Generally speaking, you don’t want to see your favorite football team signing new quarterbacks two weeks before opening day. But the Buffalo Bills found themselves needing to do just that after a bad night of football against the Baltimore Ravens.
After having two passes batted down at the line, starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor was knocked out of the game with a concussion. Rookie Nathan Peterman played into the third quarter and escaped unscathed. But even though T. J. Yates finished the contest, he was found to have a concussion as well.
With only the rookie passer left standing, Buffalo signed Keith Wenning to help out in Thursday’s game. He is somewhat familiar with offensive coordinator Rick Dennison from his time in Baltimore.
As far as their game, the Bills were without defensive tackle Marcell Dareus after sending him back to Buffalo for violating a team rule. After Taylor’s rough start, Peterman managed a very conservative game plan, averaging only four yards per attempt in completing 11 of 23 passes for 93 yards. He did lead the Bills on a ten-play, 83-yard touchdown drive, scored by running back Mike Tolbert from one yard out.
The defense was playing very well, holding the Ravens offense down, but T. J. Yates gave up an interception on his first play that led to the go-ahead touchdown for Baltimore. The new 4-3 scheme that Leslie Frazier installed has revitalized the Bills, who are swarming to the ball on every play. Third-year player Preston Brown is earning rave reviews for his handling of the middle linebacker position, which led Buffalo to trade veteran Reggie Ragland to Kansas City after the game.
What did we learn?
The Bills offense, already a great unknown with many new parts and coaches, doesn’t look like it is designed to put a lot of points on the board. Things may be different with Taylor throwing the ball, but it looks like they will rely on a strong defense and ball control.
New lead receiver Jordan Matthews fits that format well. Andre Holmes, too. Rookie Zay Jones offers a big play threat to keep defenses honest, although he caught only three of eight targets. The biggest benefactor of the new offensive plan looks to be tight end Charles Clay who was targeted 7 times against Baltimore. After two relatively quiet years, Clay is rumored to be the primary receiver in Dennison’s passing game.
With that understood, maybe the Bills’ trade of Sammy Watkins makes more sense. The loss of star cornerback Ronald Darby doesn’t seem to be hurting the defense, either. Who knows? Maybe the Bills have a plan that is more than acquiring draft picks. They could surprise some teams this season.
Earlier this year, I listed Tyrod Taylor as a possible sleeper candidate. I see now the error of my ways. In a conservative offense, he is probably closer to the QB20 slot he is drafting at than I thought.
LeSean McCoy will be a workhorse for the most part, but it appears he will lose snaps to Mike Tolbert on short yardage and goal line plays. Mike Dennison loves the way Tolbert pass blocks, too. That could cost a few third-and-long snaps. Considering the touchdown vulture implication, McCoy could slip a few notches in the fantasy RB discussion. Should Freeman, Gordon or others be picked first? I don’t think so. McCoy will do enough damage on first and second downs to warrant a top three selection.
Tolbert’s goal line role would make him a possible sleeper on some teams, but I don’t think Buffalo will score enough to make him worthwhile.
Jordan Matthews is a possession receiver in a ball-control offense. He is one of a handful of wide receivers to catch at least 65 passes for more than 800 yards in each of his first three seasons. It looks like the tight end will play a big role in the Bills offense, but I can still see Matthews making it 65/800 for the fourth consecutive year, which makes his WR47 ADP just about right.
Zay Jones is being drafted at WR51. He is not catching a high percentage of targets and I am not sure he will see as many targets in a conservative attack. His targets in preseason are artificially high as Holmes and Matthews have not been on the field much. I would hold off on Jones as Buffalo seems to be radically altering expectations. Holmes is a nice red zone threat, but so is Clay at tight end. I am holding off on Holmes, too.
Those other fantasy guys
Charles Clay is now a sleeper tight end. Based on past disappointments, he is not even registering an ADP. If the rumors out of Buffalo are correct, Clay is the primary receiver in Dennison’s scheme. I will try to draft a safer bet first, but if my draft goes well and I can gamble on my later picks, Clay will be on my target list.
Steven Hauschka was the PK14 last season kicking in a high-octane offense without Buffalo’s lake winds and swirling snow. He is not on my draft board.
Buffalo plays the Jets twice a year, which means they will be a popular streaming choice. They also play New England and Miami twice, so I am not drafting them, even though I am quietly rooting for them to have a top-notch defense in this post-Ryan era.
So… that’s that.
Buffalo is suspected by some of trying to out-tank the Jets this season. They have traded some key parts for draft picks, but also got players back who will contribute this season. That doesn’t matter if those players can’t help your fantasy team though.
With Dennison’s conservative offense, I am a little wary of all Buffalo components except the wings. (You can never go wrong with buffalo wings.) McCoy has to be drafted. Matthews has a high-enough floor to be worth a mid-round pick.
We’ll have to keep an eye on the rest of the situation as it develops for potential mid-year replacements and streamers. You can go ahead and ignore them and just check back at RealSport for the information you need.
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