While the sports media, the Twitterverse and your mother’s uncle are all talking about the controversial result of the NFL’s overtime rules, dynasty managers are looking at the jaw-dropping performance of Buffalo Bills WR Gabriel Davis in the divisional round as an opportunity.
The former UCF standout and fourth-rounder from the 2020 NFL Draft, Davis collected eight receptions for 201 yards and an NFL postseason record four touchdowns on 10 targets. A popular preseason sleeper pick, Davis fell well short of those expectations during the 2021 regular season. He finished the year as fantasy’s WR58 with 35 receptions for 549 yards and six touchdowns on 63 targets—nearly identical to his 2020 total of 35 receptions for 599 yards with seven touchdowns on 62 targets. It’s funny—or tragic—how the same stats can be a promising rookie campaign and also be an underwhelming letdown in Year 2. So then, how do we evaluate Davis heading into 2022 and beyond?
First, let’s add some proper context of just how good this game was for him. In the regular season, he finished with 125.9 PPR points. In this divisional matchup, he scored 52.1 PPR pts, or more precisely, Davis scored just over 41% of his season total in a single game. Given Davis’s WR58 finish, he’d have likely been the fifth- or sixth-best receiver on your dynasty squad. Even in a relatively deep league with big starting lineup requirements, he was at best a flex consideration where you’re looking to play the matchups.
There are a lot of guys in this murky in-between place in fantasy football and what it boils down to for me is whether I would even start a guy if the matchup made sense. Receivers already tend to be a bit streaky. Even guys like Tyreek Hill can put up a few stinkers before making up for it with a monster stat line seemingly out of the blue. But what we know about Hill is that he’s good to make us whole because it’s inevitable that he will provide that impact performance. Davis? Yeah, not so much.
If we’re going by snaps played through the divisional round, Davis finished fourth among his position group. Stefon Diggs (1,066 snaps), Emmanuel Sanders (790) and Cole Beasley (738) all out-snapped Davis (664). Sanders also missed three games (Weeks 15, 17 and 18). From Weeks 1-13, Davis never played more than 52% of snaps. In Weeks 14-20—six games total since he did not play in Week 16—Davis did see a big jump in playing time with Sanders out and there were some promising numbers as a result. He provided 5/43/1, 5/85/2, 3/40, 3/39, 2/41/1 and of course, 8/201/4. Let’s get even more hypothetical and exclude the Week 20 outlier game and focus on the first five. If we take those first five games and extrapolate them out to a full season: 61.2 receptions for 843.2 yards and 13.6 touchdowns. That’s 227 PPR points, putting him up there with Amon-Ra St. Brown, just outside the top-20 scoring WRs from this season. Let’s cut those touchdowns in half, down to 6.8, since that TD total is a bit far-fetched. That would give him 186.3 PPR points—still mighty respectable and within the top-30 wideouts, just ahead of DeVonta Smith.
So what do all these numbers, hypotheticals and extrapolations really tell us? For me, it tells us that even if Davis was elevated to firmly be in place as the Bills’ WR2, ahead of Sanders (will be 35 years old, under contract in 2022) and Beasley (will be 33 years old and also still under contract in 2022), Davis’s ceiling potential is a WR20 who would need about 14 touchdowns to be a dependable, set-it-and-forget-it caliber fantasy receiver. That’s a tall order, especially with do-it-all speedster WR Isaiah McKenzie vying for a larger role and TE Dawson Knox, who had a breakout year with 49 receptions for 587 yards and nine touchdowns.
Typically, instead of breaking down players into molecule form and looking at them through the microscope, I tend to believe if a player can do it once, then they can do it again. For a prospect at the end of my bench, that’s enough for me. The problem, as previously stated, is how long is the bust duration between booms—if you catch my drift. I don’t delude myself into believing that I can catch lightning in a bottle. Davis’s monster game didn’t exactly come out of nowhere given his recently increased playing time—but for me anyway—it would have been blind luck to have him in the starting lineup at the right time given his infrequent production.
I don’t mind holding Davis. I believe 2023 will be a meaningful opportunity for him if Sanders and Beasley are gone, but that also assumes the Bills don’t draft or sign anyone of note to compete with him. As I talk through this, I can’t reasonably vouch for Davis since so much comes down to having everything break just the right way in his favor.
For a soon-to-be third-year receiver, I would prefer a more grounded-in-reality upside. With a solid finish to his 2021 season and that whopper divisional round game, Davis’s value is back where it was during the offseason. There’s a perfectly valid argument to be made in his favor, but I view him as more Tyler Boyd than Tee Higgins. Like I said, I don’t mind holding but I’m wide-open to hearing offers and seeing what the best 2022 rookie pick I could get for him straight-up.
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