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2012 Fantasy outlooks: Buffalo Bills

Senior Fantasy Writer
  •  

This might be the year for the Buffalo Bills.

The beleaguered franchise last went to the playoffs in 1999 and has had one winning season since then. Head coach Chan Gailey has not only assembled an offense that's been familiar with his scheme for two seasons, but he's also built a defense that took its pass rush from tepid to tremendous this offseason.

The Bills broke the bank for pass rusher Mario Williams and had a little bit left over for Mark Anderson -- the two should immediately pay dividends for a defense that put up 29 sacks last year. If that duo is bringing the heat it will make the Buffalo secondary that much more dangerous; last year they tallied 20 interceptions and this year they've added first-round pick Stephon Gilmore as a starter.

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Offensively, the Bills aren't delivering any new starters, at least not for Fantasy purposes. Fred Jackson is recovered from a broken leg and will find himself battling C.J. Spiller for reps in camp (both should see plenty of the field this season). Ryan Fitzpatrick has worked this offseason on his accuracy after posting a career-best 62 percent completion rate last year. Cutting down on his turnovers will be important, but nothing would help him more than developing a better rapport with his receivers. Steve Johnson re-signed and will play the part of a No. 1 receiver but has topped off at just over 1,000 yards each of the last two seasons. Nobody else has reeled in even more than 675 receiving yards. David Nelson, Scott Chandler (who also re-signed), Donald Jones and rookie T.J. Graham have to step up.

Where Buffalo's offense gets help is on its offensive line. Rookie Cordy Glenn and returning fourth-year lineman Eric Wood should boost what has long been an inefficient unit. The better they can protect Fitzpatrick -- he was sacked 46 times over the last two seasons (29 games) -- the better Gailey's offense will be. That happens to be an offense undergoing a number of tweaks, according to the players -- the personnel isn't changing but what they do will change. If the Bills defense can cut into the 27.1 points per game they were giving up last year while maintaining the 23.2 points per game they racked up on offense, they'll have a chance to earn a wild card spot, if not challenge the mighty Patriots for the AFC East title.

Fantasy Value Chart
Player Draft Day value Estimated round
Quarterbacks
Ryan Fitzpatrick ND
Running Backs
Fred Jackson 4
C.J. Spiller 8
Wide Receivers
Steve Johnson 6
David Nelson ND
Donald Jones ND
Tight Ends
Scott Chandler ND
Kickers/Defense
Rian Lindell ND
Bills DST 14
ND - not expected to get drafted

Bust ... C.J. Spiller, running back
Before Fred Jackson got hurt last year, Spiller averaged averaged 2.1 carries and 1.5 catches per game. After Jackson's injury, Spiller averaged 14.3 carries and 4.0 catches per game. Naturally, Spiller's bump in playing time was because Jackson was lost for the season, and he certainly had good numbers in most of those games. But it's not like Jackson's been a disappointment in Buffalo -- he's averaged at least 80 total yards per start for three straight years including a touch over 137 total yards per start last season. Unless it's proven that Jackson is no longer the consistent running back he's been for the Bills, Spiller's touches will likely be limited to 8-12 per game. He'll still hit some home runs but won't deliver the punch like he did late last year. Don't be the guy to reach for Spiller in your draft.

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Sleeper ... David Nelson, wide receiver
If you're into under-the-radar wide receivers entering their third year with stats trending upward -- and who isn't? -- then Nelson is a guy you need to take a look at, particularly if receptions count in your league. Nelson caught 61 of the 98 passes thrown his way last year, dealing with double teams for a good portion of the season. That's an area he's spent this offseason working on with NFL legend Tim Brown, and it's his intention to be indispensable to the Bills in camp this year. Nelson's yards per catch wasn't impressive last year and he had just two games with 10 or more Fantasy points in standard formats, but if this receiver improves like he hopes to then he should catch more passes and score more than the five times he did in 2011. In deeper drafts, he's fine as a reserve Fantasy option; in smaller standard formats you can wait for him to break out before picking him up off waivers. Let's call him a mid-season sleeper, one that isn't necessarily worth a pick but one to immediately toss on your scout team.

