Bills Year in Review

2014 Pass Attempts Rank: 13th (579)
2014 Rush Attempts Rank: 20th (402)
2014 Total Offensive Plays Rank: 16th (1,020)
2014 Yards Per Play Rank: 28th (5.0)

 

Check out the team-by-team fantasy preview schedule.

Projected Starting Lineup

QB: Matt Cassel
RB: LeSean McCoy
WR: Sammy Watkins
WR: Robert Woods
WR: Percy Harvin
TE: Charles Clay
LT: Cordy Glenn
LG: Richie Incognito
C: Eric Wood
RG: John Miller
RT: Seantrel Henderson

Passing Game Outlook

Regardless of which player aligns under center in a given week, the Bills’ 2015 goal will be to “hide” their quarterback by playing dominant defense and high-volume rushing offense so as to minimize their weakest link’s impact on games. New OC Greg Roman‘s 49ers successfully executed this formula with Alex Smith, and new coach Rex Ryan‘s Jets teams had on-and-off success doing it with Mark Sanchez. Roman’s 2011-2014 San Francisco offenses ranked third, seventh, third, and ninth in the NFL in rushing attempts. 33-year-old journeyman Matt Cassel is the favorite to start. Cassel has indeed been effectively “hidden” before, so well in fact that Cassel went to the Pro Bowl on a 2010 Chiefs team that led the NFL in rushing while throwing the fourth-fewest passes. Either way, there will be little to no fantasy impact made by Buffalo’s quarterback stable this year. It’s also conceivable that Rex’s history of carouseling QBs will reappear in Buffalo, with Cassel, E.J. Manuel, and Tyrod Taylor perhaps all making starts.

Sub-par QB play combined with the low-volume nature of Roman’s passing approach is a concern for Sammy Watkins, who is currently coming off hip surgery. As are the additions of Percy Harvin and Charles Clay, playmakers in the short passing game who will siphon targets that are easy to catch. Watkins finished his rookie year 18th among wideouts in targets and as the overall WR25. Bills beat writers have suggested that Watkins’ target count may drop this year. Watkins is a really good talent — imagine a combo of Torrey Smith and Pierre Garcon‘s strengths — but is that talent enough to overcome the host of factors working against him? With an ADP at the fourth-/fifth-round turn, I’m unwilling to pay Watkins’ cost to find out.

I’ll be interested to see exactly how much run Percy Harvin and Robert Woods get this year. Roman frequently used two- and even three-tight end sets in San Francisco, while the Bills signed battering-ram fullback Jerome Felton to a four-year, $9.2 million deal that indicates he’ll play a key role in front of LeSean McCoy. 27-year-old Harvin is an at-times exciting gadget guy whose violent playing style has resulted in persistent durability woes. 23-year-old Woods is a quick-footed possession receiver who is billed as sure handed, but dropped eight passes in 2014. My bet is on Woods playing more snaps than Harvin, but Harvin finishing with more all-purpose touches. In a run-committed offense behind Watkins and probably Charles Clay in the target pecking order, neither Woods nor Harvin is likely to be a reliable fantasy force.

Charles Clay has an ADP of undrafted, and I think he’s pretty intriguing at the no-risk price. Whereas Woods and Harvin’s usage and playing time are fair to question, Clay will be a full-time player and could easily finish second on the Bills in targets. Buffalo made a monster offseason investment in Clay, luring him out of division-rival Miami with a five-year, $38 million contract. The Bills are paying Clay more than the Patriots pay Rob Gronkowski. Still only 26 years old, Clay is an injury-marred year removed from finishing as a top-seven fantasy tight end. Clay may not be as sexy a fantasy pick as higher-drafted Maxx Williams, Tyler Eifert, or Eric Ebron, but is a good bet to outproduce them all. The Bills’ passing game will emphasize high-percentage, low-risk throws that set up run-after-catch opportunities. That is where Clay wins.

Running Game Outlook

Roman and Ryan’s Ground N Pound philosophy theoretically bodes well for LeSean McCoy, but there are causes for pause. The first is offensive pace. Whereas McCoy spent the last two seasons on an up-tempo Chip Kelly team that ranked 13th and first in the NFL in plays from scrimmage, Roman’s 49ers ranked 24th, 30th, 31st, and 20th. The shortage of play volume is quietly a significant concern for McCoy’s workload. McCoy’s receiving usage is also unlikely to rejuvenate following a disappointing 28-catch season. After averaging nearly four receptions per game from 2006-2010, Frank Gore just barely averaged one catch per game in four seasons under Roman. Another concern is a Bills offensive line that is currently holding competitions at both tackle spots, and will start 32-year-old reclamation project Richie Incognito and third-round rookie John Miller at guard. Finally, McCoy’s efficiency took an alarming dive in 2014. His per-carry average (4.23) dropped by nearly a full yard off 2013, and McCoy ranked 17th in per-game fantasy running back points. I can get behind McCoy as a mid- to late-second-round fantasy pick, but he is being pretty severely overdrafted at his current ADP of 1.07 overall.

The Bills considered cutting Fred Jackson early in the offseason, only for the new ownership group to step in and save Jackson’s roster spot. It was a rare case of owner meddling gone right. F-Jax is still easily the second best option to carry the load in Buffalo, where plodder Anthony Dixon, run-bouncing fumbler Bryce Brown, and onetime college safety Karlos Williams will vie for the final 1-2 backfield jobs. Jackson is 34 years old and coming off a sluggish 3.72 YPC average, but still gets what’s blocked and set career highs in catches (66) and receiving yards (501) last season. Bills RBs coach Anthony Lynn has stated a desire to cut Jackson’s snap count “in half,” so we can’t expect F-Jax to provide standalone fantasy value as McCoy’s backup. Jackson does offer handcuff appeal behind a potentially-declining starter.

2015 Vegas Win Total

The Bills’ 2015 Vegas Win Total is 8.5. Vegas understimated Buffalo last season, projecting them at 6.5 wins when they finished with nine victories. I feel like this team is difficult to gauge this season, because their formula for staying competitive on a weekly basis is fragile with sub-par quarterback play, but the Bills have a legitimately dominant defense that will keep them in a lot of close games. Ultimately, I wouldn’t place any wager on the Bills’ 2015 win total. If forced to bet, I’d cautiously take the over. Rex Ryan‘s Jets teams overachieved pretty regularly, and opposing offenses will struggle mightily to gain yards and score points against the Bills.

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