Now that the draft is over we can starting doing some early 2016 fantasy football projections. Today: the Buffalo Bills, including why Sammy Watkins may have a target problem after all.
First things first, using our staff projection machine I set some baseline team-wide assumptions:
I set the average scoring margin to league median because I don’t expect the Bills to be a notably good or bad team. I set pass tendency (how often they pass relative to expectations) and pace tendency (how many plays they execute relative to expectations) to their 2015 level, as their coaching staff and personnel are largely unchanged.
Next, quarterback Tyrod Taylor:
We don’t have a huge sample of play on Taylor, so I set his sack rate, percentage of team rushes, and yards per carry to his 2015 levels. I set his interception rate to about the 25th percentile league-wide, which is about 2.2 percent. That’s because his 2015 rate of 1.6 percent was incredibly low, so I wanted to give him credit for avoiding interceptions while still accounting for likely regression.
It should be noted that this projection is also informed by the projections for various receivers, which is why it is ultimately fairly conservative. The Bills don’t have much in the way of quality receivers behind Sammy Watkins. For Taylor to be a reliable QB1 he’ll either need to rush more, pass more, or be more efficient as a passer than is projected here.
Next, the wide receivers:
For Watkins, I set his share of targets to the 75th percentile mark league-wide for a WR1, because I believe there is a steeper drop off between Watkins and the rest of the Bills receiving options than average. I set his catch rate identical to what it was in 2015. I set his yards per target to his career rate. I also set his touchdown rate to the 75th percentile mark.
I think those are fairly generous settings across the board. And yet this isn’t really a very good projection. Watkins is only projected to score about 15.4 PPR fantasy points per game, quite a bit lower than 18.2 PPG he scored in 2015. Even if a WR dominates the targets, it is hard to score many points on a team that is not projected to pass a lot. This is part of why Jacob Rickrode suggests you fade Watkins. While I don’t agree with all of his more specific points, and certainly wouldn’t fade Watkins in dynasty,1 concern about his targets is merited.
I would make it clear that this should be taken as Watkins having a low floor, not as having a low ceiling. For one thing, it would be silly to use this to argue Watkins has a low ceiling when he easily outscored it last season. It’s also easy to see things going better for Watkins than is projected here. As an extreme example, if you set Watkins target share to about 33 percent2, his yards per target to his 2015 level, and the team’s average scoring margin to the league’s 25th percentile, you get this:
Again, that’s an extreme example. But it’s also only about 2.2 more PPG than he had last season, so it’s not that extreme.
I set Robert Woods‘ target market share to his 2015 level of 20 percent. That was also very close to his 2013 and 2014 levels. I set his other stats to their 2015 levels as well, as that seemed most applicable given that was the only season he played with Taylor. I should also note that all of these projections assume perfect health for all players involved. If Watkins misses time due to his foot surgery, Woods could be useful even if this projection ends up being generally accurate for when Watkins does play.
This stat line doesn’t make Woods particularly useful, but it would be his fourth solid season and he is an impending free agent. I like him as a dynasty trade target as he could go to a team that is more conducive to receiver success.
I projected Leonard Hankerson to be the team’s WR3, and just set all of his stats to the league medians for WR3s.
Onto the tight ends:
I just went with the 2015 stats for Clay and an unspecified TE2. We know the story on Clay. He’s a guy who catches a decent number of passes but really doesn’t do much with them. Unlike Watkins, I would classify Clay as a low-ceiling option.
If Buffalo’s passing game is projected to suffer, it’s because the RBs are projected to flourish:
For the most part, I just set McCoy and Williams’ stats to their 2015 levels. The one exception was TD rate. Leaving those at 2015 levels would have resulted in Williams being projected to score more TDs than McCoy. While that did happen last season, that doesn’t seem like a good enough reason to project it to be the case when McCoy is projected for so much more usage. I set McCoy’s TD rate to the league median for a RB1. I set Williams’ TD rate to the 75th percentile mark for a RB2, because I believe he is better than the average RB2.
McCoy is projected for 15.8 PPG, a modest increase over the 15.2 PPG he scored last season. That would have made him RB10 in PPG last season. Despite being in a reliably run-heavy offense, there are two main things holding McCoy back from the upper echelons of RB scoring. The first is team pace. The Bills were above the league median in that regard, but still didn’t run any more plays than you would expect. The bigger issue is Williams. While Williams isn’t projected to score enough points to be reliably useful himself, he is still siphoning off valuable touches that might otherwise go to McCoy. Williams is currently projected to score about six points per game. I don’t think it would be unreasonable for McCoy’s scoring to increase by multiple points per game if Williams were to get injured.