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The fantasy value of the Bills' skill position players will lie in the hands of their quarterback, E.J. Manuel. There's no doubt that Manuel disappointed from both an NFL and fantasy perspective in his rookie season, but he was plagued by a nagging knee injury for much of the year.
This season, Manuel will have both C.J. Spiller, who will be the first Bills player drafted in fantasy drafts, and aging veteran Fred Jackson in his backfield, with the best playmaker in May's NFL draft, Sammy Watkins, lining up in the slot. He’ll also have Mike Williams, who was traded away from Tampa Bay after offseason troubles. Williams played under Buffalo head coach Doug Marrone at Syracuse, and this homecoming could be one of those last-chance opportunities that really pays off.
Manuel certainly makes for a worthy sleeper pick as your backup quarterback, considering the weapons at his disposal. While he’ll have plenty of fantasy potential, he has to prove his consistency before you can even dream of drafting him as a starter. The best-case fantasy scenario is that Manuel limits his mistakes and develops into a reliable quarterback, which will make him an excellent bye-week replacement in the middle weeks.
Marrone planned to feature Spiller last season, but the Clemson product failed to impress. Injuries and poor production had Spiller’s owners frustrated all year, considering many had spent a first-round pick on him. Spiller had just four 100-yard rushing games, but his loss was Fred Jackson’s gain -- again -- as the veteran finished with fantasy stats of an RB1.
Heading into 2014, Marrone knows that decent play from Manuel will open up things in the running game. The Bills actually posted the second-most rushing yards (2,307) in the NFL last season, which is another reason people are willing to roll the dice on a rebound season from Spiller as a third-rounder. Jackson was good in 2013, but don't expect that again from the 33-year-old veteran.
Most Overvalued Player: C.J. Spiller
Spiller, who's being drafted in around the third round this summer, depending on the league's format and size, has been troubled by injuries for a few seasons now, and while his 2012 output made him a first-round fantasy pick in 2013, the question is whether that was an outlier season or not. Ankle issues slowed him in 2013, but they didn't force him onto the inactive list --he still played in 15 games and has only missed one game in the past three seasons.
Spiller had just 15 fewer touches last year compared to 2012, yet he posted 94 fewer fantasy points. The bottom line is he gets dinged up and continues to play, which is a nightmare for fantasy owners who need him at least at 90 percent or inactive so they can start a backup.
The Bills continue to promise to use him more, but we'll have to see it to believe it. Getting him in the third round is a swing for the fences, which could land you a top-five back – or a top-30 back, like last year.
Most Undervalued Player: Mike Williams
Mike Williams isn't getting drafted in most fantasy leagues this summer, and there are plenty of reasons why, including his recurring off-the-field issues that finally forced Tampa Bay to trade him away for next to nothing.
Williams' quarterback in Buffalo is still unproven, he's entering a new offense for the third time in his NFL career and he's coming off a horrible season. So why is he listed here as undervalued? I envision Williams putting together a season that ranks – at least – among the top 60 wide receivers. Manuel was hurt for most of last season, so it's hard to believe we've seen everything he can do.
Also, Williams had a torn hamstring for much of last season, when he was asked to be the second banana to Vincent Jackson, with rookie Mike Glennon at the helm, in a very bad offense. Williams returns under the wings of Marrone, who coached him in college. Sammy Watkins is still going to be a rookie wide receiver this season, so expecting him to be a No. 1 out of the gate could be dangerous.
Finally, Williams is excellent in the red zone, which makes fantasy owners happy.
Williams might not be getting drafted in fantasy leagues, but I could see him breaking out with a big Week 1, making several teams clamor for him on the waiver wire. He's a WR5 with a ton of upside and little risk.
QB: E.J. Manuel, Thaddeus Lewis
RB: C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson, Bryce Brown
WR: Sammy Watkins, Mike Williams, Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin, T.J. Graham
TE: Scott Chandler, Tony Moeaki
K: Dan Carpenter, Dustin Hopkins
The biggest offseason addition has to be Watkins, who joins the team after being taken with the fourth overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft. He’s a playmaker that can score on long balls as well as catches underneath. Watch the yards-per-catch build as the season progresses and he builds a rapport with Manuel. He’s a top-35 fantasy wide receiver with the ability to climb into the top 25 in the second half of his rookie season.
Williams could be a great addition as well, considering he has two seasons with more than 60 catches in his three NFL seasons and scored nine touchdowns in 2012.
The Bills were pretty good defensively a season ago, but defensive coordinator Mike Pettine moved across Lake Erie to work as the head coach of the Cleveland Browns. Before that scares you away from the Bills defense/special teams this season, realize that former Lions head coach Jim Schwartz takes over as the defensive coordinator in Buffalo. He was a stellar DC during his tenure in Tennessee, which earned him the job in Detroit.
Buffalo will switch to the 4-3 system, which is great news for DE Mario Williams. He actually came through with a 13-sack season in 2013 after a disappointing effort in his first year in Buffalo.
Unfortunately, the Bills lost safety Jairus Byrd in free agency to New Orleans, and superstar sophomore linebacker Kiko Alonso tore his left ACL during a personal workout in midsummer. He’s likely done for the season, which means Schwartz will have to look toward someone like Nigel Bradham to step in as the new weak-side linebacker. Look at Bradham as a sleeper pick in IDP formats.
Alonso was not just one of the best rookies but also one of the best linebackers in the league last season. Only two other players had more tackles than Alonso’s 159, and he led the NFL in assisted tackles (72).
The Bills DST start the season as an average fantasy unit, but if Schwartz can get quality play out of Bradham in his third NFL season, then this squad will absolutely be worth starting against teams like the Texans, Jets, Browns and Raiders.