A new chapter of the Bills is upon us in 2017. The last time Buffalo made the playoffs was 1999, which brings their non-playoff streak to 17 seasons. Over this period, they only have two winning years (2004 – 9-7 and 2014 – 9-7). Over the last two seasons, Rex Ryan went 15-16. His defense was about league average in points allowed (2015 – 359 and 2016 – 378) while ranking 19th in yards allowed in both years. The Bills replaced him with Sean McDermott who was the defensive coordinator for the Panthers over the last six seasons. He’ll bring at attacking style to the defense with a premium of creating turnovers and stopping the run. Rick Dennison take over as the offensive coordinator after running the Broncos’ offense in 2015 and 2016. He held the same position from 2010 to 2013 with the Texans. I expect a run heavy offense again in 2017. Last year Buffalo finished 10th in points scored (399) and 16th in offensive yards. Leslie Frazier was brought in to run the defense. He’s been in the NFL as a coach since 1999 with five coming as a defensive coordinator and three as a head coach (21-32-1).
Buffalo will have a revamped roster in 2017 after cleaning house with much of the backend talent in the offseason. They lost RB Mike Gillislee and CB Stephon Gilmore to division rivals New England. Gilmore was a league average CB while offering more upside in the right system. The Bills signed four defensive backs in the offseason – Micah Hyde, Leonard Johnson, Shareece Wright, and Jordan Poyer. I don’t expect any of these players to make a significant impact with Hyde being the best addition on defense. Steve Hauschka will take over at kicker after releasing Dan Carpenter. Buffalo added a pair fullback – Patrick DiMarco and Mike Tolbert, which supports their desire to run a power running game. G Vladimir Ducasse was added for depth on the offensive line.
With the 27th pick in the first round, the Bills selected CB Tre’Davious White. He was the 5th CB selected. White will have value in coverage while being challenged by big physical WRs and deep speed receivers with some wiggle. Tackling isn’t his forte, and he doesn’t have one trait to separate himself from this year’s CB class. With more strength, his game should improve.
One of the more impressive WRs in this year’s draft was Zay Jones who Buffalo added with their first of two picks in the second round. He improved in each season in college highlighted by a monster 2016 season (158/1746/8). Jones has an edge in short area quickness with enough speed to beat a defense deep. His hands grade as an edge, but his route running and release will be challenged at the next level. Zay is a hard worker with character on his side.
Having a weakness at right tackle, the Bills added Dion Dawkins with their second selection in the second round. Dawkins will upgrade the pass protection. He’ll offer power and athletic ability.
Their next pick came in the fifth round where Buffalo invested in LB Matt Milano. He has an attacking style with a physical edge to his game, but Matt is undersized leading to some struggles when facing the big dogs on the offensive line. The Bills added a second linebacker in the sixth round – Tanner Vallejo who projects more as a special teams player early in his career. He has vision and instincts while coming up short in overall talent.
Nathan Peterman was Buffalo’s shot at improving the QB position long term with their second pick in the fifth round. He’ll offer an edge in vision, accuracy, and toughness in the pocket. His mechanics need to improve to offer more consistency plus his decision-making needs to improve when trying to force a throw.
Buffalo had the best rushing attack (2630 yards and 29 rushing TDs) in the NFL in 2016. They had a league-high 76 runs of 10 yards or more. The downside of the offensive line came in pass protection where they allowed 46 sacks and 85 QB hits on 474 pass attempts. They allowed a sack on 9.7 percent of their pass attempts, which was the second-highest rate in the league.
LT Cordy Glenn has been an edge in each of the last four seasons, but he did miss the last three games of 2016 with a back injury plus a couple of games early in the year with an ankle issue that lingered all year. Glenn minimized the damage in sacks allowed while offering upside as run blocker. Buffalo added him in the second round of the 2012 NFL draft.
LG Richie Incognito has been exceptional over the last two seasons after being out of the league in 2014 after his issue in Miami. He offers the best combination of run and pass blocking on this roster. The Rams drafted him in the third round in 2005.
C Eric Wood has a step back in 2016 after playing well the previous season. His season was cut short by seven games due to a broken leg in mid-November. For most of his career, he’s been a league-average player at his position. The best runs by Buffalo came on the outside even with Eric offering some upside as run blocker. They selected him in the first round in 2009.
RG John Miller struggled in his rookie season in 2015 (3rd round) with a groin issue and high ankle sprain while showing risk as a pass and run blocker. He played well in his sophomore season while allowing a handful of sacks. I expect more growth this year plus Buffalo tried to upgrade at left tackle.
