, new offensive line.
But the other side of the ball should be just as dominant, and that’s where their strength lies, in real life and fantasy.
Here’s a breakdown of all their fantasy prospects.
The defense will be playing for its third coordinator in three years, but its most remarkable quality is its versatility. In 2013, they were coached by Mike Pettine, a protégé of new head coach Rex Ryan who ran a base 3-4. Last season, they switched to a wide-nine 4-3 under Jim Schwartz. But you wouldn’t know it by their play-making numbers. They went from second to first in sacks, and third to third in takeaways.
Last year, Buffalo was fourth-best in the league in both points and yards allowed, and now they’ll be under one of the top defensive minds in the game in Ryan. While he’s known as a 3-4 guy, he tailors his schemes to best fit his talent, and does he ever have that in Buffalo.
Mario Williams has 27.5 sacks over the past two years, placing fourth in the league in each season. The other edge rusher, Jerry Hughes, has 19.5 sacks and five forced fumbles in that time. Marcell Dareus led all defensive tackles with 10 sacks in 2014. And don’t forget four-time Pro Bowler Kyle Williams. No matter what formation they show, the Bills will get to the quarterback, making them a top-three fantasy unit.
Other IDP leaders are inside linebackers Preston Brown (109 tackles as a rookie) and Nigel Bradham (104). If Percy Harvin returns kickoffs, he’s taken five of them to the end zone in his career, though he hasn’t had a return for TD since 2012.
A potential dent in this armor is age. Kyle Williams is 32 and Mario Williams has reached 30. Will Hughes stay hungry now that he has a mega-deal? And streamers beware. The Bills open against Indianapolis, and Dareus is suspended for that game. The schedule is not bad after that, as the top threats are the Giants in Week 4 and Patriots in Week 11 (the Bills get to face the Pats without Tom Brady in Week 2, if his suspension holds).
“Shady” had a disappointing fall from fantasy superstardom in 2014. With just five touchdowns, 4.2 yards per carry and 28 catches, McCoy played like a No. 2 fantasy back last year in Philadelphia, so that’s his baseline as he changes scenery. It wasn’t all his fault, as injuries and a suspension hit the Eagles’ strong line hard, but Buffalo had the worst run-blocking line in the league last year, so drastic improvement is needed if McCoy is going to be dependent on his line.
Also consider the downgrade in overall offense. Last year, the Eagles were eighth in the league in offensive touchdowns, and Buffalo was 23rd. Even though McCoy’s TDs were low, the Eagles actually were tied for fifth with 16 rushing scores, so it wasn’t that they didn’t get their backs to the end zone. With the Bills’ QB situation still a muddled mess, it’s a legit concern that even with their offensive additions, they won’t get near the goal line as much as the Eagles did.
Another strike is that new coordinator Greg Roman doesn’t involve his backs in the passing game much. The 49ers were second-last in the league in RB targets last year. McCoy gets no PPR bump.
But there are signs of hope, primarily that McCoy will be a workhorse on the ground. Roman ran a run-heavy offense in San Francisco. In his four years there, the 49ers were third, third, second and seventh in the NFL in run-pass ratio. Expect more of that in Buffalo, which doesn’t have a Darren Sproles to steal touches in the red zone. The Bills’ outstanding defense will give the ball back to a ball-control offense often and in good field position.
The Bills also have upgraded their line. The new starting guards are former Pro Bowler Richie Incognito and third-round rookie John Miller, who earned raves in OTAs for how quickly he picked up the offense. However, O-line coach Aaron Kromer’s arrest throws the unit into uncertainty. McCoy also gets a boost from fullback Jerome Felton, who helped pave the way for Adrian Peterson in his prime.
So while McCoy is no longer a top-five back who can be drafted in the top half of the first round, his talent and workload make him a good target around the first turn. His ADP is 15th overall, which is about right.
WAIT ON ‘EM
It’s not fair to be drafted in the greatest rookie receiver class ever, but Watkins was overshadowed by Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin last year. Still, he had a decent season with 982 yards (24th in the league) and six touchdowns (tied for 29th). Those are WR3 numbers, so the question is whether he can make the leap to WR2. The changes the Bills have made on offense will make that difficult.
Buffalo added Percy Harvin and Charles Clay to a receiving corps that also includes Robert Woods, and while they may draw coverage away from Watkins, they weren’t signed to be decoys. That’s more mouths to feed on an offense expected to be ground-heavy, as explained in McCoy’s analysis.
