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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
Report: Rams among teams interested in trade for Eagles' Foles
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:02 am ET) Teams are beginning to show interest in Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, as reports are surfacing Philadelphia is unsure of what to do with the third-year quarterback, per NJ.com. A source said the Rams have interest in Foles should the Eagles choose to trade him this offseason. 

The Titans and Texans have also been mentioned as teams that would have interest in Foles, if he hits the trade market.

It's still unclear if the Eagles would be willing to move Foles. NJ.com reported last week the Eagles, who have the 20th pick in the NFL Draft, are considering making a run at Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota in the draft. 

"From No. 20, it's certainly not going to be easy,'' a source said. "It's probably going to take moving up twice to do it. There's going to be some wheeling and dealing involved.

"Can it happen? I don't know. But they're going to try."

Eagles head coach Chip Kelly recruited Mariota to Oregon and coached him for two years.

"Obviously, [with] my relationship with coach Kelly, it'd be a lot of fun to be a part of that offense and be a part of that team," Mariota said when asked about a potential reunion with Kelly.

Foles is 15-9 as a starter in the NFL, but he has yet to play a full season. He has completed 61.6 percent of his passes for 6,753 yards, 46 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.


Colts' Luck on new contract: 'There's nothing there right now'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:01 am ET) An ESPN report surfaced last week stating the Colts were working on making quarterback Andrew Luck the highest-paid player in the NFL. When asked about the subject at the Pro Bowl, Luck seemed surprise when he heard the news.

"There's nothing there right now," Luck said, per The Indianapolis Star. "I didn't think about it all during the season and it's only been a few days since it ended. I haven't thought about it. I will have conversations with my agent just because you have to prepare, but I'm not sure where that report came from."

Luck has two years remaining on the $22 million deal he signed as a rookie in 2012. It includes a team option for 2016, which must be exercised later this year.

Luck just completed his third season in the NFL. He has been to the Pro Bowl every year he's been in the NFL. He's gone 11-5 in every season as an NFL starter. He threw for a career-best 40 touchdowns in 2014 and led Indianapolis to the AFC title game this season.


Seahawks' Sherman disappointed he won't receive gifts from Pro Bowl
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:48 am ET) In case you missed Sunday's Pro Bowl, Team Irvin knocked off Team Carter, 32-28, thanks to a second-half rally, which included touchdown catches by Emmanuel Sanders and Jimmy Graham.

While many Pro Bowl players that made the original roster were absent from the game due to injuries, Pro Bowl players from the Patriots and Seahawks also did not play due to preparations for next Sunday's Super Bowl.

One player who seemed upset about missing the Pro Bowl was Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman. However, it was for a reason you probably wouldn't suspect.

“Only thing I’m disappointed in is they won’t give us our gifts from the Pro Bowl, which is kind of dumb,” Sherman said, per The Boston Globe. “The NFL is the only league that punishes the players who actually make the All-Star game by not giving them their gifts. It’s supposed to be watches and some other stuff, but we don’t get them so I couldn’t tell you.”


Patriots' Tom Brady on Deflategate: 'My feelings got hurt'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:33 am ET) If you have been out of the loop for the last week, then you might be unaware the Patriots have been under a lot of scrutiny since the AFC title game due to improperly inflated footballs used against the Colts. The media hoopla has transformed the controversy into what we know as Deflategate.

If you haven't been out of the loop, then you are well aware of the nonstop coverage it has received the last week and despite the Patriots pleas for it to go away, it just won't.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has had to deal with the backlash from Deflategate, and he found himself talking about the subject again Monday morning during an interview with WEEI.

“It’s all speculation,” Brady said. “I’ve tried to wrap my head around it, too. I’ve done that and I’m trying to move past that, because I continue to try to rehash things. I personalized a lot of things and thought this was all about me, and my feelings got hurt. Then I moved past it, because it’s not serving me. What’s serving me is try to prepare for the game ahead. I’ll deal with whatever happens later. I’ll have my opportunity to try to figure out what happened and figure out a theory like everyone else is trying to do. But this isn’t the time for that. Honestly, I’m not interested in trying to find out right now, because we have the biggest game of our season ahead.”

