Fantasy Football 32: Buffalo Bills
I was six years old.
Folks listened to music via walkman, we rented movies from Blockbuster and floppy disks were our saviors. It was 1999 and the last time the Buffalo Bills made the NFL Playoffs, the longest drought in the league today. But this team seems to be on that cusp of taking that next step. Last year, they had a top-10 defensive unit that ranked top-three in both sacks and interceptions, and they have explosive weapons on the offensive side of the football. So could this be the year the Bills fully circle the wagons?
Probably not, but fantasy owners don’t care, right?
Buffalo continues to wait for their next franchise quarterback.
During his rookie campaign, EJ Manuel showed flashes. A few good signs and a memorable, emotional come-from-behind victory over the Panthers, Manuel has upside and promise. However, he is also very, very raw. His deep ball accuracy is inconsistent, doesn’t step into his throws enough, not terrific in recognizing blitz and footwork needs work. But if he can take that next step, Buffalo could do the same in the AFC.
Of course, you aren’t touching him in fantasy unless you are in a two-quarterback format. But keep an eye on your waiver wire during weeks five and seven. Manuel faces the Lions in Week 5, a secondary that may go into the season with Darius Slay as their number one corner. Then, during Week 7, Buffalo faces a Vikings pass defense that surrendered the most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks last year (22.51), while allowing a league-leading 37 passing scores. Nick Foles and Josh McCown will both be on a bye for Week 7, so Manuel could be a tremendous streaming option.
Needless to say, Buffalo is still waiting for the next Jim Kelly.
This is where it gets good.
Everyone knows that Buffalo is known for their running game. Last year, no team in football ran the ball more than the Bills’ 34.1 times per game, and under head coach Doug Marrone, that trend may not change anytime soon.
So even with this crowded backfield in Buffalo, there will be plenty of volume to be had. Obviously, many fantasy fans are upset over the way C.J. Spiller hobbled to a 27th overall finish among running backs. A consensus top-10 running back on draft day, Spiller busted, but so did a handful of other first round running backs. And consider this. The guy, despite dealing with a nagging high ankle sprain all year long, still rushed for 927 yards (4.6 YPC) and, most importantly, carried the ball a healthy 201 times. Only 21 rushers eclipsed 200 carries last year, and Spiller managed to do it in a split backfield. He still showcased his big play ability, and I’d be hard-pressed to find five other rushers with more potential than Spiller.
Don’t forget about 2012.
During that year, Spiller was the number seven back in fantasy, while only two running backs finished with more fantasy points per snap than Spiller (via PFF), and his 2.1 yards after contact were the third-best in football. And while many may see Spiller is a boom-0r-bust, big play guy, he was the opposite, finishing with the sixth-highest consistency rating among running backs, according to Tristan Cockroft of ESPN.
So Spiller was a top-12 fantasy back 81 percent of the time, despite only actually being named Buffalo’s starting back in nine of the 16 games. He’s fully healthy, Buffalo wants to use him more and you can get him on the cheap. After having to use a top-seven pick on him in 2013, fantasy owners can get him two whole rounds later, and if he hits like I know he can, you’ll be buying a new pair of shoes.
Of course, there is still Fred Jackson, who I still love as a potential value. The guy has been one of the most overlooked backs in fantasy over the last three years, and he quietly finished 11th among fantasy backs last year. And while there has been some talk of him seeing a decreased role, I don’t think it’ll be enough to warrant concern. Spiller, as talented as he is, won’t be their goal line back. Just two of his 12 career rushing scores have come from inside the five-yard line, and Buffalo ranked 29th in goal-to-go efficiency last year, so they’ll need Jackson’s power and size to be the goal line back. Meanwhile, Bryce Brown runs east/west far too much for my liking, and I think he is more of a future investment, as Spiller and Jackson are both entering the final year of their deals, with Jackson being on the wrong side of 30.
I absolutely love Sammy Watkins. I absolutely hate rookie wide receivers in fantasy football.
Now I’m torn.
Buffalo invested quite a bit to get Watkins fourth overall during the draft, so I’m sure they’ll utilize him quite a bit. He has been impressing during OTAs, has great maturity and work ethic and we all know the talent he has, being the purest wideout since the likes of A.J. Green. However, as much as I love Watkins, and as excited as I am to have him on my favorite team, I’m shying away from him in fantasy. Last year, Keenan Allen became just the second rookie receiver to post 1,000 yards since 2005, and the track record for first year wideouts isn’t pretty.
Also, if Buffalo’s offense doesn’t adjust, Watkins may not be as productive. Watkins was a screen monster during his final year at Clemson, as 57 percent of his catches came off the screen game. Meanwhile, Buffalo threw a screen pass to the wide receiver 0.7 percent of the time, according to Pro Football Focus, tying for the third-lowest percentage in football. Also, I’m not 100 percent sold on EJ Manuel’s deep ball accuracy, either.