2017 Fantasy Football Draft Prep: Will Bills stop losing ways this season?
Tyrod Taylor is back, Sammy Watkins is (hopefully) healthy and LeSean McCoy is still going strong. The Bills have some good Fantasy options, and Zay Jones and Jonathan Williams are also potential sleepers.
The Bills haven't done a lot of things right with their roster in recent years, and this offseason wasn't much different. Not only does Buffalo lose many of its own talented players, the Bills let them walk out the door to New England.
And as you would imagine, the Patriots probably make them better. It's part of the reason the Bills have the longest playoff drought in the NFL at 17 seasons, and the Patriots have five Super Bowl victories and seven Super Bowl appearances over that span.
In 2016, New England poached Chris Hogan from Buffalo, and he was a key contributor for the Patriots in their Super Bowl-winning campaign. This offseason, New England signed cornerback Stephon Gilmore as an unrestricted free agent, and the Patriots also took restricted free agent running back Mike Gillislee.
The Gillislee signing could be tough for the Bills because he was a prominent piece of Buffalo's standout rushing attack as the backup to LeSean McCoy. And now Gillislee could be the starting running back in New England as LeGarrette Blount's replacement.
Get ready for two big games from Gillislee when he faces the Bills in Week 13 in Buffalo and in New England for Week 16. Fantasy owners of Gillislee will almost certainly enjoy those matchups.
But one thing Buffalo got right this offseason was keeping quarterback Tyrod Taylor. When last season ended, it appeared like Taylor wasn't coming back to the Bills because of his contract, but both sides agreed to a new deal, which is a smart move.
Buffalo keeps a quality talent at quarterback, and Taylor gets another chance to prove his worth as a starter. And he's actually been good in Fantasy and reality the past two years.
In 2015, Taylor had six games with at least 20 Fantasy points in a standard league and eight games with at least 18 points. And last year, he scored at least 20 Fantasy points in a standard league in seven games and at least 17 points in three other outings.
The hope is Taylor will have a healthy Sammy Watkins (foot) for the majority of the season to give Buffalo a true No. 1 receiver, but Taylor's best asset is his running ability since he led all quarterbacks last season with 580 rushing yards. He also tied Dak Prescott for the most rushing touchdowns among quarterbacks with six, and Taylor's Fantasy value is higher in leagues with four points for passing touchdowns compared to six.
We like Taylor with a late-round pick in all leagues, even with the addition of rookie quarterback Nate Peterman in the NFL Draft, and Taylor could easily be a full-time Fantasy starter if Watkins is healthy and rookie receiver Zay Jones (a potential sleeper) becomes a playmaker. New Bills coach Sean McDermott is happy that Taylor is his quarterback this year.
"The very first day I had the job, he made himself available to me," McDermott said in an interview with CBS Sports. "I remember I was in my driveway in Carolina, and he called me and reached out. That spoke volumes about the type of person that we have. Outstanding individual character-wise, and then what he did on the field the past couple of years. Then you combine that with the system that (new offensive coordinator) Rick Dennison is bringing to Buffalo, it's a nice fit for us."
Maybe the McDermott era will be a fresh start for the Bills. Maybe they make the playoffs for the first time since the 90s. And maybe after this season they keep all their talented players in Buffalo -- or at least away from New England.
Breakout: Sammy Watkins
We really want to see Watkins healthy for 16 games. There's a chance he could be great. But we haven't been able to see that outside of a brief stretch in 2015. That's because injuries, mostly to his foot, have robbed us of Watkins' potential. In 2016, Watkins was limited to eight games because of a foot injury, which required two surgeries, the lastest of which came in January. He's on track to make a full recovery and be ready for training camp, and hopefully he doesn't suffer a setback. In 2015, Watkins showed his skills with 60 catches for 1,047 yards and nine touchdowns on 96 targets, but he did most of that damage over the final nine games of the season with at least 13 Fantasy points in a standard league in six of those outings. Taylor's return is great for Watkins' outlook, and we expect this to be the best year of his career, especially since he's now playing for a new contract. There's risk involved with drafting Watkins, but there's also plenty of reward. We would target him as early as Round 3 in the majority of leagues.
One more great year: LeSean McCoy
There should be some concern with McCoy this year. After all, he'll be 29 in July, and he's getting close to those numbers we fear because of a breakdown with 1,936 career carries and 2,327 career touches, including the playoffs. But he should have at least one more big year in 2017, and the loss of Gillislee should help him. While Jonathan Williams should take over for Gillislee and do well in that role, McCoy should play as well as he did in 2016, if not better. He was the No. 3 Fantasy running back in standard leagues last year with 234 carries for 1,267 yards (5.41 yards per carry) and 13 touchdowns and 50 catches for 356 yards and one touchdown. McCoy scored double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league in 12 of 15 games (he missed one game with a hamstring injury) and even played through a dislocated thumb. Some additional bonus points are the return of Taylor, the addition of two fullbacks (Patrick DiMarco and Mike Tolbert) and an offensive coordinator in Dennison, who should keep Buffalo committed to the run. The Bills also have a solid offensive line, which was ranked No. 11 by Pro Football Focus last year. McCoy is a slam dunk first-round pick in all leagues, and he should be the No. 4 running back off the board behind Le'Veon Bell, David Johnson and Ezekiel Elliott.
Sleeper: Jonathan Williams
We're not sure if Williams is as talented as Gillislee, but we're about to find out since Williams should be the No. 2 running back behind McCoy this year. Williams will step into Gillislee's role from last year, which was 101 carries for 577 yards (5.71 yards per carry) and eight touchdowns and nine catches for 50 yards and a touchdown, and Gillislee actually finished as the No. 26 Fantasy running back in standard leagues. And when McCoy was out with a hamstring injury in Week 8 against New England, Gillislee had 12 carries for 85 yards and a touchdown and three catches for 9 yards. Williams is entering his second season in the NFL after he was a fifth-round pick from Arkansas in 2016. He appeared in 10 games as a rookie and finished with 27 carries for 94 yards (3.5 yards per carry) and one touchdown. He missed the 2015 season at Arkansas with a foot injury, but he was great in 2014 with 211 carries for 1,190 yards and 12 touchdowns and 11 catches for 65 yards and two touchdowns. He's worth a late-round pick in all leagues, especially as a handcuff for McCoy, because he could have quality production as Gillislee's replacement. And if McCoy gets hurt, we could see Williams in a starring role.
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