The 2015 Buffalo Bills had promise, with an exciting new head coach (at least for the cameras) Rex Ryan, a new feature back in LeSean McCoy and a defense that looked to continue dominating. Their formula hadn’t changed – play strong defense, run the ball well, and win close games. Though they started the season with a win, they proceeded to lose their next three home games, and thereafter hung around .500 for the remainder of the season. They did manage to knock the Jets out of the playoffs in week 17 however, which certainly made former Jets coach Ryan feel better, but ended the season at 8-8.
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Taylor was one of the more interesting stories for the 2015 preseason. He had been a four-year backup behind Joe Flacco in Baltimore. This led some folks in the fantasy community to label him a “career backup.” While this assessment was accurate, in Taylor’s case I don’t believe it was a result of his talent for the position. Taylor found himself in a situation with no path to the starting job, and I don’t think we can begrudge him for being stuck behind Flacco, who didn’t miss a start in those four years. That’s why Taylor took less money to sign an incentive-laden deal with Buffalo – incentives based on whether Taylor won the starting job. The writing was on the wall that Taylor could win the starting job (I sure thought so), and win it he did.
Taylor had a good but not great season where he did nearly everything the coaching staff asked of him. Rex Ryan’s offenses can never be described as “dynamic,” and in fact are more often labeled things closer to “anemic.” (Let’s face it, I’ve seen more exciting Pop Warner offenses.) That being said, Taylor still put up some decent numbers. In 14 games, he completed 63 percent of his passes for over 3,000 yards with 20 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. No, those aren’t scintillating yardage or touchdown totals, but he only threw 6 picks. He also added 568 yards on the ground and 4 rushing touchdowns. From a fantasy perspective, he ended around QB17 for total points, but if you look at his points per game, he was around QB11.
Yeah, I know. This doesn’t make you want to go out and buy Taylor. But think about his numbers this way. How would you feel if those were rookie numbers? You’d feel pretty darn excited about him, I’d wager. If we think of 2015 as TnT’s rookie season, and expect an improvement next year with a full off-season as the presumptive starter, this could be the beginnings of a solid fantasy QB.
Oh yeah, E.J. Manuel. Forgot about that guy, huh? Most of us did. Manuel was a first round pick in 2013 but spent 2015 backing up a former backup. The story on Manuel out of college was that he showed both some skill and some inconsistency, but featured an impressive 6-foot-5, 237-pound frame. 2016 is the last guaranteed year of Manuel’s rookie deal, so it will be interesting to see where he ends up in the future. But barring injury, I don’t think he can get the starting job back in Buffalo. He didn’t help his cause during his two starts this season, especially when he threw 3 picks in roughly 45 seconds in a terrible stretch against Jacksonville in London.
Josh Johnson is also still on the roster, but he was brought in for depth when Taylor was ailing and is a free agent in 2016.
There was an awful lot of off-field news surround McCoy in the offseason. His trade from the Eagles to the Bills led to many questions, both in terms of the football sense of the trade and about how it was handled. You might even argue that this trade was one of the first signs of trouble under Chip Kelly as GM, mostly due to the way Kelly flubbed how the trade was announced. LeSean wasn’t exactly Mc-coy in his reactions to the trade either.
As far as football goes, McCoy had a fairly disappointing year. He missed four games all together and rushed for under 900 yards and only 3 touchdowns. He added just under 300 yards receiving and 2 receiving touchdowns, however. But this is a far cry from 2 years ago, when McCoy posted over 2,100 rushing/receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. There was some conjecture when the trade happened that the Eagles saw McCoy was on a downward trajectory, and his 2015 performance may support that theory. His yards per carry (4.4) and yards per reception (9.1) were both up over last year, however.
Still, Buffalo is a team that will continue to run the football. If McCoy can stay healthy, he has a great opportunity to continue to produce. And his hefty contract suggests that he will continue to be the lead back, regardless of the performance of those under him on the depth chart.
Drafted in the mid-fifth round out of Florida State, Williams surprised many with his production this year. Williams is still fairly new to the running back position, having converted to running back in his junior year of college. He’s a former safety and it shows in the way he runs, aggressive and straight forward. He still has a lot to learn, but has shown natural running ability that has translated to the NFL level, at least so far.
Williams is also one of the reasons McCoy’s touchdown totals were down this season. Williams saw quite a bit of the goal-line work for Buffalo, and that translated into nine total touchdowns for the year. He also averaged a solid 5.6 yards per carry. Some might suggest that his success could translate into the starting role, but I don’t see this to be the case. As I mentioned earlier, McCoy has the kind of contract that almost guarantees him a starting role for at least a couple more seasons. Williams is also working under a fifth-round rookie deal, which is extremely team-friendly. Buffalo has no reason to rush a transition.
Gillislee was a top 10 running back coming out of high school, which he parlayed into a scholarship at University of Florida under Urban Meyer. He never got a true feature back workload as a Gator, which certainly hurt his draft stock. At 5-foot-11 and 208 pounds, he has decent size but nothing spectacular. He doesn’t have any one “special” measurable, so he was drafted in the fifth round of the 2013 draft by the Dolphins. He never got a real shot in Miami, and was released in September of last year. After a stint on the Cardinals practice squad, he landed on the Bills roster.
