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Expert fantasy football advice: Which Buffalo Bills should you draft?

With the NFL season two weeks away, let’s take a look at the fantasy values of some Buffalo Bills for season-long drafts utilizing ESPN’s Average Draft Position over the last seven days.

The Stud

LeSean McCoy, RB (ESPN ADP: 7.5, Positional ADP: 3)

In his 2017 Football Preview, Warren Sharp referred to McCoy’s 2016 season as “...one of the most overlooked seasons of brilliance in the modern passing era of the NFL.”

When you factor in McCoy’s efficiency and volume on a predictable team facing a tough schedule, it was a truly dominating season. McCoy led all players (min. 150 carries) with 5.4 yards per carry, caught 50 passes, and accumulated 1,623 yards from scrimmage (fifth) to go along with 14 touchdowns (T-4).

In a vacuum, McCoy is an ideal RB1 – an efficient RB that commands plus usage numbers in all three phases: carries, targets, and red zone opportunities. The issue with McCoy is cost. With an ADP in the mid-late first round, you’re paying for close to a repeat, and there’s uncertainty here.

First, McCoy is coming off a rather historic season from an efficiency standpoint. Regardless of how you feel about McCoy’s talent, there’s likely going to be some natural regression there.

Secondly, the Bills have a new coaching staff. While the offensive line should once again be strong, it’s aggressive to assume their effectiveness and McCoy’s usage stays exactly the same with a change in coaching.

Finally, and most importantly, the Bills might not be very good. As simple as that sounds, there is added risk for RBs on bad teams. Todd Gurley and Adrian Peterson were first round picks a year ago.

You certainly didn’t draft them but if one of your friends did ...

The Bills face a difficult schedule, one that Warren Sharp projects as the third toughest in the league, salvaged by a couple of matchups against the Jets. Vegas currently has set the Bills win total at 6.5. The team isn’t outright tanking, but they’ve clearly got an eye toward the future as evidenced by the Sammy Watkins trade.

When you put it all together, there’s a not unlikely chance this team only squeezes out a handful of wins. In his Running Back Notebook, Rich Hribar of RotoWorld presents data showing a meaningful decline in both fantasy scoring and touches for running backs on losing teams, particularly those that fail to win at least seven games.

McCoy has the talent, usage, and offensive line to have another gaudy fantasy season, but there’s uncertainty here that’s not baked into his current draft cost.

If you miss out on Le’Veon Bell or David Johnson, don’t feel compelled to take the next best available RB in the middle of the first round. Pivoting to a top-tier WR is the move here, and one of Jordy Nelson, Mike Evans, or AJ Green should be available most of the time if you’re picking in a spot where McCoy is on the board.

The QB

Tyrod Taylor, QB (ESPN ADP: 132.4, Positional ADP: 21)

Coming off a horrific preseason game that followed the trade of Sammy Watkins, Taylor’s stock couldn’t be much lower. Even in ESPN leagues, that tend to skew QB early, he’s going at the end of the 11th round. He’s also the 20th QB off the board. This makes Taylor a solid redraft target for a few reasons.

Don’t Draft a QB Early

One of the biggest rookie mistakes you can make in a standard fantasy football league (10-12 teams, 4-6 points per passing TD, 1 QB starter, 5-7 bench spots) is taking a QB early in your draft.

JJ Zachariason outlines “Why You Should Draft Your Quarterback Late. Every Single Year.” here. While this article is now several years old, the basic concept and application remain prescient. It is much easier to replace your starting QB spot with late round picks and waiver wire adds than it is at the RB and WR positions due to positional scarcity.

Tyrod Taylor’s Rushing

Despite all the negativity surrounding Taylor right now, keep in mind he finished last season as the ninth highest fantasy scorer at the QB position. To reiterate: he’s currently the 21st QB off the board.

Taylor did this despite leading one of the run-heaviest offenses in the league that was a dumpster fire at the WR position.

The Bills, who severely lacked depth at the position entering the season, lost Sammy Watkins for a large portion of the season and had Charles Clay and Robert Woods listed as questionable or worse a combined 13 times. Yes, the losses of Robert Woods, Sammy Watkins, and Anquan Boldin (we hardly knew ye) are big morale blows, but realistically Taylor is used to playing alongside a sub-standard set of weapons.

The biggest reason Taylor was successful despite a lack of receiving options was his rushing ability.

In 15 games, Taylor ran for 580 yards and 6 TDs, averaging 6.27 fantasy points per game on the ground alone. That’s equivalent to 57 yards passing with a TD or 157 yards passing. That gives Taylor a heck of a head start on non-rushing QBs.

Last year Ben Roethlisberger finished as with the 12th most QB fantasy points per game at 17.58. For Taylor to match that if he’s able to duplicate his rushing numbers, he simply needs to average 183 yards passing and 1 passing TD.

Little Risk

There is almost no systemic risk and no opportunity cost in drafting Taylor.

This is one of the benefits of the late round quarterback strategy in standard leagues. If Taylor doesn’t run as often as he did last season, struggles to mesh with the new coaching staff, or is so bad he loses his job, he is easily replaceable from a fantasy perspective.

Even if everyone in a 12-team league is carrying two quarterbacks, that leaves eight starting quarterbacks on the waiver wire, giving you a chance to replace Taylor with a breakout player or with whoever has a friendly upcoming schedule. Not to mention you’re going to pair Taylor with other late round QB targets, such as Andy Dalton and Carson Palmer, so you are not solely reliant on Taylor’s success.

