Every year the fantasy gurus of The Sports Cannon get together to give you the best fantasy football rankings, cheat sheets, sleepers busts and latest breaking news. We update after every NFL free-agency move, and follow all of the NFL trade rumors. This year, we're also going to bring you an in-depth fantasy football-focused team preview for all 32 NFL clubs. In this, our second installment, we will analyze the Buffalo Bills, and which players, if any, are poised for fantasy success.
You can see all of our team previews here.
Where do we start? The Bills had some breakout performances from two unlikely fantasy candidates, but had the same outcome that Buffalo fans have become accustomed to. Quickly becoming one of the NFL’s worst franchises, the Bills are now going to be playing more games in Canada, opening the door for a potential move to the Great White North.
The Bills offense was the only thing to root for last season, as their defense gave up one 100-yard running campaign after another. The Bills could never quite get their 3-4 defenses off and running last season, opting to use a hybrid of 4-3 and 3-4 sets. This year the Bills will look to run primarily 3-4 sets, but will that just make things worse?
Head Coach Chan Gailey will again be the Bills head coach. Yes, we were surprised about that. Gailey is an offense-minded coach and certainly made the Bills offense look much better than they probably are. The fact is though, that Gailey is the fifth Bills head coach in 10 years. The Bills may actually have some stability this season, but who knows for how long.
Curtis Modkins will take over as the new offensive coordinator/running backs coach, the latter being his primary role. Modkins helped the Cardinals subpar rushing attack somewhat in 2009, and it is likely he was brought in to specifically help the progression of former first-round draft pick C.J. Spiller. Modkins has spent the majority of his coaching career working with Gailey, so there is a trust factor there that should help the Bills offensive productivity.
The Bills also brought in new blood to head their underperforming defensive unit. George Edwards has an extensive background as a linebackers coach in his professional career. The Bills have to create more of a pass rush if they want to have a successful 3-4 unit, which Edwards claims they will run more often than not. No position is more important in the 3-4 than the outside, pass-rushing linebackers.
Now listen, we love Ryan Fitzpatrick, we really do. But he is not a franchise quarterback, and knowing Buffalo’s history and downright awful offensive line, Fitzpatrick is a few bad games away from being replaced by Tyler Thigpen.
Bills’ General Manager Buddy Nix has claimed that Fitzpatrick’s seat as starter is safe, but we will believe it when we see it. We’re not totally down on Fitzpatrick, however, just the Bills’ track record. Last season the Bills let Trent Edwards take the majority of preseason and training camp snaps, making Fitzpatrick even less prepared to take over as starter, which he did in week 3.
Fitzpatrick doesn’t have much to look forward to as far as pass protection is concerned this year either. Last season the Bills allowed 35 sacks despite Fitzpatrick’s usually quick release. This year the organization has done little in the way of improving its pass protection. There is some optimism at right tackle, but Fitzpatrick has no protection on his blind side as Demetrius Bell is not going to cut it.
There should be some reason to believe in Fitzpatrick this season. Though this training camp period will be different than most, Fitzpatrick will actually have a chance to practice with the starting group for a month before the regular season kicks off. We expect his numbers to increase, but not that much.
We will be very interested to see to what effect Curtis Modkin’s coaching style will have on Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller this year. To this point in their Bills’ careers, only Jackson has shown flashes of being a feature back.
Over the past two seasons Jackson has been the primary runner for Buffalo. He has broken 1,000 yards once and last year’s five touchdown campaign was his career best. In other words, as good as Jackson seems he is flex worthy at best. In Modkin’s role as running backs coach he has shown a history of splitting carries between his backs, utilizing their specific traits and skills.
This year we should see more from Spiller in Buffalo. Although he will have to shore up his fumbling issues and work on his blocking if he wants to see regular snaps. Spiller will be used mostly as a Reggie Bush-type back this season. Coach Gailey wants to get Spiller the ball in open space, meaning he wants to utilize him as a receiver out of the backfield. We don’t have high expectations for Spiller. In deeper leagues he may be a worthwhile flex option, but only time and the preseason will tell.