Late-round flier ... Ryan Fitzpatrick, quarterback
Every league is different: Some have owners who insist on taking two quarterbacks while others are filled with owners that are happy with just one. And some leagues have more than 10 or 12 teams. In those 14-plus team leagues, Fitzpatrick should fly as a late-round pick. Not only has he worked to improve his accuracy this offseason but he's coming back to an offense he's excelled in at times in each of the last two years. Plus, he's healthy after playing through a rib injury last season. We're not saying Fitzpatrick will finish as a Top 10 quarterback or anything like that, but if you miss out on backup quarterback gems like Robert Griffin III and Jay Cutler, don't feel defeated into taking Fitzpatrick. He's a good quarterback with the confidence of his coach -- if he didn't have it, he wouldn't have thrown it 569 times last year, sixth-most in 2011.

Schedule breakdown

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
@NYJ KC @CLE NE @SF @ARI TEN bye @HOU @NE MIA @IND JAC STL vsSEA @MIA NYJ

The chatter that the Bills are a playoff darkhorse team has been picking up steam this summer, but if they're going to make a run it'll happen in the back half of their schedule. Their season is bookended by matchups against the Jets (both of which could be wins for them), they're done with the Patriots after Week 10 and have four home games (including their matchup vs. the Seahawks in Toronto) in their final five games. It's the first time in several years that the Bills got a good schedule.

Training camp topics

2011 Touches Leaders
Player Touches
Fred Jackson 170 carries, 39 catches
C.J. Spiller 107 carries, 39 catches
Steve Johnson 76 catches
David Nelson 61 catches
Brad Smith 23 catches, 20 carries

It's a low-pressure camp in Buffalo -- there isn't a lot of competition for starting spots. Fitzpatrick is entrenched as the starter, as is Steve Johnson. Scott Chandler probably won't have to fend off anyone to be the top tight end. Spiller could push Jackson, especially if Jackson shows some rust (if he does it will obviously impact his draft value), but both guys will play.

Perhaps the biggest battle is at the No. 2 receiver spot as Nelson, Donald Jones, Derek Hagan and a cast of about a half-dozen others compete for roster spots and starts. Nelson is the leader in the clubhouse but Jones, who hurt his ankle last season, could still make a play for his spot if not the No. 3 receiver gig. Rookie T.J. Graham has the speed Gailey loves but hasn't adjusted to the Bills offense just yet -- he could end up doing more on kick and punt returns.

There's been a little concern about Johnson, who had groin surgery after signing a nice contract extension this offseason. He worked sparingly in team drills this offseason and said in late June that he felt he was at 90 percent. If you're not worried about the injury, you might be worried about him slowing down now that he has some guaranteed money in his pocket. It's possible he could see a statistical decline, especially if he has to keep off of his legs for part of camp, but Johnson has been outspoken about getting the Bills to the playoffs. A couple of good preseason games should rest any concerns.

The overhaul on defense will garner the most attention this summer. New defensive end Mario Williams anchors a unit that is expected to disrupt every single quarterback they face. What's more, the Bills are moving to the 4-3 scheme after two years in the 3-4 -- teams have moved to the 3-4 formation seamlessly in a year but going the other way has been tricky. New defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt has a ton of experience working with the 4-3 and will lean on his defensive line. That line not only includes Williams and fellow new pass rusher Mark Anderson but gets back stout defensive tackle Kyle Williams along with second-year big boy Marcell Dareus and effective-when-healthy rusher Shawne Merriman. The Bills might have one of the best D-lines in the league. With a secondary that's been underrated for a couple of years, that could be a dangerous combination.

Injury update

Fred Jackson (leg; probable for the start of training camp) ... Steve Johnson (groin; probable for the start of training camp) ... Mario Williams (pectoral; probable for the start of training camp) ... Terrence McGee (knee; probable for the start of training camp) ... Shawne Merriman (Achilles; probable for the start of training camp) ... Rian Lindell (shoulder; probable for the start of training camp).

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard and on Facebook .

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Player News
When DeAndre Hopkins is targeted, good things happen
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:25 pm ET) In Week 7 at Pittsburgh, Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins was on equal terms with Andre Johnson for once, tying for the team lead with nine targets. It was the first time he got as many targets as Johnson in a game this season, and just as encouraging, it came only a week after getting a season-low two targets.

Hopkins led the Texans with 108 yards on six catches. Despite the disparity in targets, it wasn't the first time he went for more yards than Johnson, but the third. The first came in his only other nine-target game Week 3 at the Giants, when he had 116 yards on six catches.

