As everyone in the football world digested the Ezekiel Elliott suspension news, the Buffalo Bills traded former first-round pick Sammy Watkins to the Los Angeles Rams. In a separate but related move, wide receiver Jordan Matthews was acquired by the Bills from the Philadelphia Eagles.
Buffalo also added cornerbacks Ronald Darby and E.J. Gaines as part of the trading frenzy. Per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the Bills now have two picks in each of the first three rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft.
OK, where to start? Buffalo’s acquisitions seem like a fine place.
Watkins was entering a contract year after Buffalo declined his fifth-year option, so this move is rather wise. His injury-prone ways are now the problem of another franchise. Watkins, 24, presumably will be replaced by Matthews, 25, in the starting lineup.
Jordan Matthews fantasy impact
Matthews was floating in the wind in Philadelphia and now has a clearer role. The quarterback situation is probably a wash. While Carson Wentz is more talented than Tyrod Taylor, the latter is an established veteran and comfortable in the offensive system. Buffalo has veteran Anquan Boldin and rookie Zay Jones in the mix for touches at wide receiver, in addition to tight end Charles Clay. LeSean McCoy out of the backfield will get his, of course.
In three seasons, Matthews has averaged no better than 13.0 yards per reception, going for 11.9 as a career figure. Matthews’ single-season high mark is 2.1 yards less than Watkins’ worst average. Buffalo just lost a huge area of the field to attack by adding another possession receiver into the stable of possession receivers. This limits the overall effectiveness of the offense and hinders Taylor’s fantasy prospects by taking away the threat of a big play on any play.
Matthews, not unlike Watkins but to a lesser degree, is an injury liability. He is dealing with knee tendonitis and missed a few games in 2016 with an ankle sprain. Barring an extension, Matthews is in a contract year of his own.
Learning the playbook and build chemistry with Taylor are the most daunting concerns given because of the calendar. Matthews, assuming he can stay healthy, is a better option in point-per-reception leagues. His ceiling is limited because of the offense, quarterback and his own deficiencies, so counting on more than midrange WR3 stats is rich.
The move doesn’t have a negative impact on Boldin (WR5 with flex worth) and Jones (PPR flier). Boldin, if anything, is a better fantasy option now. A fantasy backup, Taylor may be much more efficient but not nearly as explosive.
Sammy Watkins fantasy impact
This is where things get muddy.
Working on the belief Watkins will miss some time, his addition is still positive for the Rams as a whole. A downfield threat of this caliber opens up the running game for Todd Gurley and gives a talented offensive mind in Sean McVay a new means of trying to confuse defenses. Keeping a defense guessing gives his second-year project of a quarterback in Jared Goff more room to work.
It reunites Watkins with Robert Woods and helps alleviate some attention on Tavon Austin. Rookie Cooper Kupp may suffer the most from this deal — the silver lining here is Watkins’ lack of durability. Woods is a possession guy with a hint of wiggle, and Austin is a gadget weapon who has failed to live up to expectations for a myriad of reasons.
Goff’s maturation is the sole key to this situation working in a favorable way for fantasy purposes. He is not poised to make a major leap in his learning curve, although it is worth noting a repeat of last year’s deer-in-headlights model shouldn’t be much of a concern, either. A successful running game with play-action passing will open up the field and give him the best chance of success.
From a purely fantasy perspective, the move doesn’t make Goff worth drafting in conventional setups. In a scenario where everything works properly, Watkins still drops from a WR2 gamble to a fringe No. 3. His best value is in standard scoring since he isn’t a volume player. Be aware he has a cavernous basement due to Goff and the injury bug.
Woods should not see much change in his worth as a WR4/flex play. It is fair to say he is the safest of this crop. Kupp remains somewhat intriguing with Watkins’ negatives in mind. Rather than being a fun late-round flier, Kupp should be viewed as a mental stash for the waiver wire in conventional leagues.
One of my personal favorite sleepers, tight end Tyler Higbee, is still draftable as a late-round gamble in deep setups. In McVay’s multi-tiered passing system, the tight end is a valuable commodity. This is only solidified with Watkins’ addition, as Higbee wasn’t likely to see a lot of targets anyway.
Philadelphia Eagles fantasy impact
Short and sweet, Nelson Agholor has earned a role among the starters. He is a fine WR5 sleeper with huge upside and similar downside. Despite his early-career struggles, Agholor has had a wonderful camp. Don’t write him off just yet.
Wentz loses some luster as a possible sleeper, even though most football minds expected Matthews to be traded at some point. Wentz is a low-end QB2, whereas wideout Alshon Jeffery remains a fringe No. 1 — if he can stay on the field. Torrey Smith is now draftable in large leagues as a late flier. Tight end Zach Ertz, a low-end No. 1, should largely be unfazed by this move.