Week 15 Fantasy Football Stats Notebook: What to make of the Bills' recent "old friends" additions at WR?

The Buffalo Bills have scored a touchdown on 4-of-38 (10.5 percent) second-half drives since their Week 7 bye. Shoutout to Rich Hribar on the latest Stat Nerd Thursday Fantasy Football Forecast for this one. Josh Allens scoring unit has played well below expectations of late. Their lack of second-half scoring really shows what a slog some of their games have been.

There are many possible causes for this recent Bills slump — Allen’s elbow and a coaching change are popular talking points. However, the Bills have made multiple moves over the last few weeks that hint it might be a personnel issue.

Brandon Beane has executed one of the best team builds of the last decade. However, his attempt to transition the wide receiver room to a new phase has not worked out. The Bills told us as much by re-signing old friends John Brown and Cole Beasley the last few weeks.

Beane and Co. were hoping Gabe Davis was going to step in as an every-down, starting-level wideout across from Stefon Diggs. That has not happened. They were bullish that Isaiah McKenzie was going to make the transition from kick returner to full-time slot receiver.

That has not happened either.

The Bills brass was hoping Davis and McKenzie’s legitimately strong flashes from 2021 were going to be mere stepping stones on their path to great output as starters. Neither has delivered.

Davis is an excellent deep threat. But he just doesn’t separate well enough in the short to intermediate area of the fields nor does he bring steady enough hands to offset those issues. Route-running matters. McKenzie just hasn’t been able to transition to a full-field NFL route tree after getting looks as a gadget man last year. These two guys are quality NFL role players but they’re both playing a peg or two above their most comfortable level.

Buffalo’s offense has two consistent players: Allen, Diggs — and that’s it. Fantasy folks sense it. There is almost no logical reason to be bullish about any non-Allen/Diggs Bills player heading into Round 1 of the fantasy football playoffs. That is way outside the preseason expectations for this unit. If fantasy managers are sensing it, you know the Bills coaching staff is feeling the squeeze.

Who knows if Beasley or Brown will be able able to regain their old Bills form or, frankly, even be big-time contributors. These guys are on the back nine of their careers. Brown bounced around multiple teams last year. Beasley retired earlier this year. Their mere presence shows that Buffalo wants more than they’re getting out of the non-Diggs pass-catchers on this team.

Isaiah McKenzie #6 and Gabe Davis #13 of the Buffalo Bills haven't been fantasy stars
Isaiah McKenzie and Gabe Davis haven't provided fantasy managers with much to celebrate this season. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Let’s be clear: I’m not here to be a Bills' apocalyptic preacher. For all the doom and gloom I’m spouting, this offense can still win the Super Bowl and be a great unit in this iteration. Buffalo ranks eighth in offensive success rate and 10th in dropback EPA since Week 8.

More importantly, they’ve gone 5-2. The sky is far from falling.

The elite combination of Allen and Diggs is good enough to carry them to close wins, even if they won’t be blowing teams away like early in the season.

If anything, I’m more concerned about the long-term health and performance of a rapidly eroding offensive line in a playoff game than I am about the receivers. You could argue that the addition of quick-separation players like Brown and Beasley would help alleviate that problem too.

What we’re seeing is a great team that’s trying to figure it out on the fly. The Bills have built the type of ecosystem that gives you faith they can find those answers. All that’s been clear is that whatever the plan was or your projections were heading into the season, things aren't turning out that way.

The Falcons have averaged just 23.1 pass attempts per game

The Falcons will be changing their starting quarterback this week. Will that cause them to change their offensive approach? I’m not holding my breath.

Arthur Smith finally made the move to bench Marcus Mariota and install rookie Desmond Ridder at quarterback. Who knows how good Ridder will be — you could find takes on both sides of the spectrum during draft season — but it's past time to see what he has. Mariota was just not giving them enough.

When you have an inaccurate quarterback who was turnover prone leading such a low-volume passing offense your margin for error in projecting the pass-catchers is cut to zero.

The hope is that Ridder takes care of the ball and executes what I maintain are some really strong route combinations and play designs by Smith. The bones of the offense won’t change drastically until they have a quarterback who dictates such an alteration. Ridder might be that guy but it’s unlikely he will be in his first start.

For those of us hoping for a strong finish out of Drake London, it’s all about a possible efficiency/accuracy boost for the whole offense. That will bring more individual volume for London from a target share perspective. London has been open on big-time routes, Mariota just wasn’t reading out the plays to get to him. Perhaps Ridder will.

