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2014 Fantasy Outlooks: Buffalo Bills

Senior Fantasy Writer
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The Bills made a power move during the NFL Draft when they mortgaged the future to trade up to select receiver Sammy Watkins at No. 4 overall. We're going to find out right away if he's worth it.

Buffalo then sent Steve Johnson to San Francisco, so this passing attack will have a dramatically different look to it this season than it did in 2013. The key, however, remains the growth of quarterback EJ Manuel, and we hope he has a better sophomore campaign than what he showed as a rookie.

Manuel had trouble staying healthy, missing six games due to knee problems, and he finished with five games with 20-plus Fantasy points in a standard league and five games with 16 points or fewer. In other words, when he was good, he was a serviceable, and when he was bad, he was putrid.

Now, no one is drafting Manuel as anything more than a No. 2 quarterback in the deepest of leagues, but if Fantasy owners want to consider Watkins or even Robert Woods and Mike Williams as potential starting options, then Manuel has to step up his performance. He is someone to watch in the preseason for sure.

And you can figure that if Manuel is playing well then C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson also have the chance for quality production, so here's hoping we get a breakout performance from Manuel in 2014.

Don't give up yet ... C.J. Spiller

There isn't a lot to love about Spiller coming into the season if you were burned by him in 2013. He was a bust last year, Jackson is still in Buffalo and the Bills actually traded for a running back with Bryce Brown from Philadelphia.

But I wouldn't shy away from Spiller -- this time in Round 3 instead of Round 1. The talent is still there, and we hope he can stay healthy, which was a problem in 2013. He had a knee injury in the preseason and then a nagging ankle problem all year. Coach Doug Marrone said he was never 100 percent, and we hope to see Spiller at full strength for 16 games.

Yes, Jackson and possibly Brown will take away touches, but Spiller is only a year removed from 1,700 total yards and eight touchdowns. He's entering a potential contract year, and the Bills still plan to lean on him as their No. 1 running back.

There's less risk drafting him as your No. 2 running back in the third or fourth round instead of No. 2 overall, and I expect him to reward you this season with a bounce-back performance.

Give him some time ... Sammy Watkins

Watkins might eventually develop into one of the best receivers in NFL history. The ability is there after he had 224 catches for 3,164 yards and 25 touchdowns at Clemson, and he has the physical tools to dominate at the NFL level. But it's hard to figure that will happen right away.

Manuel was shaky as a rookie quarterback in 2013 and Buffalo's best receiver last season was Woods -- who was No. 55 in Fantasy points -- so this isn't an offense with a dynamic passing game from a year ago. Watkins, based on his talent, should be better than Woods and Johnson, and he will make Manuel better if he lives up to the hype. But we want to see it first.

I'd go into Draft Day with Watkins as a No. 4 Fantasy receiver with a mid-round pick. He's behind fellow rookies Brandin Cooks and Mike Evans for seasonal leagues -- I like Watkins better in dynasty formats -- and I'd gamble on veterans like Jeremy Maclin, Marques Colston and Reggie Wayne over Watkins this year. Those guys are in better offenses, and I'm expecting better production early on.

I hope to be starting Watkins by the middle of the season, but that's an optimistic view. If Manuel can stay healthy and show progress while developing a rapport with Watkins right away then the stats will follow. But it could take time for that to happen, so be patient with Watkins on your bench to start the year.

On the outs ... Fred Jackson

2013 Touches Leaders
845 total touches
Fred Jackson 253 (206 car., 47 rec.) 29.9%
C.J. Spiller 235 (202 car., 33 rec.) 27.8%
Steve Johnson 53 (1 car., 52 rec.) 6.3%
Scott Chandler 53 rec. 6.3%
Robert Woods 42 (2 car., 40 rec.) 4.9%
All Others 209 24.7%

This is likely the last season for Jackson in Buffalo and possibly the NFL. He's 33 and entering a contract year, and the Bills acquired his replacement with Brown during the NFL Draft.

Jackson was great last season with Spiller battling injuries. He finished as the No. 10 Fantasy running back in standard leagues with 207 carries for 896 yards and nine touchdowns and 47 catches for 387 yards and a touchdown. The rushing and total touchdowns were a career high, as was the catch total.