Just like we’re selling high on McCoy at his ADP, we’re buying low on Taylor at his.

The New Guy

Jordan Matthews, WR (ESPN ADP: 128.2, Positional ADP: 48)

The upside for Matthews might be capped on a run-first offense with a QB that has struggled throughout the offseason. Throw in the move to a new team combined with a chest injury that has held him out of preseason action, and it’s reasonable to be pessimistic about Matthews’ outlook. Oh, and to top it all off he struggled last season.

However, as Matthews’ ADP drops, he is becoming a smart value selection. An ADP of nearly 130 is a rare spot to be able to draft a team’s likely number one WR. That fact alone makes Matthews compelling.

If we look further though, there is reason to get excited. Yes, Matthews had a disappointing 2016 campaign, but let’s keep in mind the 25-year old has accumulated 2,673 receiving yards and 19 TDs in his first three seasons.

From a scouting perspective, Matthews is a top of the line WR prospect. According to PlayerProfiler.com, Matthews was in the 93rd percentile in their College Dominator ranking (percentage of team’s receiving yards and TDs) and the 100th percentile in breakout age.

At 6’3, 212 pounds Matthews is big enough to succeed in the red zone while possessing the necessary speed in between the 20s. In fact, a 4.46 40’ time gives him a height-adjusted speed score in the 90th percentile.

Matthews may start slow, but if he’s healthy, there’s a high probability of him returning value at that draft price with upside beyond it if the Bills surprise people and are more successful offensively and less run heavy than expected.

You want to be careful not to over-invest in the Buffalo passing game, but the individual pieces (Taylor-Matthews-Jones) all hold value at their current ADPs depending on your roster construction.

The Rookie

Zay Jones (ESPN ADP: 140.1, Positional ADP: 61)

Jones’ 1,746 receiving yards in his senior season is the 17th highest ever single-season Division 1 collegiate mark and put him at 4,279 for his career (13th most).

Jones won’t blow you away in any one department, but his college production combined with decent size (6’2, 201), plus speed, and plus agility should make him a successful slot WR from day one.

With Watkins traded, Boldin retired, and the newly acquired Matthews banged up, Jones has a much higher floor than you typically see out of rookie WRs. The volume simply has to go somewhere, even in a run-heavy offense.

It is odd to say that both Matthews and Jones are good redraft values for an offense with such low expectations, particularly on the passing side, but the targets are going to go somewhere.

Don’t be surprised if Jones’ ADP is on the rise following the Boldin retirement news. For now, he is an excellent floor play in PPR leagues at his current cost (end of the 12th round).

The Sleeper

Jonathan Williams, RB (ESPN ADP: 170-plus, Positional ADP: 66)

Don’t draft Jonathan Williams in round 10 because you have LeSean McCoy and need his handcuff. Handcuffing for no other purpose than fear that your RB1 may get injured is not smart. You are essentially using two roster spots on one player, making it a horrible allocation of resources.

However, backup RBs can hold value in the later rounds of drafts, especially if you’re utilizing a Zero-RB strategy. What you are looking for out of these running backs is some combination of standalone value and a realistic upside outcome scenario. Williams isn’t the best zero-RB target, but he is one that should be on your list.

Standalone Value

Over the past two seasons, Karlos Williams and Mike Gillislee have averaged 8.90 fantasy points per game in standard leagues. Both Karlos Williams and Gillislee were efficient backs, so it is not a safe assumption that Jonathan Williams is as successful under a new coaching staff, but he has virtually no competition for those touches.

Looking at positional fantasy points per game analysis, 8.90 fantasy points was right around the 24th/25th best weekly running back score in standard leagues on average.

If Jonathan Williams can replicate the success of Bills’ backup RBs the previous two seasons, he will be useful as a second RB fill in when bye weeks and injuries inevitably hit.

Realistic Upside

As noted above, Williams has virtually no competition for the backup RB spot. In some spots around the league, the RB that is second on the depth chart is not guaranteed to assume all the touches of the primary back should that back go down with an injury.

That’s especially true in today’s NFL where many teams have differentiated between early down backs, goal line backs, and receiving backs. It is one of the reasons why straight handcuffing in drafts often leads to wasted picks.

In Williams’ case, if McCoy were to get hurt, almost that entire workload looks like it would fall to him. There is some concern that Williams will be ineffective in that role due to a combination of middling college metrics and poor combine numbers, but based on volume alone Williams would be a top-24 RB, knocking on the door of top-12 if anything negative happened to McCoy.

The Defense

Buffalo Bills D/ST (ESPN ADP: 170-plus, Positional ADP: 22)

Don’t draft a QB early. Don’t handcuff your players just for the sake of doing so. Now, don’t draft a defense before one of the last few rounds.

Even in the middle rounds or the beginning of the late rounds, the opportunity cost of potentially missing out on a high-upside skill player is too high and not worth the potential reward of taking a slightly better defense that you will probably drop anyway when they face a high-powered offense or have a bye week.

If the Bills are hanging around late, they make for a solid choice if for no other reason than that they face the likely anemic Jets offense Week One. The Bills are currently seven-point home favorites Week One, and the Jets have the lowest implied point total.

Michael Leone is a former Buffalo News sports clerk who has won several daily fantasy sports championships and is a contributor to DailyRoto.com. His column will appear weekly at [BN] Blitz.

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