RT Dion Dawkins played left tackle in college while his future may be guard in the NFL. The Bills will give him a chance to win the left tackle job where his athletic ability could shine. His game is more suit for power.
This offensive line should offer an edge in running again in 2017 while needing a huge step forward in pass protection. A healthy Glenn and Wood is a must while the key being the development of the right side of the line.
The above data shows the strength of schedule as far as rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing TDs touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA), and passing TDs (TDS).
This information is based on 2016, which will work as our starting point for 2017. We’ll look at all the changes on offense on each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades on each team on the defensive side. We’ll update this table when we finish the research on all 32 teams.
2016 LG Average = the league average of all stats from all 32 teams in 2014.
2016 Results = this is the results for each team in the NFL.
2016 Adjustment is based on the 2016 league average and the 2016 results for each team, this number will show if each team is above or below the league average in each stat and the basis for strength of schedule.
Buffalo looks to have a league average schedule for their rushing offense. Four of their six toughest matchups will come in division vs. the Jets (2) and Patriots (2). Their best matchups based on last year look to be against Miami and Denver. The Bills have four favorable games for their pass attack – IND, CAR, NO, and ATL. Their only bad matchup in the passing game is against the Broncos.
The Bills ran the ball over 50 percent of the time in 2016 while scoring a league high 29 rushing TDs. They had 27 runs over 20 yards, which was eight more than any other team in the league. There were 21 teams in the NFL that had 10 runs or less over 20 yards. Buffalo averaged less than 190 yards per game passing with only 17 TDs with minimal damage in interceptions. Their offense should be similar in 2017 with hopefully more explosiveness in the passing game with a healthy Sammy Watkins and contributions from rookie Zay Jones.
Tyrod Taylor (QB)
Over the last two seasons, Taylor has done a nice job as game manager. He has a 14-14 record with only 12 Ints. The high volume run game of Buffalo lead to fewer than 29 pass attempts per game. In 2015, he gained 8.0 yards per pass attempt with Sammy Watkins on the field for 13 games. That number fell to 6.9 in 2016 with a diminished receiver core. He threw for 200 or fewer yards in eight games while going 6-2 in those games. Tyrod has offseason surgery to repair a groin injury. He restructured his contract to pave the way with another starting opportunity in 2017. The new coaching staff will let him run the show, but a shortage in wins over the second half of the season will lead to risk in playing time down the strength. His value as runners (104/568/4 in 2015 and 95/580/6 in 2016) gives him playable at times in the season-long and daily games. Overall, Taylor finished as QB2 in in each of the last two seasons. Possible 4000 combined yards with 16 games played and league average TD production.
Cardale Jones (QB) – Jones has the size (6’5” and 245 lbs.) and arm strength NFL teams desire, but his resume at college was extremely short (166/269 for 2322 yards with 15 TDs and seven Ints). Injuries at QB at Ohio State in 2014 led to him starting three games at the most critical time of the year. He led the Buckeyes to three impressive wins over Wisconsin, Alabama, and Oregon to win the College National Championship. In those three games, he threw for 742 yards and five passing TDs while also rushing for another 90 yards and a TD. In his 23 games in his college career, he never lost a game in which he played. In his junior year, he split playing time with J.T. Barrett leading to minimal success (1459 passing yards, 193 rushing yards, and 10 combined TDs). Cardale looks to be a winner, but he’ll need time to develop in the NFL.
Nathan Peterman (QB) – Nate started in his junior and senior season at Pitt leading to 5142 passing yards with 47 passing TDs and 15 INTs. His completion rate (61.1) wasn’t an edge while showing growth in his yards per pass attempt (9.3) in 2016. This season he’ll be more of a project with a minimal value in the Fantasy market. The new coaching drafted him so he may get a look late in the season.
Other options: T.J Yates, Cardale Jones, Josh Woodrum
LeSean McCoy (RB)
After struggling in 2016, McCoy regained his top form last year. He finished as the fourth highest scoring RB in PPR league while falling just short of 300 Fantasy points due to one missed game. He made Fantasy owners a ton of money in the championship rounds in weeks 14 through 16 when LeSean had 422 combined yards with four TDs and 14 catches. He has seven games with over 100 yards rushing (five at home) with 13 TDs (11 at home). Mike Gillislee sniped nine TDs, and Tyrod Taylor will get in the way for rushing TDs as well. Last year Buffalo’s RBs attempted 389 rushes for 1936 yards and 24 TDs plus 74 catches for 553 yards and two TDs. The Bills will produce a top five rushing opportunity, but McCoy will have competition for touches. He suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 17. His floor will be 300+ touches with 1500+ yards and double digit TDs. With better WR play, Buffalo should move the ball better while the RB position could lose some targets. LeSean’s been around a long time, but he’ll turn 29 in July. Foundation back with favorable schedule late in the year at home.