One topic Brady didn't have a problem addressing was the speculation coach Bill Belichick threw him under the bus during a press conference on Thursday. But Brady came to the defense of Belichick, who has won three Super Bowls as the Patriots coach.

“I’ve never once felt that we’re not on the same page,” Brady said. “He’s a great coach. He’s the only coach I’ve ever played for; he’s the only coach I’d ever want to play for. There’s a lot of people over the years that have criticized him, but I’d say there’s not one player who’s ever played for him who’s not had an unbelievable amount of respect for him and how he prepares and his diligence and his preparation."


Giants' Odell Beckham says he played with hamstring tears
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:24 am ET) Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham said he played all season with two tears in his hamstrings, according to the New York Daily News.

Beckham took part in the Pro Bowl on Sunday, but admitted he's still not fully healed. Beckham said the injuries prevented him from getting to that "last gear that I wanted to have." He added that the injuries really bothered him against the Eagles and Colts. Beckham said he was "stumbling" and falling over during those games. He added that he's not sure whether he'll ever be 100 percent again.

The rookie had a tremendous season, hauling in 91 balls for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns. 


Patriots' Tom Brady meeting with NFL after Super Bowl 49
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/25/2015) Patriots quarterback Tom Brady doesn't expect to meet with the NFL until after Super Bowl XLIX, according to NFL.com.

The Patriots have been in the headlines all week due to Deflategate, and it appears the situation won't be resolved until after the season. "I believe they're going to do [a meeting] after the season," Brady said. "So we'll deal with it after this game. I think everybody is locked in, ready to go for the Super Bowl." Both Brady and coach Bill Belichick have held separate press conferences during the week to deny the team's involvement in deflating their footballs. 

The Patriots are subject to punishment from the NFL if the league finds any wrongdoing during the investigation. 


Earl Thomas on bad shoulder: 'I'll still play fearless'
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1/25/2015) Seahawks safety Earl Thomas, who dislocated his shoulder in the NFC Championship Game, could remain limited in practice this week ahead of the Super Bowl, reports the Seattle Times. But he said he won't be thinking about the injury against the Patriots.

"When I come alive nothing is limited,’’ he said. “I’ll still play fearless, throw my body around, and let whatever happens, happens.’’

Thomas did allow that he might have to rely more on his teammates.

“My mindset is I have an opportunity to really trust my teammates,’’ he said. “This is the first game I’m going to have to trust them because of my injury. So I really, really, really trust my teammates, and that’s what I’m banking on, my teammates doing what they need to do and I need to come through myself.’’

It's unclear if Thomas will need offseason surgery.

The Seahawks are 1-point underdogs after opening as 2.5-point favorites.


Colts QB Matt Hasselbeck pondering retirement
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1/25/2015) Colts backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck told ESPN.com he's not sure if he'll retire or return for a 17th season. Hasselbeck, 39, appeared in four games this season and played well, posting a 102.6 passer rating.

He's set to hit unrestricted free agency.


Colts expected to part ways with center A.Q. Shipley
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1/25/2015) Colts center A.Q. Shipley is headed for unrestricted free agency, and the team is expected to let him go, reports ESPN.com. 

"Shipley went from starting in Week 1 to losing his starting job, to being inactive, to being the third-string center," the report said. "All without any explanation from coach Chuck Pagano or anybody in the front office."

Shipley, 28, has played in 45 career games, starting 19.


Report: Dolphins aim to re-sign TE Charles Clay
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1/25/2015) The Dolphins have privately indicated they want to re-sign impending free agent tight end Charles Clay and will make him an offer in coming weeks, reports the Miami Herald. Clay caught 58 passes for 605 yards and three touchdowns in 14 games this season.

Miami also is high on Clay's backup, Dion Sims, who's signed through 2016, the paper said.


 
 
 
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