2018 Team Preview: Buffalo Bills
(Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)
The Buffalo Bills have had an interesting offseason following their first playoff appearance in 17 years, revamping their QB situation at the draft and transitioning to a new Bills era under 2nd-year head coach Sean McDermott. Let’s take a look at what they can offer from a fantasy football perspective:
Josh Allen (QB3)
The Bills moved up in the 2018 NFL draft to select Josh Allen 7th overall out of the University of Wyoming. In his 25 games in 2016 and 2017, he passed for 5,015 yards while gaining another 727 yards on the ground. Allen had 44 passing TDs and 21 Ints in his college career with another 12 scores on the ground. Allen was/is a polarizing prospect known for a cannon of an arm and excellent mobility, both of which jump out when you watch him on tape. The rest of his game, however, is of some concern, particularly accuracy, and that gives pause about his ability to translate to the next level effectively.
Scouts often question his accuracy, and despite elite arm power, it’s largely the downfield throws that scouts question. According to Pro Football Focus, in 2017, Allen completed just 13-of-42 downfield throws (balls that travel 20-plus yards through the air from the line of scrimmage), including just 1-for-13 on deep shots to the right of the numbers. If you eliminate drops, throw-aways, spikes, balls batted at the line of scrimmage and throws knocked off the mark by a hit absorbed during the throw, Allen completed just 65.7 percent of all of his throws, which ranked 86th in the country among draft-eligible quarterbacks.
Allen also struggled significantly against pressure, as his 51.4 adjusted completion percentage when affected by the rush ranked just 79th among draft-eligible players at the position. That’s not a good sign as the Bills offensive line lost a lot of talent over the offseason including LT Cordy Glenn, LG Richie Incognito, and C Eric Wood and overall was ranked 30th best in the league by our own Paul Ghiglieri.
Despite that, the Bills seemingly have Allen projected to be their starting QB week 1 after an up and NFL down pre-season in which he went 24-for-44 with 210 yards and 2 TDs against 0 INTs. He made some impressive throws that do give hope for the future like this one against the Carolina Panthers:
The Bills offensive line will have to step up and protect their new franchise QB better as if they want to get the best out of him. Right now he’s a project still developing and that’s not worth the fantasy investment except in dynasty leagues. It’s probably best to avoid the Bills QB situation this year as the offensive focus will be RB LeSean McCoy and the running game.
LeSean McCoy (RB2)
McCoy will start 2018 at age 30 with six seasons with over 1,000 yards rushing and five years with 50 catches or more. 30 years of age is often a time when RBs start to wear down, in fact, in the NFL’s 95-year history, there have been only 46 instances of a 1,000-yard season by a running back who is at least 30 years old. We may already be seeing some decline in McCoy’s game as after a special season in 2016 where McCoy delivered 1,633 combined yards with 14 TDs and 50 catches leading to the 4th highest ranking at RB in PPR leagues, McCoy fell to 1,576 yards with 8 TDs and his YPC falling to 4.0 compared to 5.4 in 2016. His DVOA also fell from 28.3% in 2016 to 8.8% in 2017. All told, he was still very productive though and finished as the 7th ranked RB in PPR leagues.
McCoy has a high floor in most weeks with a chance to get more than 20 touches per game which is plenty of volume to contribute well every week for your fantasy team. His stats point to another top 10 finish at RB in PPR leagues, but his offensive line looks like it’s taken a step back plus the loss of a running QB in Tyrod Taylor will free up another linebacker to limit his ability to break into space. It is tough avoiding a player with a long resume of success, but the direction of this offense suggests more regression. I view him as a high-end RB2 with low-end RB1 upside.
Kelvin Benjamin (WR3)
Over his first eight games in 2017, Benjamin had 32 catches for 475 yards and two TDs on 51 targets with the Panthers. He then was surprisingly traded to the Bills mid-season and posted a 16-206-1 line in six full games with the Bills. With the change from QB Tyrod Taylor to Josh Allen, the Bills should improve upon their passing volume of last year in which Buffalo only attempted 476 passes with WRs catching a league-low 115 of 224 targets for 1,475 yards and nine TDs. If you account for more passing opportunities with Allen plus the likely need to pass lots as the Bills aren’t projected to be a winning team, and you can see the opportunity for enough volume to earn fantasy relevance. Benjamin is clearly the top receiving option in the offense with TE Charles Clay, and unproven WR Zay Jones really being the only other target threats. Benjamin is also 6-foot-5 and capable of winning jump-ball situations which should make him a favorite of Josh Allen, as well as make him an asset in the red zone. Note that he relies on winning jump-ball situations often as he ranked 2nd worst in average yards of separation at target last year. In both standard and PPR leagues, I view him as a mid-lower tier flex option and more likely one of the top options off your bench in the event of an injury.
Charles Clay (TE2)
Clay has averaged a target share of at least 20 percent each of the past three seasons which is impressive for a TE. Over the last four seasons, Charles caught 215 passes for 2,243 yards and 12 TDs on 322 targets while missing nine games. Now some of that is likely a result of Tyrod Taylor‘s affinity for the short-medium area throws, but Clay has proven capable of getting open and has become a main target of QB Josh Allen over the preseason. Note that Clay’s 3.1 yards of separation at target ranked 11th best among TEs last year. When healthy, he’s been a fringe TE1, the question is health for Clay. He’s now 29 and he’s battled knee issues over the last couple of seasons, which makes him tough to trust.
Offensive Honorable Mentions
The Bills have brought in RB Chris Ivory during free agency to be McCoy’s backup. Ivory is a very tough runner who has great vision but has dealt with a myriad of injuries over the course of his career. Ivory showed best between 2013 to 2015 with the Jets when he gained 3,074 combined yards with 18 TDs and 50 catches. Over the last two years, he’s seen some decline and his yards per rush have notably faded (3.8 in 2016 and 3.4 in 2017) suggesting that his best days are likely behind him at age 30. The Bills brought in Ivory with the intent of reducing McCoy’s game to game workload to help keep him fresher late in the season. With Ivory around stealing about one to two series per half (and some short yardage carries), there’s really not enough volume to make Ivory valuable week to week. Consider him a low-level handcuff.
Over four seasons at East Carolina, WR Zay Jones caught 399 passes for 4279 yards and 23 TDs highlighted by a dominant senior year in which he caught 158 balls for 1746 yards and 8 TDs. He ended up being drafted by the Bills in the 2nd round, 37th overall, and unfortunately for the Bills and Jones’ fantasy owners, disappointed in 2017. Jones was on the field lots as a rookie but often didn’t have too much of a role in the passing game as he finished with 27 catches for 316 yards and 2 TDs on 74 targets. For a guy that caught 158 balls in his senior year of college, Jones curiously displayed a poor catch rate of 36.5% for the season. He teased Fantasy owners over a three-game stretch mid-season (6/53/1, 4/68, and 3/33/1) on 24 combined targets. He had surgery over the offseason to repair a torn labrum and is seemingly healthy entering the season. He’s a volume WR with a lot to prove in 2018 but should have the opportunity to do so in a Bills WR core that lacks quality depth. His above-average 2.7 yards of separation at target last year makes me optimistic on his outlook. His college resume gives him a chance to be much improved, especially if his shoulder issue was truly a big part of his failure in his catch rate a year ago.