But Spiller, hopefully, will be healthy all season, and Brown could see some action if either struggles. We also saw Jackson fight through broken ribs and a knee injury of his own last year, and it's hard to count on him being as durable this season. Last year was the first time since 2010 when he played more than 10 games due to injuries.

We still recommend drafting Jackson with a mid-round pick as a No. 3 or 4 running back in the majority of leagues. Spiller's production isn't guaranteed, and there's no certainty Brown will do well in Buffalo. This could still be another year where Jackson does a lot of the heavy lifting, and he had 10 games with double digits in Fantasy points last year.

But just be prepared for a letdown since Jackson is nearing the finish line of his career. We hope he goes out with a bang, but if Spiller does what he's supposed to do then Jackson's swan song should be a quiet one.

Schedule analysis

Spiller has the chance to start his season on a high note against the Bears in Week 1, as Chicago allowed the second-most Fantasy points to opposing running backs in 2013. He also gets favorable matchups with Miami and Minnesota in the first seven games, and he closes the year with a great playoff schedule against Green Bay in Week 15 and at Oakland in Week 16. Watkins will be tested by two of the top cornerbacks four times in New England's Darrelle Revis and Brent Grimes of the Dolphins, although the second meeting with the Patriots is in Week 17. The good news for Watkins is he faces the Chargers in Week 3, the Lions in Week 5 and the Vikings in Week 7, and they were all in the Top 10 in most Fantasy points allowed to opposing receivers a year ago.

Training camp battles

Who's the No. 2 running back? It's Jackson's job barring Brown making a huge impact in training camp and the preseason, but it is worth monitoring. The Bills acquired Brown more as a move for 2015 when Jackson is likely gone as a free agent and Spiller has a player option to leave. Keep an eye on Brown and his role, but the pecking order at running back for now is Spiller, Jackson and then Brown.

Who's the No. 2 receiver? The Bills drafted Watkins to play him right away, and Woods should remain the other starter after a productive rookie season with 40 catches for 587 yards and three touchdowns. But Buffalo also acquired Mike Williams from Tampa Bay and will look to get Marquise Goodwin more involved. We expect Woods to stay in the No. 2 role even though Williams has been highly productive as recently as 2012, but he's probably No. 3 on the depth chart. And Goodwin will be Buffalo's deep threat as the No. 4 option. Watkins is the only Bills receiver worth drafting in the majority of leagues, and Woods and Williams will likely be waiver wire fodder at best.

Who's the kicker? No one is drafting either Dan Carpenter or Dustin Hopkins, but the winner of this kicker battle could be a bye-week replacement. The Bills have also floated the idea of keeping both, with Carpenter handling field goal and PAT duties, and Hopkins doing kickoffs. We fully expect Carpenter to be on Fantasy rosters at some point during the season, but keep an eye on Hopkins in case he somehow wins the job.

Bold prediction

In 2012, Spiller finished as the No. 7 Fantasy running back in standard leagues. He averaged 6.0 yards per carry and 10.7 yards per catch and had just 264 total touches, which was well behind the six running backs ahead of him. We expected him to get more work (and thus more production) in 2013, but injuries and a resurgent Jackson ruined that prediction. If Spiller can stay healthy and use the motivation of getting paid to have a big year, he will reward Fantasy owners in a big way since he'll likely be drafted after the Top 30 overall picks. I consider him a steal on Draft Day, and don't be surprised when he's a Top 10 player at his position at the end of the season.

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Player News
Bears sign DE Austen Lane
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/24/2014) The Bears have signed defensive end Austen Lane, Pro Football Talk reports.

Lane will fill the roster spot of defensive end Willie Young, who was placed on injured reserve Tuesday. Lane was with the Bears during the preseason but didn't survive the final cuts. He's managed three sacks in 30 career games.


Cardinals' Thomas starts practice 'shaky,' finishes 'pretty strong'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/24/2014) Cardinals coach Bruce Arians indicated that Week 17 starting quarterback Logan Thomas was "shaky" at the beginning of Wednesday's practice but finished "pretty strong" as he developed an understanding of where to throw his passes, ESPN.com reports.