The talent is there, but with shaky quarterbacks throwing fewer passes to more receivers, it’s hard to justify being the 19th-ranked wideout drafted in the late fourth round, which is his ADP. Let someone else take him that high.
This talented but enigmatic playmaker’s career changed on Nov. 4, 2012, when he suffered an ankle injury that eventually ended his season. In nine games to that point, he was on pace for 110 catches, over 1,200 yards and seven offensive touchdowns. He’s struggled to regain fantasy relevance in the two seasons since, even when healthy, as he bounced from Minnesota to Seattle to New York. That’s three teams that have dumped him in three years.
Don’t look for his mojo in to return in Buffalo, with the aforementioned hurdles of a conservative offense, competition for targets and bad quarterbacking. Add in his history of injuries and controversy, and he’s risky even as a fourth receiver. He’s worth a flier if hanging around in the late rounds, but not before then.
FredEx has quieted his doubters for years, and while that makes him enormously popular in blue-collar Buffalo, you’ve got to think the end is soon for the league’s oldest running back (34). You don’t want him on your team when the breakdown happens.
With McCoy’s arrival, Jackson is at best a third-down back, and that’s not expected to be productive in Roman’s offense. He had PPR value last season as he led the Bills with 66 catches, and that’s now down the drain.
He’s being drafted this summer, thanks to his positive reputation, but he shouldn’t be taking up a roster spot other than as a handcuff to McCoy.
While a five-year, $38 million contract illustrates the craziness of free agency, the Bills wouldn’t have shelled out that kind of money if they didn’t see Clay as a big part of their offense. His real-life value is in his versatility, so while that limits his fantasy upside, he remains a sneaky weapon who will get looks while Watkins, Harvin and McCoy draw defenses’ attention. If he isn’t drafted, Clay should remain near the top of fantasy owners’ bye week/injury plug lists.
The Bills’ quarterback competition is truly wide open, and this fifth-year man is an elite athlete who has a legitimate shot to win it. Rex Ryan has coveted him for years, and while his passing deficiencies have kept him a backup in Baltimore, he could rack up fantasy points with his feet. Roman’s offense in San Francisco featured running quarterbacks. Colin Kaepernick has rushed for 1,578 yards and 10 touchdowns in two and a half seasons as a starter there. If Taylor wins the job, he’s a super-sleeper in deep leagues.
The fifth-round draft pick has the physical tools at 6-1, 230 with 4.48 speed, but needs development in other areas and has to work his way up a lengthy depth chart in Buffalo. If McCoy were to miss any length of time and Jackson’s age finally catches up to him, Williams could get a significant opportunity ahead of Bryce Brown and Anthony Dixon, mediocre holdovers from the previous regime. He’s a name to remember.
Now in his third year after being (over)drafted in the first round, this is likely Manuel’s last chance to play up to that investment. He’s struggled with accuracy and hesitancy, but a new coaching staff may help his mental game catch up with his impressive arm and mobility. If he survives the QB competition, that could mean he has made that leap…or it could be because the other two contenders were that bad. It takes regular-season game action to know the difference, so he shouldn’t be drafted even if he starts.
Even if he starts, he’d be little more than a game manager. Reports out of minicamps were not positive for the 33-year-old journeyman, who doesn’t have the upside of Manuel or Taylor.
He tied Watkins with 65 catches last year, but Harvin and Clay crush the borderline fantasy roster value Woods had.
He had a brief window of opportunity when Jackson and C.J. Spiller were hurt last year, but did little with it. Brown is now back to the familiar role of backing up McCoy, no better than third on the depth chart and in danger of getting cut.
“Seven-11” had his moments last year as he caught 41 passes with four touchdowns, but he’s down to fourth, at best, on the WR depth chart and would need at least two injuries in front of him to have fantasy relevance.
“Boobie” gives the Bills special-teams prowess, so his roster spot is safer than Brown’s, and he played for three years under Roman in San Francisco. But considering he averaged less than two carries a game during that time, that connection is not an advantage.
The world-class sprinter has more value in fantasy track-and-field leagues.
The backup tight end’s intrigue stems from Week 12 last year, when he had receptions of 41 and 30 yards. If Clay gets hurt, we can talk, but until then, ignore him.
Keith Kraska is a correspondent at FantasyPros. To read more from Keith, check out his archive.