When the 2018 Buffalo Bills’ season concluded with the most targeted receivers in the last five weeks being Zay Jones (42), Robert Foster (29) and Isaiah McKenzie (26), it was more than apparent something needed to be done in the offseason to bolster the position.
While Jones’ 42 targets were competitively ranked among some of the game’s top receivers in that brief window — as were his five touchdowns — he still mustered only 19 receptions (45.2 percent catch rate). He offers something to work with for second-year quarterback Josh Allen, and Jones enters his third year in the league, so be encouraged about his progression.
It is doubtful casual fans even knew the names of Foster and McKenzie entering 2018, but kudos to those familiar with the pair. McKenzie is likely to drop off of the radar at this point, and Foster has a shot of sticking around in the fantasy conversation because of his downfield ability.
Jones played 44.5 percent of his 2018 snaps in the slot. Despite ranking 35th in the NFL in average separation from the closest defender, Jones ranked just 79th in average yards after catch — not uncommon from the slot, given the centralization of the area of the field. It will be interesting to see how much slot action he sees this upcoming season with Cole Beasley now in the fold, and whether he can separate better on the outside. The former Dallas Cowboy spent 85.9 percent of his snaps playing inside in 2018, and he’s definitely the more skilled of the two at getting open (7th average separation last year).
This addition likely moves Jones to the outside, as long as Beasley is healthy. He underwent offseason core muscle surgery and should be ready for training camp. This is the first surgery of his career, and Beasley has missed only one game to date.
Foster will have to deal with sharing downfield reps with fellow speedster John Brown. The former Arizona Cardinal and Baltimore Raven has flashed plenty of times in his NFL career, mostly showing off his 4.3 wheels. Last year, Brown was on pace for 60-1,072-7 in the nine games prior to Lamar Jackson taking over for Joe Flacco. Brown’s actual best was a 65-1,003-7 line in 2015 with the Cards. Jackson and Brown couldn’t connect, and the receiver landed only two of the first 12 targets from Jackson upon his ascension to the top quarterback spot. They hooked up for their only TD in 2018 in Week 14, yet still struggling to get on the same page (two catches, six targets, 23 yards).
Brown should pair nicely with Allen’s massive arm and ability to make some plays on the move. Improvisational quarterbacks and fast receivers tend to get along just fine — which is why it is kind of surprising Jackson and Brown weren’t able to get it going. Say what you will about Jackson, but he can sling it down the field as well as anyone.
The Bills added veteran receiver and return man Andre Roberts, as well as tight ends Tyler Kroft and Dawson Knox. Kroft suffered a broken foot in OTAs and may fall too far behind to truly threaten for targets. Rookie running back Devin Singletary plays an awful lot like LeSean McCoy, and he could steal some of the short-area looks from Beasley’s slot role.
Buffalo’s offensive line underwent wholesale changes in the offseason and, barring cohesion problems, has to be an improved unit over the 2018 model. The right side is brand new, with second-round pick Cody Ford at guard and veteran tackle Ty Nsekhe coming over from Washington. Mitch Morse takes over at center, and left guard Quinton Spain joined from Tennessee’s roster. Left tackle Dion Dawkins is the only holdover.
Fantasy football takeaway
First and foremost, the passing game goes as Allen does, of course. He showed signs of being a franchise guy in his rookie season, although gamers will want to witness more progression in his reads before automatically running. Sure, the fantasy points are nice when he does, but it opens up a bevy of potential issues when a quarterback’s initial response is to take off at the first sign of danger.
Presuming Allen does his part and takes a considerable step forward as a true quarterback, every one of these receivers benefits. The likely pecking order on any given play is still a toss-up. We just don’t know how Brown and Allen will develop in terms of chemistry, but it stands to reason Beasley is behind the curve right away due to the injury. Allen looked to Jones often late in 2018, which was also partly due to no one else being there to command attention. Even still, Jones’ nose for the end zone and 42 looks to close out 2018 show he should have a leg up on the newcomers. Simply knowing the offense entering OTAs is a huge advantage.
In Beasley’s case, it all comes down to when he is able to get back on the field and create a rapport with his quarterback. Trust and timing are crucial elements of success in the slot. Be prepared to see Beasley’s regular season begin on slow footing. Contributions from McCoy, the newcomers at tight end and Singletary are the primary threats to Beasley’s looks.
Foster and Brown could cannibalize each other’s deep game at times, and it will be frustrating to trust the former in any conventional lineup. He has late-round flier appeal in the even Brown and Allen never get in sync.
In a vacuum, with Allen being a capable quarterback, we’re looking at values Brown having the most upside and being a WR3 or flex in both main scoring systems. Beasley has WR3 potential in PPR if everything shapes up quickly. He is almost useless in standard formats. Jones will play like a No. 2 at times but is most safely a flex or third, and he’s slightly better in non-PPR setups. There’s an argument that he is being criminally undervalued with an ADP of 14:04 in early fantasy drafts. Foster is a late-round flier. Jones is currently the only one of this lot being drafted, on average.
This offense should be markedly improved in 2019, even if it takes some time to get everything in well-oiled order.