Every year we give our premium content members a team-by-team, player-by-player look at the NFL season that was. The coverage will be in-depth, but because the Dynasty Capsule series begins immediately after the regular season, we won’t use it to discuss free agency or the draft. Come see us in early May once Mr. Irrelevant is off the board for another 32-article series giving you the same detailed discussion you’ll see below.
Buckle up dynasty fans, because you’re about to be reminded why our motto is, “There is no off-season.”
The Buffalo Bills had an interesting season. By most accounts, the 2016 campaign was a failure — the team’s starting quarterback was effectively benched and the coach was fired — but it wasn’t really that bad. The Bills had the AFC’s seventh-best point differential at plus-21. For reference, the Miami Dolphins had a minus-17 point differential, actually getting outscored by their opponents this season, but Miami went 10-6 while Buffalo was 7-9.
The losing record doesn’t mean the Bills are barren of talent from a dynasty perspective. Buffalo continued running the ball as well as anyone in the league, and Sammy Watkins is still a top-end asset despite an injury-plagued season.
Buffalo has a big decision to make at quarterback and a slew of wideouts entering free agency. The Bills could look a lot different in 2017, depending on what they do over the next few months.
Before we put 2016 in the rearview mirror, let’s break down each of Buffalo’s relevant skill-position players and their performances from this past season.
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The Taylor saga has been well-documented, and both he and the Bills are in for an interesting off-season. Taylor could be playing for any number of teams in 2017, including the Bills, so it’s probably not worth our time to speculate at this point. What we can do, however, is look at how Taylor did in 2016, and it was pretty serviceable.
Taylor, in his second season as a starter, put up slightly worse numbers across the board compared to his 2015 campaign. That shouldn’t be too surprising considering he had a never-really-healthy Watkins for only eight games this year, and Marquise Goodwin served as the team’s top wideout for a little bit after Robert Woods went down. That’s going to make things difficult for any quarterback, and it also glosses over the fact Woods was the team’s top receiver for much of the season. That’s not ideal.
Taylor’s adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A) ranked 17th this season while his 61.7 percent completion percentage checked in 19th. He had a better completion percentage than Marcus Mariota and a better AY/A than Jameis Winston, two other passers in their second season as starters. Taylor is probably never going to be a top-end NFL quarterback, but there are certainly worse options.
From a fantasy perspective, Taylor was a quality asset once again. After ending 2015 as the 14th-ranked quarterback, he was the ninth overall passer this past season. Not counting week 17 (because most leagues end after week 16), Taylor had eight QB1 (top-12) weeks — more than Philip Rivers, Cam Newton, Matthew Stafford and Carson Palmer. Taylor’s value is boosted by his legs. He averaged 38.7 rushing yards per game this past year, basically giving fantasy owners a free passing touchdown per game in standard formats.
He continues to be undervalued in dynasty. Per our December average draft position (ADP) data, Taylor is going as QB19. Some of that is likely due to the uncertainty surrounding his situation in Buffalo, but that saga is probably opening up a nice little buy-low window, especially for those in two-quarterback leagues. Sure, there’s a chance Taylor doesn’t end up starting somewhere in 2017, but his on-field production these past two years says he’s probably going to start again at some point. I mean, Matt Barkley and Tom Savage ended the year as starters, so there’s certainly a need for average passers.
Taylor has proven he can be a good fantasy option, and he’s done it without big-time volume, finishing with the 25th-most pass attempts in 2016. Wherever he ends up in 2016 — and it’s hard to imagine he’d land in a place with worse wideouts than what he had for most of this season — if he’s in line to be a starter, he can be a useful asset.
Manuel started one game, so it’s hard to pull much from a one-game sample. That one game was pretty terrible, though, as he completed 11-of-26 passes for 131 yards. Over his four-year career, he owns a 58.3 percent completion percentage with an AY/A of 5.9, tossing 19 touchdowns to 15 picks. Manuel is a free agent this off-season, and reports are saying his tenure in Buffalo is likely over. He’s not on the fantasy radar.
The sample size for Jones is even smaller as he threw just 11 passes in 2016, completing six of them. The Bills’ fourth-round pick in 2016 may get the opportunity to compete for the starting gig in 2017 if Taylor isn’t back, but it’s unlikely he’s ready to be an NFL starter at this point in his career. If he did get to compete for the job, however, he’d be worthy of a speculative add in two-quarterback formats solely because all starting quarterbacks are valuable in said format.
McCoy has been in Buffalo for two seasons, and he’s been a fantasy stud in each, ranking among the top 10 running backs in fantasy points per game in both 2015 and 2016. Overall, he was the RB17 in 2015 because he missed four games, but McCoy was healthy for most of this past season (played 15 games) and put together a monster year.
Shady ran for 1,267 yards and 13 scores, adding a 50-356-1 line as a receiver. He was the RB3 in standard formats and the RB4 in points-per-reception (PPR) leagues, trailing only David Johnson, Ezekiel Elliott and Le’Veon Bell.