That seemed to be the theme for Gillislee, just never getting a real shot. He saw action late for the Bills and had a pretty good showing in weeks 15 and 16, when he rushed 13 times for 174 yards and 2 touchdowns. Not too shabby for limited work. The Bills have already signed him for 2016, so he is someone to at least keep an eye on.
Boobie Dixon. It’s a name that should have guaranteed NFL success, but, alas, no such luck. Dixon came into the league with both great size and solid collegiate production, but thus far it just hasn’t translated on the field. His 2015 season with the Bills was no different, either. He averaged 2.1 yards per carry along with one solitary touchdown. (In case you didn’t know, some guys basically fall down and do better.) It turns out the name doesn’t make the player. Dixon is signed through 2016, but the expectations aren’t high.
It was a bit of an up and down year for Watkins, one of the most highly touted wide receivers from the great rookie class of 2014. Well, I suppose that isn’t accurate, it was more of a “down and up” year for Watkins, but we’ll get to that in a minute. Buffalo hasn’t really been a bastion of offense, and because of that Watkins was slightly downgraded by some, even though he was perhaps the most talented receiver in the 2014 draft. Things didn’t get better for the Bills in the offseason, either – they had a lot of questions at quarterback, were still built around defense and a running game and they brought in another defensive-minded coach in Rex Ryan.
Because of that, some folks were pretty queasy early on, especially if you look at Watkins’ first seven games:
Granted, this split included three missed games, but it still wasn’t pretty. Even when Watkins was on the field, he wasn’t producing as expected. This is also the time when Watkins decided to take it to the media, and called out the team for not using him properly. His performance was disappointing, and now he began showing some “diva” warning signs that had even more people worried.
Then the rest of 2015 happened:
Hopefully you were smarter than most, and bought Watkins around week 7. If not, good luck getting ahold of him.
Watkins wasn’t the only wideout Buffalo drafted highly recently. They also picked up Woods in the second round of the 2013 draft. Coming out of USC, the book on Woods was that he had good speed and decent size, and excelled in short and medium routes. He had the kind of production that would indicate WR1 talent, but he scopes out as more of a WR2 at the NFL level. He also played WR2 for the Bills for most of the season, until injuries eventually landed him on the IR. He put up middling numbers, with 47 receptions for 552 yards and 3 touchdowns, but the potential is still there – especially if he can get healthy and Watkins continues to draw coverage. Then again, he’s still the WR2 on a run-heavy team.
Hey, you guys remember Harvin? Remember back in 2011 when he had over 1,800 all-purpose yards and 8 touchdowns? The Vikings were using him all over the field, in many different ways. Fantasy folks everywhere were going insane over him, much like they did later on with another Vikings wideout…
Yeah, well that was 2011. What Harvin has done for us (and any other NFL team) lately hasn’t been a whole heck of a lot. He started disappointing fantasy and NFL owners in 2012, and basically hasn’t stopped. (And if you want to talk about Diva warning signs, Harvin had them by the bushel.) There has even been talk that he could be flat out done. But he still at least has that potential if he can just put Humpty Dumpty back together again.
What’s that? You want to go deeper on the Buffalo wide receiver depth chart? Ok, if you say so. They also have Chris Hogan, who is, at best, a role-player (and not the Gary Gygax kind) who stepped up due to some injuries. He did finish with over 400 yards and 2 touchdowns, but I wouldn’t read much into that. They also picked up Hankerson at the end of the year, and became his third team for the year. That’s not a good sign, and neither is the fact that he was injured for much of that time.
Not content with just one disappointing wide receiver in Harvin, the Bills have also added Little and Boykin to the roster. Both of these players had some time in the sun, but neither has lived up to their expectations. Both are worth at least keeping an eye on in the offseason. The depth chart after Watkins isn’t exactly set in stone.
I’m sure when the Dolphins threw the transition tag on Clay last off-season, they expected it to keep some suitors at bay, and perhaps force them to pony up a bit more cash to keep him. But then Buffalo came in and offered Clay a money hat, and I doubt the Dolphins wasted much time saying “if you want him that bad, take him.” Clay had shown some flashes of decent production, but the Bills gave the converted fullback the most guaranteed money in the NFL at the position. To thank the Bills for this overpay, Clay punched out 51 receptions for 528 yards and 3 touchdowns in 2015. Not exactly Gronk numbers, but at least he got the Gronk money. I do believe there is still potential with Clay, and that contract means he will get the work, so don’t bail on him yet.
After blowing all that free agent cash on Clay, there isn’t much to see in the other tight ends on the roster. The Bills drafted O’Leary in the sixth round in 2015 and drafted Gragg in the seventh round in 2013. Both saw some playing time late in the season due to the Clay injury, but I don’t see either as a worthwhile dynasty asset. The Bills have one highly paid tight end, and they are still focused on the run to boot.
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