Well, where to begin with the neglected and forgotten basement dwellers of the AFC East. In 2009 they struggled on offense, defense, special teams, cheerleading, stadium vendoring, etc. The Bills offseason needs were numerous and remained primarily unaddressed through both the draft and free agency, as if they are trying to slip into obscurity before making the move to Toronto in the next few years. One thing is for sure the Bills management have made it clear that they have faith in their personnel and are hoping that this year they can finally turn it around and scrap their way out of the doldrums at the bottom of the league. Ahead I will address the Bills Fantasy Draft Targets, as well as provide analysis of their schedule and offensive and defensive coaching strategies coming into the 2010 NFL Football Season.
Buffalo Bills 2010 Fantasy Football Draft Targets
Guess what we’ve got in Buffalo for the third year running… a little good old fashioned Quarterback Controversy. One of the Bills biggest needs in the offseason seemed to be a franchise QB, but to the shock and awe of the media and most of their fans, the Bills refrained from making a free agent signing or drafting a quarterback (they had the 9th overall pick) in the offseason. So again, this is what the Buffalo faithful have to look forward to coming into 2010…
Trent Edwards: Has potential at the position, but not as a starter. When Edwards stepped into the starting role in Buffalo in 2008 he ranked fourth in the league in completion percentage and seemed to be gaining confidence in the Bill offensive scheme, but 2009 told a different story. Edwards suffered from having a sub-par offensive line in front of him and was hit hard and hit often, leaving him with a concussion and an ankle injury that forced him out of the line up for half of the 2009 season. I really do not foresee Trent Edwards bouncing back much in 2010. The raw talent is there, but he lacks the weapons and the arm strength to produce big numbers. Edwards should be left towards the bottom of most teams QB draft boards, especially since when he was healthy last season his best game was a 230 yd, 2 TD, performance against the hapless Buccaneers.
Ryan Fitzpatrick: The most likely scenario is that Fitzpatrick will start the season as the backup, but again, this is the Bills we are talking about and stranger things have happened (remember TO?). Fitzpatrick has a notoriously weak arm and failed to produce consistently when he stepped into the starting role last season in the wake of Trent Edwards myriad of injuries. While he did throw for 9 touchdowns, he was also responsible for 10 interceptions and two consecutive sub-100 yard performances.
Overall, neither quarterback has the arm strength to get the ball down the field and neither should be your starter going into week one, or any week really. The Bills offense should be more wide open under Chan Gailey, but the weapons on the outside and under center are simply not there to produce big aerial numbers. They ranked 30th in passing yards per game (157.2) and 28th in points per game (16.1) last season with the combination of Edwards and Fitzpatrick at the helms, and I do not see them digging themselves out of that hole anytime soon.
Fred Jackson: In 2009, Fred Jackson certainly deserved the majority of the touches that he got despite most people believing that Marshawn Lynch was/is a superior player. Last year there was no question that Jackson has the talent to be an every down back, but a weak offensive line and the addition of C.J. Spiller could deplete his fantasy production. With Spiller waiting in the wings Jackson could be used more as a first and second down back and Spiller as their home run hitter, but I do not think that will be the case until Spiller has proven himself in an NFL game. For now this is Jackson’s spot to lose after accumulating 1,062 rushing yards in 2009. The downside to Jackson is that he only managed to score 4 total touchdowns last year, which could, and should, make fantasy owners weary in their upcoming drafts. Jackson, for now, is a solid backup, but is certainly not going to win you, or the Bills, any silverware. If Marshawn Lynch stays in Buffalo this could become a case of running back by committee, and all of their stats could decline accordingly. I look for him to have a season very similar to last year, around 1,000 yards rushing and 5 total touchdowns in their open attack.
Marshawn Lynch/C.J. Spiller- These two guys are wild cards for very different reasons. Lynch has the physical skills to be a hard nosed downhill runner and an everyday back in this league but seems to lack the focus and discipline to do so. The talk was that this year was going to be the year he would not only resurrect his short career, but also his sordid reputation, but any change has yet to be seen. Lynch has been seen training in Buffalo, just not with the Bills. Lynch has only attending a handful, if that, of OTAs so far, which leaves fans and management speculative of his commitment to the Bills in the coming season. Spiller, on the other hand, is simply unproven at this level. He has speed to burn and a work ethic that is severely needed in Buffalo, but the question remains if he can produce in the National Football League. I think he will be dangerous and will meet the high expectations that people have set for him (700-800 total yds, 3 TDs), but I think most of his production will come as a receiver out of the backfield and as a return man. Give Spiller a year to adjust to the speed of the game and he will begin to produce bigger and bigger numbers, just not this year, not quite yet.
Lee Evans- Evans is the only true threat that the Bills have at the wide receiver position. In the past Evans has put up solid numbers with a few 1,000 yard seasons sprinkled in here and there, but the question remains if he is a viable fantasy option with the Bills’ question marks at quarterback. I think that Evans will be a solid backup on a fantasy team who will still catch 7 or so touchdowns this year and be the primary target in the red zone, highlighted by departure of Terrell Owens, but is not going to be a big week to week point producer. Fantasy-wise there is potential that he could be a surprise because he is the Bills only proven receiver, with the #2 spot wide open for competition between James Hardy (1 catch in 2009), Chad Jackson (Did not play in 2009), and Steve Johnson (2 catches in 2009), but that is something we will just have to keep an eye on for the time being.