Jonathan Williams (RB)
Over three seasons with Arkansas, Williams gained 2321 yards rushing with 16 rushing TDs. He caught 26 balls for 345 yards and six more TDs. His best season was his junior year when Jon had 1255 combined yards with 11 catches and 14 TDs. He missed his senior season due to a left foot injury that required surgery. Williams has a nice combination of power and quickness. His game will be exciting when he breaks free in the second level of the defense. Jon runs hard with solid open field ability and vision. His ball security issues in college won’t be tolerated in the NFL. This season he’ll move to RB2 after getting only 27 rushes for 94 yards and a TD in 2016. Buffalo gave 110 touches over 15 games last season leading to 627 combined yards and nine TDs. He projects as the short yardage and goal line back based on his size (6’0” and 223 Lbs.), but he must hang onto the football. A possible better version of Gillislee and a must handcuff for McCoy.
Other Options: Joe Banyard, Cedric O’Neal
Sammy Watkins (WR)
Watkins was a complete bust in 2016 as many Fantasy owners drafted him in the second and third round in 12-team leagues. He only had one game of value (7/154/1 on 10 targets). He missed eight games leading to only 28 catches for 430 yards and two TDs on 52 catches. His demise was due to a foot injury that required a pair of surgeries. Buffalo expects him to be ready for training camp. In 2015, he had a 25 percent drop in targets (96) compared to 2014 (128). Watkins delivered a solid WR2 season (60/1047/9 or 194.2 Fantasy points – 14.93 Fantasy points per game). His catch rate (62.5) was much improved over 2014 (50.7) while adding more length to his catches (17.5). Sammy had five 100 yards receiving games over his last nine starts with growth in his targets in four of his last six games (10, 4, 12, 10, 6, and 15). Over his last nine games of 2015, Watkins caught 49 passes for 900 yards and seven TDs on 78 targets. This projected over 16 games would be 97/1600/12 on 139 targets. There is a new coaching staff, so play calling will change. Sammy is a high upside WRs with big play and scoring ability. He just needs to stay healthy. His low output in 2016 will lead to him being discounted.
Zay Jones (WR)
Over four seasons at East Carolina, Jones caught 399 passes for 4279 yards and 23 TDs highlighted by his senior year (158/1746/8). He did most of his damage close to the line of scrimmage, which led to short yards per catch (10.7). His hands grade well, but they will be challenged by tighter coverage in the NFL. His game may work better early in his career vs. zone coverage. Zay needs to prove he can beat press coverage while improving his route running. I don’t see a huge edge as an open field runners while lacking explosiveness in the deep passing game. His best asset early in his career with be his quickness and short area speed. Possession type WR who will have limited upside in TDs in the red zone. I’m sure he’ll know the playbook and work hard. The Bills don’t have much behind his so Jones will have a chance to start in 2017. A good starting point would 60 catches for 700+ yards and five TDs.
Andre Holmes (WR) – After offering some value in 2014 (47/693/4 on 98 targets), Holmes only had 28 combined catches for 327 yards and seven TDs on 58 targets over the last two years as a WR4 for the Raiders. The Bills brought him in to compete for the WR3 job plus add size at the goal line. His catch rate (48.3) is low in his career while scoring 12 TDs in 65 games played. Andre has no real Fantasy value in 2017.
Philly Brown (WR) – The Panthers gave Brown a couple of starts over the last three years. His game never developed to become a starter in the NFL. Over the last three seasons with the Panthers, Philly has 79 combined catches for 1019 yards and seven TDs on 143 targets. In 2016, he had only one catches for over 20 yards. Young enough to improve, but he doesn’t have the talent to beat WR1 and WR2 coverage.
