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BILLS' TALENT POOL FAILS TO MAKE SPLASH IN FALL PREVIEWS

The fantasy football preview magazines have hit the newsstands and the Buffalo bashing has begun.

Judging by what the "experts" have to say about the Bills, there should be no shortage of available Buffalo players in drafts around America, certainly those held outside of Western New York.

Almost unanimously, the publications have failed to include any Bills among their top 25 overall picks. Fantasy Football Index is an exception, tabbing Travis Henry at No. 23, but only because that publication is very much pro-running back in the early rounds. Henry is ranked just 16th among backs by the magazine.

It's easy to understand why the Bills are viewed as fantasy poison. Most prognosticators give heavy weight to the previous season and for the Bills' offense, 2003 was indeed a bummer. The team tied for 27th in points (243), tied for 26th in touchdowns (27), was 29th in receiving TDs (11) and 27th in field goals (17). If you can't score, you're not of much use to a fantasy owner.

Here's a position-by-position look at what's being said about the 2004 Bills:

Quarterback
Generally, Drew Bledsoe is ranked anywhere between 15th and 20th. He threw just 11 TD passes, the lowest number ever in his 10 full NFL seasons, and fired for 2,860 yards, which was 65.6 percent of his 2002 yardage total (4,359).

"It doesn't look like Bledsoe recovered from the loss of Peerless Price (who was traded to the Atlanta Falcons before the start of last season)," writes Athlon Sports Pro Football. "(But new coach) Mike Mularkey may be the cure."

Two of the six editors polled in Pro Football Weekly's Fantasy Football Guide tabbed Bledsoe as their "bust" pick for this season.

Fantasy Football Weekly's guide offers encouragement and harsh reality: "Mike Mularkey's arrival from Pittsburgh -- where he miraculously turned both Kordell Stewart and Tommy Maddox into Pro Bowlers -- provides hope for Bledsoe and an offense that ranked second to last. . . . Still, Bledsoe at best will serve fantasy owners as a bye week fill-in."

Running back
Despite the fact that Henry was a solid fantasy player last season with 1,356 rushing yards, 28 catches and 11 total TDs, the presence of Willis McGahee has many experts worried. Henry is generally ranked between 12th and 18th among running backs, McGahee in the 20s or 30s.

When it comes to fantasy success at this position, the more the merrier just doesn't apply.

Fantasy Football Weekly calls Henry "an unfortunate candidate to disappoint." Of McGahee, that publication writes, "(He'll) have a tough time cracking fantasy lineups unless he becomes the back of choice at the goal line."

Wide receiver
Though limited to just one TD reception last season, Eric Moulds can generally be found between 11th and 18th in the rankings. The publications are divided about who'll be the second option -- incumbent Josh Reed or rookie Lee Evans.

Evans is ranked among the top 10 draftable rookies by most publications.

Street & Smith's Pro Football Yearbook writes that Evans "is one of the toughest players coming out of college. . . . He should quickly become one of Drew Bledsoe's favorite targets."

The Sporting News Fantasy Football ranks both the Bills' running back and wide receiver situations as jobs to watch through the preseason. "Expect Evans to challenge for the (No. 2) job and push Reed into the slot."

Reed, considered a disappointment last season with 58 catches for 588 yards and two TDs, is among a group of third-year receivers tabbed by USA Today Sports Weekly as very capable of having a breakout season.

Tight end
This is easily the most disrespected Bills skill position by the national voices.

Most don't even bother to rank a Buffalo tight end. Mark Campbell is No. 37 on Pro Football Weekly Fantasy Football Guide's list and classified as a "super sleeper."

Fantasy Football Index writes: "The new coaches probably won't make extensive use of the tight end. They didn't in Pittsburgh and Buffalo doesn't have a good one. . . . Mark Campbell is strictly a journeyman (and) fourth-rounder Tim Euhus (49 catches, seven TDs at Oregon State) might beat him out."

Kicker
Rian Lindell's fantasy ranking is generally between 22nd and 25th. The magazines aren't quick to recommend him.

"Among active kickers who've tried at least 100 field goals, Lindell ranks last in accuracy," writes Fantasy Football Index. "He's hit only 71 percent of his field-goal attempts the last three years."

From the Sporting News Fantasy Football: "He is the kind of subpar kicker you must avoid. He went 3 of 9 from beyond 39 yards (last season)."

Defense/special teams
The Bills had three return TDs and a league-best three safeties last season, and the unit gets pretty high marks, ranking anywhere from No. 8 to No. 14, though it forced the fewest turnovers (18) in the league last season.

From Fantasy Football Weekly: "(Cornerback Troy) Vincent's arrival (should help) the ball-hawking drought situation."
e-mail: tborrelli@buffnews.com

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