When you think of Buffalo, two things come to mind; them chicken wings and that cold weather. Not so much football and the Buffalo Bills, or for that matter, fantasy football. However, this offseason, the Bills made one of their most exciting moves in a long time, drafting sure-handed, explosive wide receiver out of Clemson University, Sammy Watkins. This move could potentially put both of the aforementioned sports back on the map. Going position by position, let’s take a look at what assets the Bills will provide for the upcoming fantasy football season.
Last year, the Buffalo Bills made a surprising move, selecting E.J. Manuel as the first quarterback off the board at 16 overall in the 2013 NFL Draft. The concerns from scouts about his NFL potential were very real and it showed in his rookie season. Manuel’s 2013 season consisted of highs, lows and injury woes. He missed six games due to knee issues, providing reason to add 10 pounds of muscle for durability this offseason. While it’s anyone’s guess as to the effect this will have, he will have to tremendously improve his accuracy if he wants to experience more success in his second campaign under center for the Bills. The addition of star wide out Sammy Watkins should help improve his numbers a bit, but unless major changes are made he is still a long shot to provide fantasy relevance consistently. He did however provide owners with 6 20+ fantasy point performances but they were too sporadic to consider him a dependable option.
Manuel’s rushing ability does give incentive to draft him ahead of other low ranking quarterbacks, but as of now Manuel should only be a backup or a very deep league starter.
The Bill’s running back production has been much more friendly to fantasy investors over the last couple of years than that of the QB position. This can be attributed to the highly effective 1-2 combination of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson.
I have already written a full 2014 C.J. Spiller fantasy outlook which can be found here. But to summarize, it went something like this: Spiller is definitely capable, but unlikely to maintain his 2012 form throughout the full 2014 season. He is a bit on the frail side, and Fred Jackson will just never go away, nor surrender his goal line carries. It would be unwise to hinge on his past success as an RB1. While he will certainly be healthier this time around, look for Spiller as an RB2 with upside.
With an unhealthy and unreliable Spiller battling for carries, Fred Jackson took full advantage of the Bills backfield opportunities last year. Something I bet few people realized last season is that Jackson actually finished as the number 10 ranked running back. This ranked him ahead of players like Reggie Bush, Frank Gore, Alfred Morris, etc. Clearly, the Bills still have faith in their 33 year old veteran, extending his contract through the 2015 season. Jackson and Spiller will most likely split the carry duties as usual, with Jackson leaned on in goal line situations. Look at Jackson as an RB3 with high upside if Spiller suffers any loss of time.
Just to add a quick note on free agent signee Bryce Brown. He is in line as the third running back on the depth chart. Behind LeSean McCoy, Brown proved to have some serious talent. He will only be a backup/change of pace back at the moment for the Bills, but could be a late round value pick if an injury occurs in the Buffalo backfield, halting him to the second spot on the depth chart.
With Stevie Johnson in San Fran, the Bills will have a new receiver atop the depth charts. With the 4th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills selected star wide out Sammy Watkins. I truly believe that Watkins is a once-in-a-3 to 5-year type of receiver. Give him a year or two to develop and he will be discussed with elite receivers like Dez Bryant, Julio Jones and Demaryius Thomas (Calvin is in his own world). He has world class speed. He has the elite body type of a prototypical #1 receiver. He has outstanding body control and agility. He has an incredible natural, ability to catch the ball with his hands. His run after the catch ability is superb. The list goes on and on (Check out this ridiculous catch he made a few weeks ago). Literally the only thing keeping this kid down is the fact that E.J. Manuel will be throwing him the ball. Regardless, Watkins has the talent to make even the worst NFL quarterback look Peyton Manning-esq.
According to Yahoo’s current ADP, Watkins is being picked at a ridiculously low WR38 and 109th overall. Do not be surprised if Watkins blows this ranking away. Look to draft him as a high-end WR3 with upside.
Buffalo’s number two and three WRs on the depth chart include Robert Woods and Mike Williams. Robert Woods is a name that garnered some pre-season buzz last year but he couldn’t live up to the hype. The coaching staff seems to be high on Woods this offseason and he showed why in their first preseason game against the Giants, snagging 4 catches for 59 yards and a second quarter touchdown. Obviously, this is only a preseason game so don’t look too much into it. Both Robert Woods and Mike Williams should be looked at as deep league bench receivers, giving Woods the edge due to youth and upside. With Manuel delivering them the ball, they should only be considered in 14+ team leagues.
The leading receiver in Buffalo last season came from this position. Scott Chandler, to be more specific. Even while leading the Bills in receiving, Chandler barely cracked the top 20, finishing 19th at the position, with 53 catches for 655 yards and 2 touchdowns. With Watkins now in town, you could expect those numbers to stay stagnant at best, so look at Chandler as a low TE2.
Kicker & Team Defense
If nothing else, the Bills will at least have a K1, if that is even a thing. Dan Carpenter impressed last year in Buffalo, enough for them to sign him to a 4-year, $10 million deal. He finished as fantasy’s #10 ranked kicker last year, converting 4 out of his 6 attempts of 50+ yards, so that is definitely a plus. Do yourself a favor and take a kicker with your last pick. If you happen to draft towards the end of the last round and Carpenter is available, select away.
The Bills Defense quietly finished with the second most interceptions and sacks last season. Finishing 7th overall in team defense, the Bills were a solid roster spot for many fantasy owners. However, it doesn’t look like a repeat performance is in store, and for good reason. Their stud safety Jarius Byrd has joined the Saints in New Orleans, while blitz-loving, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine left to fill the head coaching void in Cleveland. What may be worse for the Bills than both of those departures is the loss of Kiko Alonso, the heart and soul of their defense, who suffered a torn ACL this offseason. This is all without mentioning that their top cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin are both recovering from offseason hip surgery. So, it is safe to say the Bills defense will see a MAJOR downgrade in terms of fantasy success in this upcoming season.