Fantasy Depth Chart Review - Buffalo
Entering 2015, Buffalo is a team in transition. The Doug Marrone regime is out, and the Bills are starting anew with Rex Ryan in at head coach and Greg Roman taking the reigns at offensive coordinator.
The analysis team at PFF has been unveiling their projected depth charts for all 32 NFL teams, and these can give us insight into what we can expect in 2015. Let’s take a look at the fantasy implications of the projected Bills depth chart. For links to all the other fantasy team previews CLICK HERE.
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The quarterback position is wide open in Buffalo with Matt Cassel, E.J. Manuel, and Tyrod Taylor all vying for the starting gig. We’re currently projecting Cassel to open the season as the starter, however recent reports have suggested Taylor has a legitimate shot to start. While the battle will be interesting to watch, there’s little fantasy value to be had here.
Wide receiver is fairly straight forward with Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods projected to start on the outside and Percy Harvin in the slot.
Watkins is coming off an up and down injury-plagued rookie season in which he flashed moments of brilliance, especially in Weeks 7 and 8 where he racked up a combined 279 yards and three scores. But he followed that up with just 13 catches for 105 yards over his next four games.
Watkins still managed to finish as a borderline WR2 for fantasy purposes, but there were many weeks where he was barely startable. Despite his premium pedigree, those expecting Watkins to rise to the WR1 ranks this season will be disappointed. The Bills quarterback situation along with Rex Ryan’s run-heavy offense put a cap on Watkins’ fantasy ceiling.
The news isn’t any better for Harvin’s fantasy prospects. Following his unceremonious departure from the Seahawks in Week 7, Harvin posted two 100-yard games with the Jets (Weeks 9 & 14). It’s fair to suggest he has this sort of upside in Buffalo, but the situation is very similar: Ryan’s offense, pedestrian quarterback, and slot receiver role. Harvin’s ceiling is high, but his floor is very low. He had three catches or fewer in five of eight games with the Jets last season.
Of course, the big news for the Bills in the offseason was the acquisition of LeSean McCoy from the Eagles in exchange for Kiko Alonso. McCoy is certainly an upgrade on what the Bills already had at the position, but it’s not fair to simply assume McCoy is an elite fantasy option in Buffalo.
For starters, he saw nearly identical carry totals in each of the last two seasons – 314 attempts in 2013, and 312 in 2014. Yet, his yards per carry dipped dramatically from 5.1 to 4.2. In 2013, McCoy was among the most elusive running backs in the league causing a combined 75 missed tackles and posting an elusive rating of 48.8. Last season, he caused 48 missed tackles and posted the second lowest elusive rating (28.9) among running backs who saw at least 50 percent of their team’s carries.
We also need to consider the fact that he’s going from PFF’s best run-blocking offense in 2014 to the second worst. Now, their offensive line is arguable better than it was last season. Erik Pears is now in San Francisco and third-round rookie John Miller will fill his spot at right guard. Former second-rounder Cyrus Kouandjio will likely unseat Seantrel Henderson at right tackle. Both Pears and Henderson were among the league’s worst run-blockers last season. The Bills also added Richie Incognito in the offseason.
Right now, there’s lots of talk about how the Bills want to feed McCoy. While that may be the case, his declining numbers last season plus the fact that he’s entering his age-27 season are reason enough to proceed with caution. It’s tough to recommend him as anything more than a backend RB1.
Behind McCoy, the Bills have aging veteran Fred Jackson along with rookie Karlos Williams, Anthony Dixon, and Bryce Brown. It’s likely at least one of these players is expendable. Early indications suggest that player is Dixon, though that could certainly change.
While McCoy will be the Bills’ feature back, Williams is an intriguing player to monitor, especially in dynasty leagues. A converted safety, Williams underwhelmed last season at Florida State, but posted a 4.48 40-yard dash at the Combine. He also scored 22 rushing touchdowns in two seasons with the Seminoles.
At tight end, the Bills went out and signed Charles Clay, formerly of the Dolphins. A capable receiver, Clay was fantasy’s No. 7 tight end in 2013. His numbers regressed last season, and he finished as a mid-pack TE2. Don’t expect him to finish any higher this year. The quarterback situation and run-heavy offense will limit Clay’s targets and give him a low fantasy ceiling.
Flipping to the defensive side of the ball, the Bills will switch back to a 3-4 base defense under Ryan. Along the defensive interior, this likely means Marcell Dareus will move to nose tackle. A revelation last season, Dareus racked up 10 sacks on 32 QB pressures and finished as a top 20 fantasy defensive lineman. Dareus is still worth fantasy consideration, but he’s a lock for sack regression. That said, he played nose in 2013 and put up 71 total tackles.
Under the new defensive alignment, we have Kyle Williams projected to kick outside to defensive end. He saw a similar role in 2013 and put up 10.5 sacks. If Williams remains classified as a “DT,” he’ll be a priority player in DT-required leagues.
Speaking of classifications, we’re all but guaranteed to see Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes reclassified as OLBs. Unfortunately, this pushes both players to the fringes of fantasy relevance in all but big play scoring leagues. Neither player offers a high enough tackle floor for consideration in balanced and tackle-heavy formats.
Moving to inside linebacker, we have Preston Brown and Nigel Bradham projected to start. While both players are likely to see subpackage snaps, Bradham is the favorite for every-down duties and is projected in the favorable WILB spot. He’s coming off a solid season where he graded out as our No. 13 4-3 outside linebacker out of 40 qualifiers. In an every-down role, Bradham screams upside as an LB2 who you likely can get for an LB3 price on draft day.
Brown’s fantasy value will hinge on is subpackages duties. The previous regime was confident enough in Brown to use him as their lone linebacker in dime packages. Brown graded out positively in coverage, which suggests he should see at least nickel snaps. In New York, Ryan tended to leave both of his inside linebackers on the field in subpackages. If that’s the case in Buffalo, Brown will have LB3 fantasy value.
The only other situation of note in Buffalo for fantasy owners is at safety. Aaron Williams is a good bet to start at strong safety again for the Bills. Williams didn’t do much for fantasy purposes last season, managing just 76 total tackles and one interception. That performance ranked him 88th in fantasy scoring among defensive backs. At best, Williams is a matchup-based streamer.
The real intrigue in the Buffalo secondary is with Corey Graham, who impressed last season with 84 total tackles and finished as fantasy’s No. 31 defensive back. He did so as a corner, but will be moved to safety this season so the Bills can get all their best players on the field.
With Stephon Gimore and Leodis McKelvin manning the starting corner spots and rookie CB Ronald Darby also in the mix, Graham figures to see at least subpackage duties at safety with Duke Williams manning the base downs. If relegated to a situational role, it’s unlikely we see Graham approach his 2014 numbers.
Jeff Ratcliffe is the Assistant Managing Editor and resident IDP maven and DFS junkie of PFF Fantasy.