QB EJ Manuel
(2013 QB Rank—#28, 17.3 FPts/G)
EJ Manuel had an up-and-down rookie season, but not every quarterback is going to have a rookie season like Robert Griffith III, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson did in 2012. While it’s true that rookie quarterbacks are now more equipped to enter the league and hit the ground running, it’s still a tremendously difficult transition to make, and it would be unwise to call a rookie quarterback a “bust” after one season in the league. Manuel threw for 1,972 yards with 11 touchdown passes and nine interceptions. He also ran for 186 yards and two scores. He compiled those statistics in only 10 games, as he was forced to miss six games with multiple knee injuries. Manuel was considered a raw prospect coming out of Florida State, so one could look at his completion percentage of 58.8% as a positive, and hope to see some improvement in his sophomore campaign. Reports from Buffalo’s OTAs have not been all that positive, though. Manuel is said to be struggling with accuracy, sailing too many passes over the heads of his wide receivers. He is athletic enough to make plays with his legs, but he doesn’t always look to run when the opportunity presents itself. The Bills made a bold move to trade up in this year’s NFL draft to acquire wide receiver Sammy Watkins in order to surround their young franchise quarterback with weapons. Their high-tempo offense will make Manuel a potential high upside late-round pick as a backup quarterback for your fantasy team if he can show some improvement. His three knee injuries from last season (requiring an offseason knee scope) and the decision to have him wear a knee brace this season could limit any advantage one would expect to gain from a “running” quarterback. Keep an eye on Manuel this preseason and see if he looks to be moving around well, because there is some potential for a major leap in production from his rookie season.
RB C.J. Spiller
(2013 RB Rank—#27, 8.3 FPts/G)
C.J. Spiller was a tremendous disappointment to those owners who used a first-round pick to draft him last season based on his tantalizing skill set and his coaching staff’s promise to “run him until he pukes.” Due to an early season high ankle sprain, Spiller decreased his workload, but he was still effective running the ball, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. Of course that was still a steep drop from his 6.0-yard-per-carry average in 2012. Spiller’s numbers dropped across the board as his total yards went from 1,703 to 1,112, 8 to 2 in touchdowns and 43 to 33 in receptions. The staff has talked up an expanded role for the former Clemson Tiger once again. With his ankle now fully recovered, Fred Jackson entering the season at 33 years old and with the Bills commitment to the run, Spiller could end up as a draft-day bargain. Short-sighted owners, who are only looking at his 2012 numbers, are missing Spiller’s elite-level speed, great lateral agility and a toughness that belies his smallish stature. The Bills led the NFL in rushing attempts (546) last season and should be near the top of that list once again this season. If Spiller is able to grab the lion’s share of those carries a top-10 season is easily within his reach. Although he does have a $2.1MM player option for the 2015 season, he will be entering the last season of his rookie contract in 2014, so he’ll be playing for his last big payday this year. Health + Motivation + Talent + Opportunity = Good Things for Spiller in 2014.
RB Fred Jackson
(2013 RB Rank—#11, 11.7 FPts/G)
It would be easy to write off Fred Jackson, who turned 33 years old back in February, but then again the man is coming off of a season where he put up 1,283 total yards while scoring 10 touchdowns. He was able to finish last season as RB11 despite splitting carries with C.J. Spiller. Jackson has surprised people throughout his entire career, beginning with coming out of practically nowhere at age 26, after spending his early professional years playing in low level indoor leagues, t0 work his way into a timeshare with Marshawn Lynch, a player drafted at No. 12 overall in the NFL draft. So, don’t be too surprised if he’s able to hold off father time for at least one more season. Jackson is a complete back who is equally adept at taking the ball inside to earn tough yards, busting one outside of the tackles or catching passes out of the backfield. At his age and with Spiller healthy, Jackson will most likely see his workload scaled back a bit this year. It’s even possible that at some point during the season that he starts to give way to the younger Bryce Brown, who was acquired via trade from the Philadelphia Eagles in the offseason.
