A Look Inside: 2021 Buffalo Bills

The Buffalo Bills are the only NFL franchise to lose four consecutive Super Bowls (1991-94). Unless you are a fan of one of the other AFC East teams, how can you not root for a team with that history?! They had a few more playoff runs in the late 1990s but didn’t reach another conference championship game until this past season when the Kansas City Chiefs defeated them. Even though it was a tough loss, they proved themselves as legit AFC contenders. With all of their core players returning in 2021, they are in a great position to make another championship run.

Note: You can follow the entire Look Inside series with this link and you can watch the full No Punt Intended episode on Youtube below with special guest Jake Trowbridge, cohost from BallBlast and the Drinking and Talking Fantasy Football podcasts.

Quarterback

Josh Allen has given hope to all of us expecting a third-year leap from a young quarterback that’s had a rough start to their career (we all have that guy). However, even the top Allen-truthers would not have predicted an unprecedented 10.4% increase in completion rate from 2019 to 2020. He also had a higher aDOT (average depth of target), which makes the increase even more impressive. So how much can we expect him to build off his 2020 overall QB1 performance for this season?

It’s hard to envision another jump in production from Allen after the drastic step forward he took in 2020. I would typically expect steep regression from a quarterback after an outlier season like that, but Allen’s rushing ability should keep him within the Top 5 of QBs. He has averaged 100 rushing attempts per season for his career.

If the Bills maintain the same level of pass attempts from 2020 this year and Allen’s TD rate regresses to his career average, that will put him around 28 passing touchdowns. Since 1991, the only other quarterbacks with 100+ rushes and 28+ touchdowns in a season are Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, and Lamar Jackson. The worst finish in any of those seasons was QB3. While I don’t expect a QB1 overall repeat, there should be no hesitation to draft Josh Allen within the Top 5 of quarterbacks.

Running Backs

This backfield was a mess for fantasy in 2020. Between Devin Singletary and Zack Moss, it was usually hard to determine who would be the lead each week. Then, when they got into the red zone, Josh Allen often ran it in himself and vultured the opportunity from one of the running backs. We typically stay away from these situations, but the uncertainty has driven both of their ADPs outside of the top-36 RBs. Buffalo is expected to be an elite offense once again, so if one of them finally stake claim to the lead role, they will become a huge value.

Let’s start with the 2020 third-round pick, Zack Moss. Moss is a bruiser back at 5’10” 215 lbs. At Utah, he led the Pac-12 in rushing yards his Senior year and set the school record for career rushing yards. He was over 6 yards per carry in both of his last two college seasons and showed some promise as a receiver as well: 28 receptions for 388 yards, with an NCAA-leading 13.9 yards per reception in 2019.

Moss immediately found his way into a role as a rookie, playing over 45% of snaps in the first two weeks. A turf toe injury took him out after Week 2, and he missed the next three games. When he returned, they eased him back into action until he out-snapped Singletary for the first time in Week 8. Moss put up 81 rushing yards and scored twice against New England. He would lead the backfield in snaps and carries for the next three weeks, then was benched after an ill-timed fumble while close to the Bills’ own goal line in Week 13. Moss went on the lead the backfield in the remaining regular-season games.

If you remove the Week 13 benching, Moss led Singletary in carries 63-42 in Weeks 9-16. He did have a clean-up procedure on his ankle during the off-season, which we will have to monitor, but if healthy, Moss is the best bet to lead the backfield once again.  

While Moss projects to be the lead man, there is still value to be had with Devin Singletary going as RB41 (according to FantasyPros). He’s going in the same range as other high-end backup running backs or “handcuffs” like Latavius Murray, Tony Pollard, and Alexander Mattison. Singletary has better standalone value, though, since he will be more involved even while the starter is healthy. Those other options all need an injury in front of them to become suitable fantasy starts. Also, when Singletary had the backfield to himself as a rookie in 2019, he was RB16 in points per game. A solid depth option that has an RB2 ceiling if Moss were to get hurt. 

 

Wide Receivers

After the 2019 season, it was clear that wide receiver was a major need for Buffalo. John Brown was serviceable as the leading receiver, but he is no Alpha. So even though the 2020 draft class was loaded with wide receiver talent, the Bills decided to take an aggressive approach by trading away four draft picks to acquire Stefon Diggs. Many were skeptical about how Diggs would mesh with the inaccurate Josh Allen (including me), but they shocked the fantasy world by having career years and Diggs finishing as the WR3.

The best word to describe Diggs’ 2020 season is “Dominant.” He led the league with 166 targets while maintaining a high level of efficiency: sixth-most yards per route run and eleventh-best catch rate among wide receivers. It’s quite rare for a wideout to come onto a new team and perform at such a high level right away, but Diggs and Allen instantly clicked. Even if Josh Allen’s touchdown rate comes down from 2020, it shouldn’t impact Diggs much. He only scored eight touchdowns last year from those 166 targets, which was the lowest touchdown rate of his career. So any progression towards his average touchdown rate should offset some or all the negative regression Allen might experience. Stefon Diggs is a locked and loaded top-5 WR for 2021.  

Playing alongside a target hog like Diggs is tough for the remaining receivers. When he’s demanding a near thirty-percent market share, there’s not a lot to go around for the other guys. Cole Beasley earned 107 targets and finished as the WR27. He only had four weeks inside the Top 20, though, so it was mostly just a floor play.

Gabriel Davis flashed several times during his rookie campaign. He led all rookies with 17.5 yards per catch and five receiving TDs of 20+ yards (credit: Pro Football Focus). While we’ve seen the talent, he will have to compete with Cole Beasley and newly acquired Emmanuel Sanders for targets behind Diggs. Davis has a bright NFL future, but I’m not too excited for him in 2021 being mixed into this crowded receiver room. I’ve mentioned Emmanuel Sanders, who signed a one-year deal with Buffalo this off-season. At 34 years old, his best days are behind him, but he will be involved enough to stifle the production of the other secondary wideouts.

Tight Ends

In 2019, the Bills used a third-round pick on tight end, Dawson Knox. He was quiet in his rookie season with only 50 targets for 388 yards, but his 13.86 yards per reception was the 12th-best by any rookie tight end since 1992. Often in and out of games because of injuries in 2020, we didn’t get to see much more from him. Knox received more than four targets in only two out of his twelve games played. You will likely be better off looking elsewhere for late tight end targets because there is almost no upside with Knox. Especially with swirling rumors about Buffalo having an interest in Philadelphia Eagles’ tight end Zach Ertz. That move would absolutely crush Dawson’s value.