This is where a lot of us at TSC are split. We’re not sure if last year’s breakout star Steve Johnson was just a one-hit wonder or not. We like the fact that he is in a contract year; that will make any wide receiver work a little bit harder during the season. We also like the talks coming from the Bills’ coaching staff, too.
In an effort to eliminate bad matchups against Johnson, the Bills will look to move him around the field even more in 2011. We loved Johnson last season. His stats were phenomenal. Johnson was very consistent in fantasy, and an even better pickup in PPR leagues. It’s far too often that guys like Chad Ochocinco get overhyped because of their ability, but no one realizes how inconsistent on a weekly basis they are. You can almost bet your house that Johnson will have at least four catches per game this season—or at least you could last year.
After Johnson we move on to Lee Evans. Yes, we had to bring him up. Evans has been hyped up in fantasy before, so don’t worry we won’t be doing the same. Evans recently turned 30 and his trademark speed is deteriorating. The coaching staff has vowed to use him as more than just a deep threat this season, but we wouldn’t be surprised if he posts another season with catches in the low 40s.
Evans’ drop in fantasy value brings us to an interesting scenario of who will be a better fantasy target: Roscoe Parrish or David Nelson. Parrish started the year off strong as a slot receiver for the Bills before breaking his wrist. He has since had the pins removed, but we are wary of receivers with hand/wrist injuries. Nelson will be going into his second season, and also showed some signs of being a breakout star after stepping in for the injured Parrish. Nelson could be cut if Parrish doesn’t bounce back from injury. If Parrish doesn’t, however, we think Nelson could impress in this offense.
The Bills just don’t utilize their tight ends all that often as they tend to stick with the shotgun formation on most passing downs. As of now, Scott Chandler is at the top of the depth chart, and his 6’7”, 272 lb. frame could certainly be utilized in the red zone, but it likely won’t be.
Shawn Nelson is one candidate to make an impact at tight end, but Nelson unfortunately has been suffering debilitating migraines and is seeing a specialist. If Nelson can stay healthy he has the most potential as a pass-catching tight end, but again, they don’t do that kind of thing in Buffalo.
The Bills are all kind of confusing on defense. I don’t think they know what they want to do this year. Although George Edwards has extensive background shoring up poor linebacker play, it seems that Assistant Head Coach and Linebackers Coach Dave Wannstedt is going to have more of the say on who lines up where.
The Bills lost fan favorite Paul Posluszny to the Jaguars this off-season, but may have gotten an upgrade with newly acquired Nick Barnett set to take over for Poz. It was expected that rookie Kelvin Sheppard would have an opportunity to play inside linebacker this year, but instead it seems the Bills may use one of their promising outside rushers to take that role instead.
Arthur Moats is considered to be the team’s best pass rusher, which would mean he would play OLB; instead he is the one lining up next to Barnett. The Bills must have some faith in Aaron Maybin and Shawne Merriman that we don’t. We also haven’t been a fan of Wannstedt’s personnel decisions in the past either, so it’s come full circle.
The secondary on paper looked great, but their stats may have been inflated thanks to their porous run defense. This year the Bills lost Donte Whitner to the 49ers and rookie Da’Norris Searcy probably won’t crack the lineup until next season.
Rian Lindell will return because, well, he may be the only person that can kick in the Buffalo winters. Lindell is pretty accurate, but he won’t get too many chances in this offense.
Steve Johnson – It’s hard to call Johnson a sleeper since he was arguably the best fantasy player in Buffalo last year. We think he could be even better, meaning more yards and more catches now that he has increased practice time with Fitzpatrick. In other words, feel good about drafting Johnson at his average ADP of 59th overall; he will could be worth much, much more than that.
C.J. Spiller –.The Bills offensive line is really only good at running the ball and they will do a lot more of it this year. It will also mean that Spiller will get more opportunities, and you are going to hear about his increased role in the passing game…don’t buy it. This is a win now league and Spiller hasn’t shown much more than fumbilitis.