Jerry Jeudy recorded 25.3% of his fantasy points this season in Week 14

I think Jerry Jeudy might be the most misunderstood wide receiver in the NFL.

He was billed as a great route-runner coming out of college. So far in the NFL, we haven’t seen that player. He’s not a bad separator by any means but I think his overall ability as a route runner is overstated. I think of him more as an inconsistent big-play threat. This shows up in his wildly high 4.7 yards per route run vs. man coverage. However, that result (with just 60 routes) vs. man coverage on the year is inflated by a handful of big plays.

Even the COSTCO-style of his production — coming in large bulks — speaks to that evaluation. He’s not unlike another former Alabama receiver, Amari Cooper in this way.

We’ll see how Jeudy strings together the last chapter of his season. You can project his volume much cleaner in games Courtland Sutton sits. There’s barely enough goodness in the Broncos offense to go around for one receiver to eat on a consistent basis, much less two.

Jared Goff has a 59.4 passer rating under pressure this year, per PFF

For all the flowers Jared Goff and the Lions offense have received of late, this Week 15 spot on the road in a cold environment against one of the best defenses in the NFL feels like a classic come-down spot.

This is the hilarious thing about this latest round of Goff discourse: We know exactly who this guy is! We have film on him that goes back years.

The fact that he’s playing well in good conditions behind a nice offensive line with quality skill-position players around him is not surprising. If he has a subpar game against the Jets this weekend, it would be equally unsurprising.

If Goff goes into New York and carves up this fantastic Jets stop unit, then we can have a conversation. Should he do what the Goff we have known for years has almost always done in a spot like this, you aren’t allowed to act shocked.

Jets pass rate with Zach Wilson: 52% vs. 69% with Mike White/Joe Flacco

The play-calling disparity between the Jets offense with Zach Wilson and without their once-No. 2 overall pick is striking. Wilson’s effectiveness is almost a secondary concern for projecting the pass-catchers in this offense, and that’s saying something because it’s quite troubling. Garrett Wilson still remains a highly desirable WR2 and Elijah Moore is still a sleeper play in a good matchup after running a route on 83% of the dropbacks the last two weeks.

However, some of the juice got sucked out of the ceiling range of outcomes for all of these guys once White was ruled out.

No quarterback has dropped back to pass more than Justin Herbert this year

He is the only quarterback north of 600. The Chargers get an ideal matchup this weekend to keep the good vibes rolling.

The Titans' run defense is an elite unit to the point that teams have essentially given up running the ball against them. That’s fine because their already questionable pass defense has continued to sustain injuries and is now flailing to end the year. Tennessee has allowed the second-most passing yards and fourth-highest passer rating since Week 10.

Herbert and his top-two wideouts are in fantastic spots in Week 15. You can expect Austin Ekeler to clear eight catches at a minimum, as well.

The Giants have allowed 48 explosive plays since Week 10 (tied for most)

They’ve played man coverage at the highest rate in that span (44%) — 10% more than anyone else. That’s part of the problem.

Wink Martindale’s defenses always come with a “live by the sword, die by the sword” mentality. They’ve been doing a lot more dying than living lately. The lack of talent on the back end has sprung leaks in the secondary and caused Martindale to somewhat dial back his aggressive blitz packages.

Washington has the talent to take advantage of those favorable matchups in the secondary but it might not be their first priority.

New York has allowed 5.2 yards per carry since Week 10 and ranks 31st in total rushing EPA allowed. We know Washington has been extremely run-heavy since Taylor Heinicke has taken over and they’ve been winning games. This looks like yet another big Brian Robinson week.

The Rams have allowed 3.8 yards per carry since Week 10

The Rams have not done much right this year. Their run defense, however, has been top-notch. Now, that’s a reality that might speak to how much being an elite run-stop unit really swings the needle in today’s NFL but it remains a strength of their wilting team regardless.

That makes this Week 15 matchup with the Packers quite interesting. Green Bay’s potency as a run offense is a bit overstated but they’re coming off a game prior to the bye where they ran all over Chicago.

We can’t expect that to repeat against LA.

It’ll be up to the passing game to win the day for the Packers. Aaron Jones can be a big part of that but look for Christian Watson to remain a big focal point in the downfield attack. Don’t underrate the return of Romeo Doubs, either. He’s not nearly as talented or flashy as his fellow rookie wideout but Doubs is a trusted contested-catch option who can also win in the vertical game.

I am quite fascinated to see how the passing game is split between these two rookies in what’s essentially their first time playing together since Watson’s breakout.

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