Fitz on Fantasy: 2019 Buffalo Bills Fantasy Preview

With training camps here, TFG fantasy expert Pat Fitzmaurice is breaking down the prospects for all 32 teams. Click here for a running list of teams, and check back often as teams are added on an almost daily basis. On to the Buffalo Bills…

Bills fans will want to powerbomb you through a flaming table if you think second-year QB Josh Allen is anything less than the second coming of John Elway. We can only hope they feed us a few shots and let us gnaw on some wings before they mete out WWE-style punishment for our disrespect

There’s no denying the quality of the tools in Allen’s kit. His arm is a bazooka that registered a throw velocity of 62 mph at the NFL Scouting Combine. That was tops in his draft class, and for sake of comparison, the rifle-armed Patrick Mahomes was clocked at 60 mph a year earlier. Allen has good speed, he’s a 73rd percentile SPARQ-x athlete, and he had an 84th percentile Wonderlic score.

But if you were betting on starting NFL quarterbacks to knock a beer bottle off a fencepost from 20 yards away, Allen might be the last guy you’d want to put your money on.

Allen’s 52.8% completion percentage last season ranked 33rd (dead last) among qualified passers. His 6.48 yards per attempt placed him 32nd, ahead of only Josh Rosen. Allen’s passer rating of 67.9 also ranked 32nd. (Thanks again, Mr. Rosen.) The 30th-ranked Sam Darnold’s passer rating was nearly 10 points higher than Allen’s. 

Despite those woeful numbers, Allen still ranked 19th among QBs in fantasy points per game, mostly because of his legs. Allen’s 631 rushing yards were more than any quarterback other than Lamar Jackson, and his eight TD runs led all QBs. Unlike Jackson, whose runs were mostly designed, Allen was an opportunistic scrambler. He wasn’t regarded as a running quarterback during his college days, though he dropped hints of his rushing prowess as a sophomore, when he ran for 523 yards and seven touchdowns. 

Can Allen become a more accurate passer? Is his 2018 rushing performance repeatable?

I’m skeptical on both counts. 

Allen’s college completion percentage was 56.2%, and that was mostly against Mountain West competition. He’s wildly off-target on so many throws that it’s hard to believe he’ll ever solve the accuracy problem. But maybe that’s not such a big deal. Pro Football Focus noted that 19.7% of Allen’s throws traveled 20 or more yards downfield – the highest rate in the league. That doesn’t excuse the poor completion percentage, but it makes the completion percentage somewhat less important. Connect on enough deep balls and the inefficiency starts to matter less.

It’s a mortal lock that Allen’s per-game rushing numbers will backslide, but it’s still encouraging that he’s so willing to run, and we certainly have to bake some rushing value into our overall assessment of him. 

I think the best-case scenario for Allen this year is that he’s a poor man’s Cam Newton. Maybe he could become a lower-middle-class version of Cam Newton in time. But for this year, I think we’ll still get the poor man’s version. Really poor. As in having a negative checking account balance and eating Chef Boyardee straight out of the can. I haven’t taken Allen in any drafts so far and may well end up with an Allen-free portfolio.

Buffalo newcomer John Brown seems like a good fit for Allen’s air-it-out style. “Smokey” has 4.34 speed and a career average of 15.0 yards per catch. Brown struggled with injuries in 2017, in part because he carries the sickle cell trait, but he played all 16 regular-season games for Baltimore last season. 

There are bound to be some long Allen-to-Brown connections, but there are going to be some lean weeks, too – possibly quite a few of them. Brown is a better option in best-ball leagues, where the format captures all the good weeks and filters out the bad weeks, then in conventional redraft leagues.

I had Robert Foster ranked ahead of Brown until very recently, but as Adam Levitan of Establish the Run (@adamlevitan) noted, Foster never got on the field with Allen in the Bills’ first preseason game, whereas Brown was on the field for 17 of the 18 snaps Allen played. 