Tight End is a massive question mark for the Buffalo Bills. They do have two young tight ends that could be valuable coming into the 2010 season but Derek Schouman is coming off of major knee surgery and Shawn Nelson failed to be a consistent receiver or blocker in his rookie campaign. Nelson seems to be the favorite to take on the starting role again this year with his size and speed he could be a big surprise as a pass catcher, but his lack of discipline could limit his touches. I would not recommend either as a viable first option in the draft but I could see Nelson becoming a valuable commodity in free agency as the season progresses and he settles into his role, but again do not expect massive numbers over the long haul.
The Bills D was one of the few bright spots to come out of the 2009 campaign. They put together a relatively solid season considering their stiff divisional competition and put their team in a position to win on a consistent basis with half of their losses coming by 7 points or less. One of the biggest issues that the Bills defense faces is that they need to strike some sort of balance because they sport the 2nd best pass defense in the league, but they also 30th against the rush. It was as frustrating to watch as it seemed because any advantage they would gain over an opposing quarterback (28 INTs), they would lose it against even the most inept rushing attack (117 yards to Jamal Lewis). Since they are so polarized I cannot recommend them as a whole, despite the fact that they do an amazing job attacking the football in the air. They simply do not have the personnel up front to stop the ball on the ground. If they can find a way to address those issues they could be a dangerous point scoring defense, but as of now there are literally too many holes for them to be a primary option. If you play in a league with defensive impact players look for their secondary to keep up their stellar play and watch out for Jairus Byrd who quietly, very quietly, was tied for the league lead in interceptions with nine in just thirteen games as a rookie last season.
Wk Date Opponent
1 Sun, Sept 12th Miami Dolphins
2 Sun, Sept 19th @ Green Bay Packers
3 Sun, Sept 26th @ New England Patriots
4 Sun, Oct 3rd New York Jets
5 Sun, Oct 10th Jacksonville Jaguars
6 BYE WEEK
7 Sun, Oct 24th @ Baltimore Ravens
8 Sun, Oct 31st @ Kansas City Chiefs
9 Sun, Nov 7th Chicago Bears (in Toronto!)
10 Sun, Nov 14th Detroit Lions
11 Sun, Nov 21st @ Cincinnati Bengals
12 Sun, Nov 28th Pittsburgh Steelers
13 Sun, Dec 5th @ Minnesota Vikings
14 Sun, Dec 12th Cleveland Browns
15 Sun, Dec 19th @ Miami Dolphins
16 Sun, Dec 26th New England Patriots
17 Sun, Jan 2nd @ New York Jets
Being in the AFC East certainly does not do you any favors schedule-wise. The Bills may be the only team in the AFC East who will not competing for a playoff spot down the home stretch. I am not saying that the Bills are that bad, it is merely to say that their division has potential to be that good. For Buffalo to be competitive this season they need to steal a couple of wins against divisional foes and they need to win the games they should win. I think the Bills will take care of KC, Cleveland, and grab a big win in Toronto over the Bears, but if they stumble at all out of the gate they could limp into their Bye Week winless and out of the playoff picture altogether. The Bills will most likely finish off another relatively disappointing season going 5-11 overall and last in the AFC East. There are simply too many well rounded teams that will take advantage of their weaknesses on offense and their defense is not nearly good enough to dig them out of any early holes.
With Chan Gailey at the helms, the Buffalo Bills offense will become more spread out than it has in past years, but it will still stutter and fizzle out. The spread offense will open more holes for Jackson, Spiller and Lynch, but due to their lack of explosiveness on the outside most defenses will have their linebackers stay at home and locked in on the rush forcing them to go to the air more than they would like. Opposing coaches will try to make the Bills beat them through the air and put pressure on their unproven quarterback(s) and receivers to make plays before backing off respecting their passing game. Right now that is what the Bills offense is out for, respect, and if they plan on gaining that respect they need to be able to balance their offense, establish a short effective passing game with screens and slants and not rely solely upon their running game to get the job done.
Although they may lack the name recognition, besides Paul Posluszny, the Bills do have the pieces to be successful on the defensive side of the ball. Their main objective is to find a way to stop the run, which is going to start up front with Aaron Schobel and Aaron Maybin, but they can not do it alone. In the offseason they made some key acquisitions to do just that by picking up the versatile linebacker Reggie Torbor in free agency and NT Torell Troup and DE Alex Carrington through the draft. They need to utilize their speed to attack the line, clog the middle of the field, and force their opposition to beat them through the air. I still see the Bills playing a bit conservative in the beginning of the season in order to find their balance but as the year progresses look for their safeties to step up the pressure at the line and provide a little extra support. Despite the fact that the added pressure will leave them slightly exposed to the pass, their corners are good enough to contain many of the receivers they will see. The Bills will have a little more success on the defensive side of the ball this year, but with no major improvements in the offseason I can not see them being a real intimidating force.