Other options: Brandon Tate, Jeremy Butler, Dezmin Lewis, Walter Powell, Kolby Listenbee
Charles Clay (TE)
Clay drifted his way through the first 11 games of 2016 (36 catches for 223 yards and no TDs on 57 targets). After missing Week 13 with a knee issue, Charles delivered three very good games in the Fantasy playoff weeks in the high-stakes market (3/52/1, 7/72/1, and 8/85/2). All three games were at home against weak defensive teams. Over the last four seasons, he’s been about a 60 catch TE with 600+ upside in yards if he played all 16 games. Clay has 16 TDs in his last 58 games. Last season the TEs on Buffalo caught 67 passed for 680 yards and four TDs on 102 targets. Tough to shine him up when his opportunity doesn't get any better. TE2 at best while being tough to time if needed to start. He did play through a knee injury for most of the season. His yards per catch (9.7) were a career low while declining in just about every season in the NFL. More of the same, but I would look elsewhere for upside at this position.
Other options: Nick O’Leary, Logan Thomas, Blake Annen
Steven Hauschka (K) – Over the last four seasons with Seattle, Hauschka averaged 31.5 made field goals on 35 attempts per season. This works out to a 90 percent success rate. Steven was exceptional from 50 yards or more in 2015 (6-for-6) while having a solid resume in this area for his career (16-for-24). Over the last two years, he did miss 10 of his 79-extra point tries. This is surprising when you consider he’s only missed one field goal attempts of 39 yards or less over his last 99 chances. Last year the Bills only had 25 field goal attempts while scoring 47 TDs. Hauschka has a solid leg, but the Bills run the ball well in close. He’ll have to battle the weather condition late in the year. Only a matchup player in the season long games unless Buffalo’s defense is much improved.
Based on 2016, Buffalo has a league average schedule for their run defense. The two weakest teams rushing the ball last year for them were the Broncos and Rams. They will have five games against teams with weakness in the passing games – NYJ X 2, MIA X 2, and DEN. The Bills will be testing in the secondary by ATL, NO, TB, NE X 2, and IND.
Buffalo finished 29th in the NFL in rushing defense last years. They allowed 468 runs for 2130 yards and 21 TDs. Ball carriers gained 4.6 yards per rush. Their lack of success defending the run led to only 511 passing attempts. QBs gained 7.5 yards per pass attempt with 19 TDs and 12 Ints. Their defense had 39 sacks.
The strength of this defense is DT Marcell Dareus who missed half of the 2016 season with a hamstring injury and a four-game suspension. With Rex Ryan as the head coach, Dareus only managed 5.5 sacks over 23 games compared to 28.5 over his first 63 games in the NFL. This season the Bills should go back to a 4-3 front, which favors Marcell’s game.
DT Kyle Williams played well at age 33 in 2016. He’ll be asked to clog up the middle of the line again this year, which chipping in with a handful of sacks. Buffalo needs DT Adolphus Washington to become at least a rotational player in 2017. Washington adds explosiveness off the line of scrimmage for the Bills’ interior line. His biggest weakness is his power until he adds more strength in his lower body and his motor will be challenged against top talent on the other side of the ball.
DE Jerry Hughes had a drop off in sacks (11 over 32 games) with Ryan running the show as well. This season he’ll return to defensive end where he more impact sacking the QB in 2013 and 2014 (20 combined sacks). Overall, Hughes grades as below average player for his position.
In 2016. The Bills selected DE Shaq Lawson in the first round. He played sparingly last year while having minor knee surgery in January. Shaq should offer power with some quickness to the Bills defense. His game is more geared toward stopping the run and neutralizing the TE than attacking the QB. His scouting report suggests his future will be at LB in the NFL.
Reggie Ragland is expected to start at middle linebacker after being drafted in the second round in 2016. Last summer he tore his ACL leading to a missed season. Ragland should upgrade the run defense as well while adding some pass rushing ability. His game plays the best when attacking the line of scrimmage with some success in zone coverage. The only other linebacker of value looks to be Preston Brown who played middle linebacker over the last couple of seasons. Brown has no upside rushing the QB with solid production in tackles.
The Bills will have risk in the secondary. Their safeties project to be league average at best. Buffalo may be forced to start CB Tre’Davious White after selecting him in the first round this year. He’ll have success in some matchups, but there will be a learning curve. Ronald Darby should man the other cornerback position. This will be his third year in the league after being drafted in the second round.
I expect Buffalo to attack the QB position again in 2017 with the hopes of closing the passing window for QBs. They need Marcell Dareus to be healthy to solidify the run defense on the inside. Ragland will be the key to the improvement against the run. Overall, there is still plenty of downside risk if the opposing team can pass block. I’d say they have upside in six of the 11 starting slots on defense. Matchup value only in the season long games.