Fantasy football draft season is fast approaching. Prep to win your league with SI.com's ongoing preview, including team-by-team breakdowns that examine each club's key fantasy storyline and much more.
Key fantasy storyline
When Doug Marrone took over as the Bills' new head coach, he immediately announced what fantasy owners have waited years to hear: C.J. Spiller will be Buffalo's featured back, regardless of Fred Jackson's health.
That's a start.
It might be a while, however, before the fantasy community knows if Buffalo's new quarterback is capable of doing enough to allow the running game to remain relevant. If journeyman Kevin Kolb and first-round draft pick EJ Manuel can't manage that, Spiller could be a fantasy bust instead of a breakout first-round pick.
Marrone, an offense-first coach, brought in Nathaniel Hackett as offensive coordinator, and the pair will implement an up-tempo attack this fall. That schematic shift is promising in theory, but it will only lead to results if the QB can produce. The Bills figure to give Manuel every opportunity to start out of the gate, but the veteran Kolb might actually be the player most capable of turning Spiller into an elite fantasy producer. While Manuel boasts myriad physical gifts, he's too raw to continue the trend of instant-impact rookie quarterbacks and will likely take a couple of seasons to fully develop. Kolb is a known commodity, even though he's not a star.
Spiller's prospects of emerging as a 1,500-yard, 10-touchdown force hinge on operating in an offense that can avoid consistent three-and-outs. Owners who draft Spiller, perhaps as early as the top half of the first round, will be banking on Kolb or Manuel helping to facilitate widespread offensive production. That's a leap of faith, but it's one worth taking given Spiller's game-breaking ability.
Prepare to pounce on Spiller early -- and prepare to deal with some inept weeks from the Bills as well.
|Buffalo Bills' 2013 schedule|
|Including a look at how the Bills' upcoming foes fared defensively in fantasy last season|
Stats via FFToday.com
The toughest part of the Bills' schedule comes during bye season, which could make owning fringe Buffalo players a bit more difficult. That's when managing a fantasy roster is most stressful, and few owners will want to start mediocre Bills players in tough matchups against the Ravens (Week 4), Bengals (Week 6), Steelers (Week 10) or Jets (Week 11).
Other than that, however, the schedule lines up favorably for Spiller. The Bills only face one team, Pittsburgh, that finished last season ranked in the top five against running backs. The matchups for Kolb and/or Manuel will be tougher, but the Bills figure to be playing from behind often, which could mean garbage-time value for those passers.
QB: EJ Manuel, Kevin Kolb
RB: C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson, Tashard Choice
WR: Stevie Johnson, Robert Woods, T.J. Graham, Marquise Goodwin, Da'Rick Rodgers, Brad Smith
TE: Scott Chandler (knee surgery), Lee Smith
K: Rian Lindell, Dustin Hopkins
|Buffalo Bills' 2012 defensive rankings|
The Bills have some talent along the defensive line and in the secondary, but the sum of the parts still fails to add up to anything noteworthy. While Marrone is an offensive-minded head coach, new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who comes over from the division-rival Jets, should help this unit build some attitude.
Defensive end Mario Williams and defensive lineman Marcell Dareus are solid up front in the 3-4, while corner Leodis McKelvin and safety Jairus Byrd give the Bills some names in the secondary. Unless second-round pick Kiko Alonso, a linebacker, plays like a Pro Bowler right away, this is still a defense that will struggle against the run and prove merely functional against the pass because teams can grind it out against Buffalo for 60 minutes.
Fantasy players won't want to own this unit in any league, but might consider Williams and/or Byrd (assuming the franchise-tagged safety doesn't hold out) viable late-round picks in IDP formats.