RB Bryce Brown
(2013 RB Rank—#60, 3.5 FPts/G)
Bryce Brown is known in fantasy circles as the guy who stepped in for an injured LeSean McCoy in 2012 and proceeded to rush for 347 yards and four touchdowns in his first two NFL starts. It’s been mostly downhill since then. Last season Brown was passed up on the depth chart by Chris Polk for the backup position to McCoy, making him expendable this offseason. The Bills stepped in and acquired him for a conditional 2015 fourth-round pick during the draft. Brown is a big back at 6’0, 220 pounds with rare speed for his size, but he struggled after the historic start to his career due to his penchant for trying to bounce every play outside for big gains instead of taking what the defense gives him. Given the fact that the Bills ran the ball more than any other team in 2013, Jackson’s age, Spiller’s injury history and his career average of 4.6 yards per carry, Brown makes an intriguing late-round selection in fantasy drafts.
WR Sammy Watkins
(2013 WR Rank—N/A)
In a bold draft-day move the Bills traded their eighth overall pick and their 2015 first-round pick to move up to the fourth pick in order to select Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins. That should tell fantasy owners all they need to know. Watkins will be heavily targeted even as a rookie. Recent trends have shown that rookie wide receivers have been better suited in making the jump from the college game to the professional game than in the past. Nevertheless fantasy owners will still need to temper expectations. Watkins has rare acceleration after the catch. The Bills could use him in many of the same ways his college team used him – on bubble screens and shorter pass routes. The offense will rely on him to make plays after the catch. Watkins is not physically imposing at 6’1” and 210 pounds, but he does have tremendous leg strength and excels at breaking tackles. He should immediately step into the Bills’ starting lineup, so the opportunity will be there for him to produce. Don’t reach for him, but if he does fall in drafts he’ll likely be a better option than a mediocre veteran who may be left on the board when it’s time for you to make a selection.
WR Robert Woods
(2013 WR Rank—#58, 5.6 FPts/G)
Fellow rookies Robert Woods and EJ Manuel seemed to develop some chemistry with each other before injuries hit both youngsters at various times during the course of the season. Woods finished his rookie season with a 40-587-3 stat line but capped it off with offseason ankle surgery. The former second-round pick should open the season opposite rookie Sammy Watkins and will probably kick inside to the slot in three wide receiver sets. Woods runs sharp routes and has steady hands and projects to be a solid possession wide out at the professional level and could develop into Manuel’s “go to guy” since they have already established a level of rapport after breaking into the league together. It’s hard to imagine eye-popping statistics from Woods this year, but in PPR leagues, he could be worth a shot as a late-round depth player.
WR Mike Williams
(2013 WR Rank—#110, 5.6 FPts/G)
Mike Williams only played in six games last season finishing with a disappointing 22 receptions and two touchdowns. He then found himself traded to a team coached by his former college coach Doug Marrone. The good news is that Marrone likely signed off on the acquisition, but the bad news is that Williams quit on his Syracuse team. Williams has been a legitimate red zone threat throughout his professional career, scoring eleven touchdowns as a rookie and nine touchdowns in 2012. The latest reports from OTAs is that Williams is getting first team reps in three wide receiver sets and he could end up leading the Bills in touchdown receptions this season.
TE Scott Chandler
(2013 TE Rank—#18, 4.8 FPts/G)
Scott Chandler is one of the least inspiring starting tight ends from a fantasy football perspective in the league. To be honest, he’s nothing special from an NFL perspective either, since he’s a poor blocker. In an era where we’ve seen a shift in the position, Chandler is more of a throwback player, and watching him lumber down the field is not what the fans are paying to see. At 6’7”, one would think that he would at least be a legitimate red zone specialist, but alas Chandler’s career high for touchdown receptions is six, which he has accomplished twice. You can do better.
WR Tony Moeaki
(2013 TE Rank—N/A)
Tony Moeaki is a guy who has intrigued fantasy owners since he entered the league as a Kansas City Chief, but he has seen setbacks to his career due to his injuries. Moeaki opened last season on the IR and was picked up by Buffalo after being waived by Kansas City. Reports have indicated that Moeaki could threaten Scott Chandler’s starting role this season and as the superior blocker and pass catcher between the two, those reports are likely to prove accurate. The tight end position in Buffalo, however, is unlikely to be a productive one in fantasy football and should likely be disregarded by fantasy owners in all but the deepest of leagues.