By Cole Hoopingarner (with Contributions from Joe Zollo and Chris Tyler)
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The Buffalo Bills broke their 18-season playoff drought last year. They ended up losing to Jacksonville, but hey, at least they made it in. That wasn’t much consolation to fantasy owners who took chances on many of the Bills last year, though. Let’s start with the good: LeSean McCoy finished as fantasy’s seventh-best running back last year, even with fewer yards per carry and rushing touchdowns. After that, it was bad. Tyrod Taylor finished as QB19 — nothing to get excited about. Buffalo acquired wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin in a trade with Carolina, but he underwhelmed in his six games with the team (more on that later). Wide receiver Deonte Thompson had three weeks in which he scored more than 13 points but was a dud the rest of the season. Last but not least, tight end Charles Clay produced top 10 numbers when he was healthy. But, as usual, he got hurt, so he finished outside the top 10 again.
|(Projected Starting Lineup)|
|QB1||A.J. McCarron (w/ CIN)||2.64||QB55|
|QB3||(R) Josh Allen||N/A||N/A|
|RB2||Chris Ivory (w/ JAX)||84.70||RB57|
|WR3||Jeremy Kerley (w/ NYJ)||45.70||WR109|
|WR4||(R) Ray-Ray McCloud||N/A||N/A|
The quarterback position seems to get deeper and deeper each year in fantasy. It’s not far-fetched at all to predict that 15 quarterbacks could top 300 points in 2018. AJ McCarron is not one of those guys. He simply doesn’t have enough games under his belt nor the talent surrounding him to warrant a place on your roster.
McCarron will battle rookie Josh Allen for the starting job. I think Allen’s the fifth best quarterback out of college this year, behind Rosen, Darnold, Mayfield, and Lamar Jackson, in that order. Allen’s the biggest project out of all those guys due to his lackluster completion percentage in college and the poor competition he’s faced thus far. I also think he landed in the worst spot out of all those prospects. There’s just not much talent in Buffalo to get excited about and the run-first scheme is bothersome too. He could be worth taking a chance in a dynasty league, but you shouldn’t expect much production in 2018.
Don’t look now, but it looks like age and a severe lack of talent surrounding him may be catching up to LeSean McCoy. Last year, he finished as fantasy’s RB7. But a deeper look at his numbers should concern those of us who’ve relied on him as our RB1 for the last 9 years. He rushed the ball 287 times, the third most in a season in his career and 53 more times than he carried the rock in 2016. What’s worrying is that those 53 extra carries produced 129 fewer yards. And with just six rushing touchdowns, he produced less than half of his 2016 touchdown total (13). Shady’s going to be relied on more as he enters his age-30 season, and that’s not a good thing. Now, don’t get me wrong — I still believe Shady is a top 15 back and will be the best RB2 in the league. But the days of counting on Shady as a top 5 performer at the position seem to be behind us. I’ll predict 1,100 rushing yards, six rushing touchdowns, and 45 catches for 350 yards and two receiving scores.
The Bills acquired journeyman Chris Ivory this offseason to backup McCoy. Ivory’s shown flashes of reliability and production over the past few years, but he seems to be fading away as a dependable fantasy option. As a backup and someone not particularly involved in the passing game, he’s nothing more than a handcuff to Shady.
Kelvin Benjamin made a splash as a rookie in 2014 with the Carolina Panthers. During his first season he caught 73 passes for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns. Since his impressive debut, it’s been pretty much downhill for the former Florida State Seminole. After tearing his ACL before the 2015 season and a mediocre showing in 2016, Benjamin was traded during the 2017 season to the Bills. He didn’t impress in six games with Buffalo, catching just 16 balls for 217 yards and one touchdown. There’s no denying Benjamin’s physical talent — standing 6’5” and weighing 240 pounds, he’s a nightmare matchup for undersized corners. And he showed in his rookie season that he can be a team’s number one receiver. But it’s hard to put much faith in him as an impact player in fantasy right now. No matter who ends up throwing him the ball in Buffalo this year, we know it WON’T be Cam Newton, the only quarterback who has helped Benjamin realize his potential. Who knows — at some point Josh Allen may become a stud quarterback and develop a connection with Benjamin that terrorizes defenses. Until they prove it, though, you can’t trust Benjamin as anything more than a WR4/FLEX play.
Behind Benjamin is second-year product Zay Jones. When Buffalo drafted Jones in 2016, he was seen as a potential immediate upgrade to a desolate Buffalo receiving corps due to his success at East Carolina, where he caught 158 — yes, 158 — passes in 2016. And while he saw quite a bit of action in Buffalo last year, he didn’t convert much of his time or many of his opportunities into valuable production for fantasy owners, catching just 27 of the 74 passes thrown to him. Jones is bound to catch more than 27 passes this year, but how much more can you expect? Probably not enough to warrant more than a very late round pick on him.
Next in the pecking order is Jeremy Kerley. Kerley’s only caught more than 50 passes in a season twice in his career and only has 13 career touchdowns. There’s no reason for him or any of the other Bills receivers to be on your roster.
When he’s healthy, Charles Clay has actually produced some pretty decent numbers in Buffalo. He’s averaging 52 catches for 546 yards and three touchdowns over his last three seasons (41 games). Stretched over full seasons, he’d average 65 catches, 600 yards and five touchdowns. Those would be top 10 numbers at the tight end position in each season since 2015. As noted in the previous sections, Buffalo’s quarterbacks and wide receivers aren’t much to get excited about. And what’s a mediocre/developing quarterback’s best friend? A reliable tight end. If he can stay healthy, Clay’s workload will push him into TE1 territory. He’s definitely worth a late round pick on draft day.
Rookie to Watch
The Bills used a 6th round pick on Clemson’s all-purpose WR Ray-Ray McCloud. First, the negative: he has no true position. That’s going to be tough for him at the next level. But in his three years at Clemson, McCloud had 127 catches for 1,226 yards, 18 carries for 106 yards, and a combined 58 returns for 720 yards. He can make magic happen once the ball is in his hands. Success is going to come with a new quarterback in Josh Allen. Since Allen is also a rookie, he’s going to need a safety valve. What better man than McCloud? – Chris Tyler
After strong deliberation between an awful receiving corps and LeSean McCoy not being a sleeper, A.J McCarron has emerged as a strong sleeper for Buffalo. An even smaller sample size than Jimmy Garoppolo, I feel McCarron should have been the starter in Cincinnati over Andy Dalton. The only thing that makes it a bit scary is that Nick Saban has never coached a QB that has been successful at the professional level. His most successful product in college though was A.J McCarron. I have faith that McCarron can be a serviceable backup fantasy QB but his options are limited for him to throw to. After LeSean McCoy, your fantasy choices in Buffalo are limited. – Joe Zollo
2018 Loose Ends
The Bills may be the team I’m least excited about from a fantasy perspective this season. I don’t trust either of their options at quarterback. I worry about Shady’s body breaking down. And none of the wide receivers stand out. It’s not going to be a good year for Buffalo.
|8||10/29 (Mon)||vs NE|
|11||** BYE WEEK **|