It’s hard to understand why the Bills would be down on Foster. He averaged 12.3 yards per target last season, ranking second in the league behind only Tyler Lockett. His average depth of target was a league-high 20.95 yards, according to Pro Football Focus. Foster was a nonfactor during his college career at Alabama, but he had been a five-star high school recruit, and he has 4.4 speed. I really wanted to like him as a late-round flyer. Unfortunately, his lowly status on the Bills’ depth chart at the moment is reason to pump the brakes.

Zay Jones isn’t exactly Mr. Efficiency. He finished WR33 last year in half-point PPR scoring, but he finished 107th in yards per target, per PFF. After catching just 36.5% of his targets as a rookie, Jones improved to 54.9% last year – still a mediocre number for a dude who averaged only 11.6 yards per catch.

Two reasons why I’m not quite ready to give up on Zay despite the discouraging early returns: (1) He’s a tremendous athlete who posted an 88th percentile SPARQ-x score, and (2) he put up some freaky numbers at East Carolina, topped off by a 158-catch, 1,746-yard senior year. Davante Adams put up preposterous numbers during his two college seasons at Fresno State, struggled mightily in his first two NFL seasons, then exploded in Year Three. Not that Jones is a great bet to follow the same career path as Adams, but the parallels help keep hope alive. 

The TE position in Buffalo is a fantasy sinkhole. Rookie third-rounderDawson Knox is an intriguing asset in dynasty leagues, but he never produced more than 321 yards at Ole Miss, so it’s hard to imagine him being useful as a rookie. Tyler Kroft had a fleeting moment of fantasy relevance with the Bengals in 2017 but hasn’t done anything since. Let’s just move on.

The only starting RB with a lower ADP than LeSean McCoy is the Buccaneers’ Peyton Barber, and let’s just say that Barber doesn’t quite have the performance history McCoy does. McCoy put up the worst numbers of his 10-year career in 2018. He had never averaged less than 4.0 yards per carry until last year, when he averaged 3.2. He averaged 53.7 scrimmage yards per game and scored just three touchdowns.

The 31-year-old McCoy is entering the final year of contract and now finds himself in a crowded backfield. His ADP is RB40, but even at that deep discount I’m not particularly interested.

Devin Singletary is an unusual prospect. He’s only 5-7, 203 pounds, and his athletic measurables are well below average: 4.66 speed, an 18th percentile agility score, a 13th percentile SPARQ-x score. But in three seasons at Florida Atlantic, Singletary ran for 4,287 yards and 66 touchdowns. Some of the people I respect the most in the scouting community absolutely ADORE Singletary.

Still, the lack of elbow space in the crowded Buffalo backfield makes Singletary no more than a late-round dart throw. The fear is that the Bills show veteran deference to McCoy and Gore, even if a full commitment to a youth movement makes more sense. I still like Singletary as a late-round dart throw, but you only get a handful of darts in a fantasy draft, and the bull’s-eye here is pretty small.

T.J. Yeldon has proven to be a versatile run-catch guy, but the window for him to ever become a lead back has probably closed. He quietly rolled up 901 yards from scrimmage and five TDs in 14 games with the Jaguars last season, so he’s clearly good enough to have a role somewhere. Yeldon’s competent versatility would probably translate better in a different venue. It’s hard to imagine him becoming startable in fantasy leagues this year.

Hat tip to 36-year-old Frank Gore for performing capably at an advanced age, but from a fantasy perspective he’s just getting in the way these days. It’s not hard to envision the Bills force-feeding Gore 100-120 carries – not enough to make him a viable fantasy option, but enough to help destroy the fantasy value of every other Bills RB.

Josh AllenQB21QB20QB22No thanks
LeSean McCoyRB42RB39RB40Fade
Devin SingletaryRB56RB58RB51Worthy flyer
John BrownWR52WR50WR58Best-baller
Robert FosterWR65WR63WR73Boom/bust
Zay JonesWR72WR71WR69Late dart
Dawson KnoxTE51TE51n/aDynasty only

ADP = Average Draft Position  ECR = Expert Consensus Ranking  (based on half-PPR scoring)