Hopkins may not get the targets you'd like for a wide receiver to get in Fantasy, but he's efficient with what he gets, meaning when he gets a decent number of targets, like in Weeks 3 and 7, he's almost assured big numbers. With Johnson still the go-to guy for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, though, Hopkins also has the potential to underwhelm any given week.

He's best used as a No. 3 wide receiver in Fantasy, making him a bye-week replacement in some leagues. But if Johnson ever goes down, as he has done all too often in his career, watch out.


Eagles LB Mychal Kendricks practices Tuesday
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:21 pm ET) Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who's missed four straight games with a calf injury, practiced Tuesday and appears on track to return Sunday at Arizona. Kendricks had 13 tackles and a sack in the first two games.

Takeaways make Steelers' day
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:09 pm ET) The Steelers didn't have a tremendous defensive performance Week 7 against Houston, falling into an early 13-0 hole and ultimately giving up 23 points on 393 yards. But they did a fine job taking the ball away from the Texans, allowing their offense to come from behind for the victory.

They got an interception from Brett Keisel and two fumble recoveries, one by Troy Polamalu and one by Sean Spence. The three takeaways were the most they've had in a game this season.

The Steelers did have one sack but remain a poor source of those this year, tying with the Bengals for 23rd with 10. Because their DST has thrived only in games in which it's gotten a touchdown, it remains a risky start in Fantasy.

With the Steelers facing the Colts, the league's No. 1 offense, in Week 8, you should avoid the Steelers DST in Fantasy.


Report: Bills adding RB Phillip Tanner
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:06 pm ET) Faced with limited depth in the backfield, the Bills are signing former Cowboys running back Phillip Tanner, reports the National Football Post.

Texans allow 30 points again
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:55 pm ET) After allowing 33 points Week 6 against Indianapolis, the Texans allowed 30 Week 7 at Pittsburgh. But while their struggles were to be expected against a Colts offense that ranks No. 1 in the NFL, at least in terms of yardage, the same can't be said for their matchup against the Steelers, who scored 10 points against the Browns in Week 6 and 17 against the Jaguars in Week 5.

Because turnovers kept putting the Steelers in good field position, the Texans allowed 328 yards, only 12 away from their season low. They recorded three sacks, equaling a season high met twice previously, but their only takeaway was a fumble recovery in the first quarter.

The Texans haven't had a favorable schedule of late, but their DST has mostly held its own. Again, the 30 points given up in this one was as much the fault of the offense. With an appealing matchup Week 8 at Tennessee, the Texans DST is an advisable play in Fantasy.


Report: Darren Sproles still unlikely to play Sunday
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:49 pm ET) While Eagles running back Darren Sproles (knee) returned to a limited practice Tuesday, he's still unlikely to suit up Sunday at Arizona, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. Sproles did not participate in pass-catching drills with the running backs and was seen doing light running during individual drills, the report said.

Sproles sprained his MCL in the Week 6 win over the Giants. The Eagles had a Week 7 bye.


Eagles C Jason Kelce back on the field
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:32 pm ET) Eagles starting center Jason Kelce, who's coming back from sports hernia surgery, returned to practice Tuesday as the team prepared for Sunday's game at Arizona, reports CSNPhilly.com. Kelce suffered the injury Week 3 against Washington.

Eagles RB Darren Sproles returns to practice
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:30 pm ET) Eagles running back Darren Sproles, who sprained his MCL in the Week 6 win over the Giants, returned to practice Tuesday, reports CSNPhilly.com. He is ahead of schedule and has a chance to play Sunday at Arizona.

Two Patriots' offensive linemen back at practice
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:21 pm ET) Patriots offensive linemen Dan Connolly and Bryan Stork, who missed Week 7 with concussions, returned to practice Tuesday, reports the Boston Herald.

Report: Aldon Smith's suspension could be reduced
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:17 pm ET) 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith is suspended for the season's first nine games for violating league policies on personal conduct and substance abuse. But according to Pro Football Talk, Smith could have his suspension reduced one or two games for good behavior.

The 49ers are on a bye this week. If Smith's suspension gets cut, he could return as early as Week 9 against the Rams, the report said.


 
 
 
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