Buffalo Bills Fantasy Football 2017 Preview: LeSean McCoy Is Strong Choice

Wednesday August 2nd, 2017

The running game and the city of Buffalo go together like wings and blue cheese dressing, or like roast beef and kummelweck rolls. The city where O.J. Simpson and Thurman Thomas once shone as runners is now home to another great back.

The Bills have had an old-school offense the last two seasons, ranking first in running play percentage in 2015, second in 2016. Over the last two years, the only NFL team to run more than it threw was the ’15 edition of Bills.

We might not see pass-happiness in Buffalo this season, but the Bills’ offense could emerge from the Paleolithic era under new coordinator Rick Dennison. With Dennison as their offensive coordinator the last two seasons, the Broncos were squarely in the middle of the pack in run-pass percentage. Frankly, it’s somewhat surprising that Dennison didn’t call more running plays over that period, since the Broncos’ defense has arguably been the NFL’s best over the last two years, and their QB play has been subpar, first with a decaying Peyton Manning in 2015, then with an inexperienced Trevor Siemian last year.

On the other hand, the Bills’ offensive personnel is probably best suited for a run-heavy tilt. They have one of the best running backs in the league and a dearth of pass-catching talent.

The nice thing about the Bills from a fantasy perspective is that they have a skinny usage tree: Only three or four Bills will be drafted in average-sized leagues. A narrow distribution of touches takes some of the risk out of Buffalo’s top fantasy assets, even though the team itself isn’t projected to be very good.

Running Backs

PLAYER ADP FITZ RANKING ADVICE
LeSean McCoy RB4 RB3 Buy in mid-first

LeSean McCoy is unquestionably one of the best running backs in the game. Since 2011, Shady has had four seasons in which he’s played at least 15 games, and he’s been a top-three RB scorer in three of those four seasons. And it’s not as if McCoy is brittle. He’s missed 11 games over his eight-year career, which isn’t unreasonable for a player who’s averaged 285 touches per season. For his career, Shady has averaged 101.6 yards from scrimmage and 0.62 touchdowns per game. McCoy runs behind a strong offensive line, and the Bills’ offseason addition of fullback Patrick DiMarco, a top run blocker, should only brighten McCoy’s fantasy outlook. It’s also worth noting that the Bills often used Mike Gillislee at the goal line last year, yet McCoy still had 13 rushing touchdowns. Gillislee is now in New England, and Dennison might be less inclined to pull Shady in goal-line situations.

With an Ezekiel Elliott suspension seemingly inevitable, I have McCoy ranked RB3. I’d be willing to take him as early as eighth overall, behind Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson and the top five wide receivers.

McCoy’s top backup will be Jonathan Williams, a fifth-round draft pick in 2016 who had only 27 carries as a rookie. Williams isn’t particularly athletic, has minimal pass-catching experience and has had foot problems in the past, but he’d instantly become a coveted commodity if McCoy sustained a significant injury.

Quarterbacks

PLAYER ADP FITZ RANKING ADVICE
Tyrod Taylor QB17 QB15 Take the discount

Tyrod Taylor has finished QB8 in fantasy points per game in each of his two years as the Bills’ primary starter. Strangely, his current ADP of QB17 is lower that his 2016 ADP of QB13. The reluctance of drafters to fully embrace Taylor is at least somewhat understandable. His week-to-week production is often streaky. While he has admirable deep-ball accuracy, Taylor can be alarmingly scattered-armed on intermediate-range throws. And aside from WR Sammy Watkins, the Bills are light on proven pass catchers. But Taylor throws a pretty deep ball, and he’s probably the best running quarterback in the league. It’s a tremendous luxury to get good rushing numbers out of your quarterback, and Taylor’s legs have provided significant value, as he’s rushed for more than 500 yards in each of the last two seasons, with four TD runs in 2015 and six in 2016.

Taylor is a better fantasy quarterback than real-life quarterback, which is reflected in the Bills’ unwillingness to make a long-term commitment to him. I don’t love Taylor quite as much as some other fantasy writers do, but I agree that he’s a nice value at his current asking price.

Wide Receivers

PLAYER ADP FITZ RANKING ADVICE
Sammy Watkins WR16 WR12 Pray for health
Zay Jones WR58 WR61 Consider late

The risk/reward proposition with Sammy Watkins is pretty clear-cut. The risk is that he’s been plagued by foot injuries over the past two seasons and has undergone two surgeries to fix an issue that has caused him to miss 11 games and play at reduced capacity in others. The potential reward is getting a terrific route runner and playmaker who’s far and away the best pass catcher on his team and will probably be among the league leaders in targets if he plays all 16 games.

If the correctional surgery that Watkins had in January finally gets rid of his foot problems, I think we’ll see the kind of season we saw from him two years ago, when he caught 60 passes for 1,047 yards and nine touchdowns in only 13 games. I’m willing to bet on Watkins’ health and draft him ahead of his late-third-round ADP.

The probable starter opposite Watkins is rookie Zay Jones, who had an NCAA-record 158 receptions for East Carolina last year. The Bills traded up seven spots to take Jones early in the second round. He has good size (6-2, 201) and speed (4.45), but he averaged just 10.7 yards per catch in college, and only 23 of his 399 career receptions at East Carolina went for touchdowns. It’s a safe bet that Jones will be more valuable in PPR leagues than in standard formats, likely to get his fair share of receptions but with most of them being of the low-impact variety. Andre Holmes, Corey Brown and Walter Powell will also contend for snaps, but none are likely to hold any fantasy value.

Tight Ends

PLAYER ADP FITZ RANKING ADVICE
Charles Clay N/A TE30 Pass

Charles Clay has been a top-20 fantasy scorer at tight end for four consecutive seasons, though the only time he finished higher than 16th was 2013, when he ranked seventh as a member of the Dolphins. Clay would make a decent late-round TE option if he were more durable. He’s missed two games in each of the last two seasons and reportedly has a chronic knee problem.

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