The bright spot with the Bills is the addition of LeSean McCoy at running back. The Philly transplant comes in as the starting tailback and C.J. Spiller is gone. In fantasy terms this is a positive since for almost the entirety of Fred Jackson’s career, the Bills have tried to use someone else only to have Jackson end up saving the day. But the 34-year-old Jackson is not just the oldest back on the roster – he is the oldest back in the entire NFL. Not something to be when a new coaching regime takes over and starts reviewing the roster.
Rex Ryan takes over at head coach with a lengthy history of great defenses. He tabbed Greg Roman from the 49ers to run his offense and Dennis Thurman comes along from the Jets to continue to be his defensive coordinator. The Bills already have one of the best defenses in the league and that focus is not going to change. But with the offense – in fantasy terms – there is much to be leery of in this first year of rebuilding. The quarterback situation is muddled at best between E.J. Manuel and Matt Cassel and even Tyrod Taylor joins the conversation.
Sammy Watkins comes off a great rookie year with 65-982-6 and has proven to have elite talent. But he could and probably will be limited by the quarterback situation that may end up. Watkins still needs to be drafted on talent alone, but his outlook is less clear. Inside the lack of clarity of what the offense might do is always fantasy opportunity. But beyond McCoy and Watkins, the roster this season is little more than fantasy depth. 2016 should be better when the Bills are likely to opt for a new quarterback but the installation of the new offense is going to take time. So much the better for McCoy owners.
E.J. Manuel, Quarterback
The Jets brought in Matt Cassel to replace E.J. Manuel but that doesn’t look good since Cassel has practiced even worse than Manuel plays. He was replaced by Kyle Orten last year but the new regime did almost nothing to improve the QB situation. Manuel may actually open the year as the starter but regardless, a Rex Ryan team has always been one of the least productive teams when it comes to passing anyway.
Matt Cassel, Quarterback
Cassel was brought in to replace EJ Manuel but he’s not looked nearly as good and that says volumes about Cassel. He’s been weak-armed and errant passing and may not make it to the season unless he improves. No fantasy value here but sadly a contender for the starting QB role.
Tyrod Taylor, Quarterback
Taylor was the backup in BAL for the last four years and only completed 24 career passes there. And yet he is still in the running for the starting job in Buffalo if only because Matt Cassel and EJ Manuel are not promoting much confidence. Taylor is the #3 quarterback there to be sure but he may end up as the #2 or get some spot play in this undecided quarterback situation.
LeSean McCoy, Running Back
McCoy leaves the Eagles after six years and he gained over 1000 rush yards in four of his last five seasons. Moving to the Bills will be a major change. On the plus side, he is still the primary back and clearly best runner on the team. They brought him in to be a workhorse and the new regime under Rex Ryan and offensive coordinator Greg Roman (was SF OC) will want to grind out the yardage. On the minus, there is no passing game that will make any defense drop back and not load up against the run. McCoy is low risk in the sense that he will be heavily used but this is a team that combined for only 3.8 YPC last year. Greg Roman’s 49er offense ranked #31 the last two years in completions to RBs. Ryan’s Jets only ranked #29 for the same both years.
Bryce Brown, Running Back
Brown was hyped when he left the Eagles to come to Bills last season but almost nothing happened. He managed a 36-126-0 stat line for rushing and 16-176-0 as a receiver. C.J. Spiller is gone and Fred Jackson is 34 years old. Brown could get more playing time in relief but LeSean McCoy may end up as the only fantasy starter in this entire offense, let alone just the running backs. Don’t bother with Brown unless he clearly wins the #2 RB spot in camp.
Fred Jackson, Running Back
Never mind that Jackson has produced over 1000 total yards in six of the last seven seasons, he’s fighting for a spot on a team with an all new coaching staff and many new players. Being 34 is hardly a positive and Jackson fell to only 3.7 YPC in 2014 and yet caught a career high 66 passes for 501 yards and one score. Jackson has always been the faithful and reliable guy the Bills never want to start with but always seem to end up with. Jackson’s role as a receiver won’t be as helpful either because Rex Ryan and Greg Roman both have histories with offenses that don’t use running backs in the passing scheme much. Jackson will compete with Bryce Brown, Karlos Williams and Anthony Dixon for the scraps that LeSean McCoy leaves behind.
Sammy Watkins, Wide Receiver
The 1.04 pick of the 2014 NFL drafted ended up with 65 catches for 982 yards and six scores as a rookie. That’s wildly encouraging and yet his second season may not fare so well. Watkins won’t catch passes from the veteran Kyle Orton this year. Instead he’ll field passes from any one of EJ Manuel, Matt Cassel or even Tyrod Taylor. The Bills also added Percy Harvin and Charles Clay to the mix while turning to OC Greg Roman to run the offense. That will spell fewer passes in a run-first scheme and how accurate those passes will be is questionable as well. Watkins has WR1 talent to be sure but his outlook dims given his QB and scheme. Watkins had off-season hip surgery but is expected to be fine for training camp.
Robert Woods, Wide Receiver
Woods enters his third NFL season but has been stuck around the 600 yard level his first two years. He ended 2014 with 65-699-5 but that mark may be tough to repeat since all his scores and most the yardage came with Kyle Orton at quarterback – not EJ Manuel. Now Percy Harvin comes over from the Jets along with head coach Rex Ryan and Harvin is making noise about being the #2 windeout. Bottom line – this is not going to be a high-volume passing offense anyway and any #2 guy may not be fantasy relevant anyway.
Percy Harvin, Wide Receiver
Harvin tags along with Rex Ryan from the Jets and aims to become an every down receiver again. He topped out at 87- 967-6 in MIN but has since had two horrible seasons with the Seahawks and the Jets. Now he goes to the Bills who are installing a run- first offense and both Rex Ryan and Greg Roman come from teams that never produced much with wide receivers. With the Jets last year he only managed 22-133-0. For all the speed and open field ability Harvin is supposedly has, his career 11.8 YPC more like a tight end than a wideout. He’ll battle Robert Woods for the #2 role but even if he wins it that may not mean he has fantasy relevance.
Chris Hogan, Wide Receiver
Hogan increased a bit in his second year when he ended 2014 with 41-426-4 but that’s a paltry 10.4 YPC and the addition of Percy Harvin should mean Hogan remains no better than the 4th best option on a team that won’t throw that much.
Charles Clay, Tight End
Despite having Vernon Davis to use, Greg Roman’s tight end unit in San Francisco only managed 39-433-2 last season and now he has to employ that system with question marks at quarterback. Clay was as good as 69-759-6 when he was in Miami but those stats will be nearly impossible to reach in Buffalo given the passing situation and the offensive scheme. Best to let someone else draft him.