QB Ryan Fitzpatrick
Fitzpatrick’s 2011 season mirrored that of the Bills as he started the season on a hot streak before cooling off considerably over the season’s second half. He topped 25 fantasy points in each of his first three starts, throwing for 841 yards and 9 touchdowns in wins over the Chiefs, Raiders and Patriots. From that point on, it was mostly downhill with Fitzpatrick displaying the inconsistency that has plagued his career as he finished the season with a career-high and league-leading 24 interceptions. Rewarded with a $59-million, six-year contract extension after Week 6, his production plummeted with five games under 210 yards passing over his final ten weeks – a period in which he threw for 12 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. While injuries to running back Fred Jackson and at the wide receiver position were part of the problem, a substantial portion of the blame goes to Fitzpatrick whose accuracy got worse as the season progressed. While his season ended badly, Fitzpatrick still finished as the 11th ranked fantasy quarterback which was generally higher than predicted. Consider him an upper tier backup once again in 2012 (the Bills threw it 58% of the time in 2011) and move him down in leagues that penalize for turnovers given his propensity for throwing interceptions.
QB Vince Young
Pit stop number two on Young’s road to redemption is Buffalo. After a largely forgettable season in Philadelphia where he went 1-2 as a starter and threw four touchdowns and nine interceptions in just 114 attempts, Young will battle Tyler Thigpen for the job backing up Ryan Fitzpatrick. As redemption situations go, this one isn’t bad since Fitzpatrick trailed off badly last season after signing a lucrative long-term contract extension, a deal that wasn’t front-loaded and doesn’t guarantee him a long run as the team’s starter. Grab Young in deep dynasty leagues in case he gets a chance to shine in Buffalo but avoid him in all other formats.
RB Fred Jackson
Once again in 2011, Jackson held off 2010 1st round pick C.J. Spiller to be the team’s lead running back. In fact, Jackson was playing so well last season that Spiller basically became persona non grata in the Bills offensive game planning, with Jackson averaging 22 touches per game until a fractured fibula ended his season in Week 11. Jackson amassed 934 rushing yards, 442 receiving yards and six touchdowns prior to the injury and was being mentioned as a potential MVP candidate. Unfortunately for Jackson, Spiller played well in relief and likely earned himself a larger role in 2012, despite his poor production over the first year and a half of his career. While Jackson figures to be healthy by opening day and to regain his starting position, look for a reduced role for Jackson in 2012. Consider him a high end RB2 this season.
RB C.J. Spiller
Spiller spent the first year and a half of his career making Bills management look like fools for using the 9th pick in the 2010 rookie draft to acquire him. However, Fred Jackson’s season-ending leg injury thrust Spiller into the starting lineup and he played far better than anyone could have anticipated over the balance of the season. After a poor performance in his first game as a starter, Spiller accumulated 446 yards rushing, 187 receiving yards and scored five touchdowns over his last six games, hitting double-digit fantasy points four times. That means Spiller has solidified his standing as the Bills running back of the future. What it doesn’t mean is that he has earned a huge role in 2012. Jackson was a beast when healthy in 2011 and signed a two-year contract extension in the offseason. The expectation is that he will get the majority of the touches in the Bills backfield but that Spiller’s use won’t be as minimal as it was when Jackson was healthy. Consider Spiller a high-end RB4 with upside.
RB Tashard Choice
Waived by the Cowboys and Redskins in 2011, Choice ended up joining the Bills when Fred Jackson was injured but was used sparingly, failing to top 7 touches in four of six games. While Choice is good enough not to embarrass himself as a runner or a receiver, he does not excel in any one area and the days of him being considered a potential starter are long gone.
WR Steve Johnson
Johnson followed up his breakout 2010 campaign with another solid year in 2011, topping 1,000 receiving yards for the second consecutive season and becoming the first player in team history to accomplish the feat. He also became just the third Bills player to record at least 70 receptions in consecutive seasons. That’s all good and so is the fact that he is clearly the team’s undisputed top wide receiver and that he signed a lucrative contract extension in the offseason, negating any potential for a preseason holdout. The bad news is that the Bills did little to upgrade the starting position opposite Johnson, meaning he can expect plenty of attention in 2012. Johnson also underwent groin surgery, which bothered him during part of last season, but reports indicate that it was minor and won’t affect his availability for the beginning of training camp. While the naysayers will point out that Johnson isn’t regarded as an upper tier wide receiver (and that is likely the case), the bottom line is that he has been the focal point of the team’s passing attack over each of the last two years, finishing in the top ten in targets amongst wide receivers both seasons and there is little to suggest he won’t do so again in 2012. Consider him a rock solid WR2 for the coming season.
WR David Nelson
Entering training camp, Nelson was expected to challenge for a backup role on a Bills squad lacking depth behind starters Steve Johnson and Lee Evans. However, Evans trade to the Ravens and Marcus Easley’s reported heart condition moved Nelson up the depth chart and he ended the season starting 13 games. A big target at 6’5”, 215 pounds, Nelson has the size to play outside but was used mostly in the slot by the Bills. He played well early, catching 39 passes for 433 yards and four touchdowns over the first nine games of the year. However, he struggled down the stretch, averaging just 4.1 Fpts per game over his final seven contests with just 22 receptions for 225 yards and one touchdown. He shapes up as a WR5/WR6 in 2012.
WR Donald Jones
Given an opportunity to start in 2011, Jones was a major disappointment, failing to establish himself opposite Steve Johnson. The Bills were high on the former undrafted free agent out of Youngstown State but Jones caught just 23 of 46 targets in eight games before suffering a season-ending ankle injury in Week 11. He has solid size and better than average speed but has displayed little after the catch ability, averaging just 10.8 yards per reception over his first two years in the league. Jones will have to hold off David Nelson, Marcus Easley and 2012 4th round pick T.J. Graham to hold onto his starting position. Look for the Nelson to spend plenty of time in the slot and for the team to use several players lining up outside with Johnson in 2012. Unless Jones wins the job outright with an impressive preseason, he is not worth owning in redraft leagues.
WR T.J. Graham
Lacking a deep threat at the wide receiver position, the Bills used an early 3rd round pick on Graham in the 2012 draft. The 5’11”, 188 pound North Carolina State product brings plenty of speed to the table, having run a 4.41 40-yard dash, but is more of a project than a polished product and the expectation is that he will not have a major role as a rookie. Look for Graham to be used in more of a specialty role, running deep patterns and hopefully forcing opposing defenses to respect his big play ability. Graham isn’t worth a roster spot in redraft leagues but is a mid to lower-tier prospect in dynasty formats.
WR Marcus Easley
Considered the most physically gifted of Buffalo’s wide receivers other than Steve Johnson, Easley missed all of the 2011 season with a heart condition. Easley will compete for a starting position with Donald Jones, David Martin and rookie T.J. Graham but isn’t even assured of making the team’s final roster. Given the lack of a second quality starter on the roster, Easley could surprise and claim a starting position so monitor his production in the preseason.
TE Scott Chandler
The Bills entered the season searching for a pass catching tight end and Chandler filled the bill surprisingly well in 2011. The former San Diego 3rd round pick started the season on fire with four touchdowns over the first three weeks but cooled down considerably thereafter finding the end zone just two more times, both scores coming in a Week 8 win over the Redskins. Chandler finished the season by setting career-highs in every category with 38 receptions for 389 yards and six touchdowns. Looking ahead to 2012, it is worth noting (assuming Bills coaches took note) that Chandler caught an amazing 82.6% of his targets in 2011. He rates as a mid-tier to low-end fantasy backup for 2012.