In our December staff mocks, McCoy was, on average, the 16th overall running back taken. That seems pretty wild to me considering what he’s done in Buffalo the past two years. He isn’t a youngster, entering his age-29 season next fall, but considering how volatile running back is, it seems like a runner of McCoy’s caliber would be valued a little higher.
For reference, Spencer Ware is going as the RB8, and Ware had 106 less PPR points than McCoy in 2016. The age discrepancy is nice, but can we really look more than two — maybe three — years ahead with any running back? McCoy has started at least 13 games in five different seasons, and he’s racked up at least 1,474 total yards in every one. He’s good.
Gillislee continued to shine in limited playing time, rushing for 577 yards and eight touchdowns on 101 carries. For his career, he’s now run it 154 times for 865 yards (5.6 YPC) and 11 scores. He’s also hauled in 15 of his 18 targets for 79 yards and another touchdown.
The sample size isn’t huge, but among backs with at least 140 carries over the past two years, Gillislee ranks first in yards per carry at 5.7. The next closest running back is Jordan Howard, who gained 5.22 yards per run on 252 attempts (all in 2016, obviously).
Gillislee is set to become a restricted free agent, but assuming he sticks in Buffalo, he’s going to be digging for crumbs in the volume department as he’ll back up one of the best running backs in football. Gillislee will probably need an injury to get a big workload, but he has shown enough to make himself a valuable handcuff. Per our ADP data, Gillislee went outside of the top 150 players in December, so now may be a good time to buy. He was the RB27 in standard leagues in 2016 without seeing much volume, and his upside in a proven run offense is pretty substantial if McCoy got hurt.
Williams saw limited action as a rookie in 2016. He carried the ball 27 times for 94 yards (3.5 YPC) and added one grab on two targets. Buffalo took him in the fifth round out of Arkansas. His workout numbers were pretty ugly, but he did run for 1,190 yards and 12 scores as a junior in 2014. He’s really only a name to monitor if Gillislee doesn’t end up back in Buffalo.
This was an incredibly trying season for Watkins and his dynasty owners. After catching fire over the second half of 2015, Watkins appeared ready for a true breakout in 2016. Unfortunately, foot issues derailed much of his season. Technically, Watkins played eight games, but he rarely looked healthy even when he was out there.
He finished with 28 catches, 430 yards and two scores on 52 targets — barely hauling in half of his looks. Watkins did put on a vintage performance in Week 16, torching Miami for seven catches, 154 yards and one touchdown.
Despite the down year and uncertainty around the quarterback position in Buffalo, don’t think you can get Watkins for much of a discount. According to our December ADP numbers, the dynasty darling is still the WR9 and the 12th overall player off the board. It does, however, feel like there is some growing frustration with him in the dynasty community, so if he gets off to a bad start in 2017, his stock may finally start falling.
Watkins’ injury issues forced Woods to play a bigger role in the first half of the season, and he finished with 51 receptions for 613 yards and one score. He’s been an very consistent producer through four years — his career-best yardage total is 669 while his career-low mark is 552 yards — but the problem is his production isn’t good enough to make him a valuable commodity. He’s an unrestricted free agent, and he is expected to test the market.
Goodwin benefited from Watkins’ injury woes more than any other Bills’ wideout, putting up career-best marks nearly across the board. The track speedster ended the season with 29 catches for 431 yards and three touchdowns. A deep-ball specialist with elite wheels, Goodwin runs a lot of low-percentage routes, and he managed to secure just 29 of his 68 targets. Like Woods, Goodwin is going to be a free agent this off-season, so the Bills could be active in free agency or pursue a wideout in the draft (or both).
A former sixth-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals back in 2014, Powell got some run this year, most of which came in the first half of the season. He caught 14 of 25 targets for 142 yards. It was his first action as a wideout, with him previously being limited to return duties. He’d likely need a long list of dominoes to fall to be a fantasy producer in 2017.
The Bills claimed Hunter off waivers when they put Watkins on injured reserve early in the year. Hunter proceeded to do what he’s done throughout his career: make some impressive splash plays while posting an underwhelming overall line. Hunter did haul in four touchdowns, but he caught just 10 of 23 targets for 189 yards. Keeping with the company line, he’s due to be a free agent this off-season.
If we’re looking for a bright spot from Buffalo’s pass-game options, this is it. Clay led the team in targets (87) and receptions (57), finishing with 552 yards and four touchdowns. Clay did his best work late in the year. From week 14 to week 16, he totaled 18 catches for 209 yards and four touchdowns. He averaged a meager 2.8 receptions per game in the five games prior to that run, so outside of MFL10s or very deep leagues, it’s unlikely his hot stretch helped many fantasy owners. Things could change depending on what the Bills do this off-season, but as of now, Clay is Buffalo’s second-best option in the passing game.
O’Leary played in all 16 games, but the former sixth-round pick has a very limited role. He saw just 14 targets in 2016, although he did snag nine of them for 114 yards. O’Leary is pretty far off the fantasy map right now.