"He's worked, fundamentally, extremely hard and gotten much better," Arians said. "But putting those fundamentals to use in the offense, that's two totally different things."

Thomas has just three days of practice before facing the 49ers in a game that has the possibility of landing his team with a first-round bye with a win and help from other results.

"It wasn't the greatest, but as it went on, it got better and better," Thomas added. "It just comes with reps and comes with time."

The Cardinals are a 6-point underdog in San Francisco Sunday.


Seahawks' Russell Okung, Max Unger practice Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/24/2014) Seahawks left tackle Russell Okung (lung) practiced in full Wednesday, while center Max Unger (ankle) was able to return to practice in a limited fashion.

Okung is on track to return in Week 17 after missing last week's game with a bruised lung. Unger hasn't played in any of the team's last five game due to a high ankle sprain. The Seahawks will earn the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a win Sunday, and it's possible Unger suits up for the crucial game.

The Seahawks are a 12 1/2-point favorite at home against the Rams in Week 17.


Raiders QB Derek Carr practices Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/24/2014) Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was able to practice Wednesday despite dealing with an illness.

"I got here early to work out and see how I would feel during that and after that and I felt pretty good," Carr said at a press conference Wednesday. "So, felt good at practice today, obviously not 100 percent but it felt good to practice and be out here."

Carr has been able to start every game for the Raiders this season, completing 58.6 percent of his passes while racking up 3,112 passing yards, 20 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The Raiders are a 14-point underdog in Denver in Week 17.


Broncos RB Ronnie Hillman practices in full Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/24/2014) Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman was able to practice in full Wednesday for the first time since suffering a left foot injury on Nov. 9, ESPN.com reports.

"We've had a chance to watch him all week, participate and he's obviously further ahead than he was this time a week ago," head coach John Fox said after Wednesday's practice. "And the fact we're on grass, not on Astroturf, lot of variables, but I like what I see."

Hillman has been able to practice in a limited fashion during the last two weeks but hasn't been active on gameday since the injury occured. The Broncos are a 14-point favorite at home against the Raiders in Week 17.


Falcons RB Steven Jackson (quad) expected to miss Week 17
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/24/2014) Falcons running back Steven Jackson (quad) is not expected to play in Sunday's Week 17 matchup with the Panthers, ESPN.com reports.

Jackson missed practice Wednesday and the team promoted running back Jerome Smith from the practice squad. Jacquizz Rodgers and Devonta Freeman are expected to share the workload in the critical regular-season finale if Jackson is indeed sidelined.

The Falcons are a 4-point favorite at home against the Panthers.


49ers RB Carlos Hyde still sidelined
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12/24/2014) 49ers rookie running back Carlos Hyde missed practice again Wednesday with an ankle injury. He sat out Week 16 and appears likely to miss Sunday's game against Arizona, too.

With Hyde out, veteran Frank Gore went off for 158 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries against San Diego. Gore should see another big workload against the Cardinals.


Michael Crabtree doesn't sound eager to return to 49ers
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12/24/2014) Impending free-agent receiver Michael Crabtree was asked Wednesday if he wants to return to the 49ers next season. "It depends," Crabtree said, per the San Francisco Chronicle. "I don't even want to talk about it."

Crabtree is finishing up a disappointing season. He's played every game but has only 64 catches for 657 yards and four touchdowns, a far cry from the 85 grabs, 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns he put up in his last full season, 2012.


Ravens LT Eugene Monroe bothered by ankle injury
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12/24/2014) Ravens starting left tackle Eugene Monroe, who hurt his ankle Week 16 against Houston, missed practice Wednesday, reports ESPN.com. His status is uncertain for the regular-season finale at Tennessee.

If Monroe can't play, undrafted rookie James Hurst likely would start, the website said.


Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe (shoulder) unable to practice
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12/24/2014) Chiefs wideout Dwayne Bowe, who sprained his shoulder in last week's loss at Pittsburgh, was unable to practice Wednesday, reports ESPN.com. Bowe leads Chiefs wideouts with 57 catches for 724 yards.

Kansas City hosts San Diego on Sunday as a 3-point favorite.


 
 
 
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