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Buffalo’s quarterback depth chart is jarringly bad. This team’s receiving corps is an abomination. Let’s begin our season preview right there, just to be sure we don’t accidentally leave any Bills fan with a feeling akin to hope.
Last season, with Tyrod Taylor at the controls, Buffalo’s passing offense ranked next-to-last in the NFL, averaging only 176.6 yards per game (6.5 Y/A). This year’s passing offense is likely to be worse — possibly much worse in terms of efficiency. At present, we are in the earliest days of a three-man QB competition with a predetermined ultimate winner. Sooner or later, first-round rookie Josh Allen is going to have to play quarterback for this franchise. Allen was the seventh overall pick in the draft. If he sits all season in favor of A.J. McCarron or Nathan Peterman … well, that’s not a great look.
Of course if Allen actually plays, and he’s no better than his collegiate tape, that’s also a bad look. There are no terrific choices here.
Josh Allen is the future for Buffalo, and the future is kinda scary.
By now, you probably know the Allen scouting report reasonably well. He had a terrific combine performance, showing off his catapult of an arm, excelling in the speed and agility drills and acing the Wonderlic. He impressed at the Senior Bowl, too, where he unleashed a 66.1 mph throw. Allen looks the part of a franchise quarterback, no question. Or at least he looks the part until you start watching his college games.
On tape, Allen offers the full range of quarterbacking possibilities. He certainly made plenty of wow throws while at Wyoming, showing off his weapons-grade arm strength. It’s not difficult to see the traits that interest pro scouts. But Allen’s tape is cluttered with misfires and boneheaded plays, too, particularly in the few games he played against power conference opponents. His second-half effort against Nebraska back in 2016 — in a winnable game, against an ordinary team — is as bad as anything you’ll ever see from a first-round prospect. He finished the afternoon 16-for-32 with one TD and six turnovers, and the numbers don’t fully express the horror of the performance.
Allen was somewhat less awful last season when facing power-five competition (yet still inarguably awful). Against Iowa, he went 23-for-40 for 174 yards, zero TDs and two picks. His team scored three points. Two weeks later against Oregon, he went 9-for-24 for 64 yards, no passing scores, one interception, one rush TD and one lost fumble. Wyoming lost 49-13. You’d like to think an early first-round quarterback could have dented those defenses, neither of which ultimately ranked among the nation’s best. But nope.
If you want to say that Allen’s receivers were the problem at Wyoming, I would respectfully counter that you are [profane phrase]. He missed a bunch of short, simple bread-and-butter throws to open receivers when facing Mountain West defenses. For his career, he completed just 56.2 percent of his passes at 7.8 yards per attempt. Nice enough for a random starting college QB, but, again, not what you want from the seventh overall pick in the draft.
The arm is real, however. There’s no disputing that fact. He can chuck it with finger-breaking velocity. Allen made enough impressive throws at the collegiate level to earn Carson Wentz and Ben Roethlisberger comps from various analysts. He’ll be playing for Buffalo, soon. Responsibility falls to OC Brian Daboll and quarterbacks coach David Culley to get him ready. Peterman cannot be a serious threat to start for this team. McCarron is a respectable placeholder quarterback — he had his moments back in 2015, subbing for Andy Dalton — but Allen’s development is the story for the 2018 Bills. It’s not as if the front office has surrounded him with playmakers.
Kelvin Benjamin remains ownable in fantasy, if not particularly well priced.
Kelvin Benjamin is the most notable name among Buffalo’s receivers, but he caught only 16 balls for 217 yards on 27 targets in six games with the Bills last season. Benjamin was playing at far less than 100 percent last year, as most of you know. He’s coming off another knee surgery, seeking to reestablish himself as a legit No. 1 receiving threat with free agency looming. Benjamin’s best traits are his size (6-foot-5) and wingspan, which should make him an appealing target for a scattershot passer like Allen. He doesn’t carry an intimidating draft price (WR41, ADP 100.5), yet he’s still going ahead of quality players in better situations — guys like Jamison Crowder (109.8), Sterling Shepard (114.0) and D.J. Moore (129.2). I won’t fight you for Benjamin in drafts and auctions. If he delivers a 65-775-7 season for this team, he’s a hero.
The rest of Buffalo’s receiving corps is like a checklist of your worst fantasy decisions: Zay Jones, Rod Streater, Jeremy Kerley, Andre Holmes, et al. Do not draft anyone mentioned in the previous sentence. It doesn’t sound as if this team is interested in Dez Bryant, and that feeling should be mutual. Charles Clay returns at tight end for Buffalo, and, for what it’s worth, he’s a member of the best-shape-of-his-life club. Clay led the Bills in receiving last season with 558 yards, a total that would have ranked fourth on the Patriots or Dolphins, and third on the Jets. Clay is a guy you can consider adding when your usual tight end has a bye; he’s not a player to draft in leagues of standard size.
Shady McCoy is not yet cooked (but he’s simmering).
Buffalo’s offense would be an absolute fantasy wasteland if it weren’t for LeSean McCoy, a Canton-quality running back entering his age-30 season. If McCoy produces another year like his previous two, there’s a decent chance he’ll crack the all-time top-20 rushing leaders. At the moment, he’s one of only 31 backs in NFL history with over 10,000 career rushing yards. McCoy’s efficiency took a huge dip last season, from 5.4 YPC in 2016 down to 4.0, but a deeper dive reveals a few encouraging signs. Shady ranked third in the league last year in both evaded tackles (97) and breakaway runs (15) according to Player Profiler.
The obvious reason to be concerned about McCoy’s 2018 fantasy potential is, of course, his lousy team context. No one expects a high-scoring, high-yardage season from Buffalo’s offense; it’s extremely difficult for a running back to produce an upper-tier fantasy season when his team’s offense is inert. Occasionally we get a year like Maurice Jones-Drew’s 2011, when he led the NFL in rushing while playing for a team that ranked dead-last in total yardage. But MJD was the exception, not the rule.
McCoy has delivered four top-12 positional finishes in the past five seasons, and it wouldn’t be a total surprise if he did it again in 2018. It would be shocking, however, if he ranked top-five. McCoy will be running behind a reshuffled offensive line that graded poorly in 2017. Here’s hoping Shady can simply approach last year’s totals (1586 scrimmage yards, 8 TDs). Whenever his name is up next in a draft queue, I’ll probably veer to a different position. McCoy’s backups are Chris Ivory and Travaris Cadet, neither of whom should be considered draft-worthy in 12-team leagues.
So, yeah … Buffalo’s offense is in transition. And it’s bad — perhaps unwatchably bad. Allen really needs to play, which could lead to some hilarious/horrible/fun moments. Fantasy owners shouldn’t make a priority of owning any Bills, in any format.
2017 Offensive Stats & Ranks
Points per game – 18.9 (NFL rank 22)
Pass YPG – 176.6 (31)
Rush YPG – 126.1 (6)
Yards per play – 4.7 (30)
Plays per game – 63.8 (14)