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May 11

Bold Bills: the Sammy Watkins pick, Buffalo’s draft weekend moves and their fantasy impact

Buffalo moved up to add Sammy Watkins and added two pieces on the offensive line (Photo: USATSI).

Buffalo moved up to add Sammy Watkins and added two pieces on the offensive line (Photo: USATSI).

Buffalo GM Doug Whaley is clearly in ‘win-now’ mode, or at least get to ’8-8/9-7 now’ mode (a far less exciting proclamation but perhaps a more realistic expectation, with his future uncertain given the impending sale of the team. The easiest way to find job security? Win… quickly.

So, its understandable that his focus this weekend has been on making moves that make the Buffalo Bills a better team today, as opposed to building for the future. Of course, the Steve Johnson trade ships a reasonably strong ‘today tool’ to San Francisco, but turning the conditional pick received as compensation for the veteran WR around to Philadelphia for Bryce Brown points to the urgency of his situation again.

At any rate, we don’t concern ourselves with Whaley’s future (insert weak apprentice reference to Donald Trump here). We’re concerned with the fantasy football implications of their weekend’s activity and, largely the 2014 impact as opposed to the long term ramifications (I knew I had a lot in common with Whaley and head coach Doug Marrone).

Going up to get Sammy Watkins at number four was an aggressive move, and one that will take a great deal of production from Watkins over the course of his career to justify the price tag. In the immediate aftermath of the pick, we were among a number of sites that suggested the Watkins pick could spell the end of Johnson in upstate New York. That it happened so quickly was a bit of a surprise, but the move itself shouldn’t be seen as one.

Overall, the selection of Watkins should help sophomore QB E.J. Manuel a great deal. My thoughts from the above linked round one review are shared below:

His Orange Bowl performance stands out (16-227-2) as an example of what he can do against elite competition, and he plays the game fast – his 4.43 40 time seems to translate to his work on the field. He’ll be a big part of Buffalo’s offense this season and works well in space. He is just a 21-year-old rookie, but there don’t seem to be many concerns about his ability to make a strong transition to the NFL in year one.

Watkins is a touchdown threat whenever the ball is in his hands. Explosive speed keeps him equally dangerous down the field and in the screen game. He’ll improve with better route running, but that will come with NFL experience. He is willing to make tough catches in traffic and tough enough to beat the jam at the line. Watkins is the gamebreaker of the 2014 draft class. From Manuel’s perspective, while the team could have served him well with a pick along the line, you’ve got to like the chances of a big, fast wide receiver helping his overall numbers.

Of course, those were made before the Johnson deal, and while Robert Woods (40 catches, 14.7 yards per) flashed talent last season as a rookie, along with speedy wideout Marquise Goodwin, the young QB could find himself missing Johnson’s consistent, veteran presence and production in 2014. Johnson missed four games last year and played hurt in others, so his cumulative numbers are underwhelming but bear in mind that in the three previous seasons he was incredibly consistent – topping 75 catches and 1000 yards in each of them, with an average season of 79-1041-8.

Update: this post overlooks Mike Williams who has had a solid four year career in Tampa with 25 touchdowns, and was acquired by the Bills early in the offseason. See the comments below for my full thoughts, but do expect him to take some of the pressure off the young receivers as a nice #2 to Watkins, assuming he is fully recovered from an early 2013 injury and can stay out of trouble. My projection of increased production from Woods still holds.

Combine Goodwin’s 17 receptions with those 40 balls pulled in by Woods and the top three receivers in Buffalo have 57 career receptions between them. Talent – check. Experience… not so. The same can be said of Manuel who played well enough when healthy last season, but saw his season and his overall development derailed by injury. With Watkins, he is an interesting fantasy commodity next year, but the incoming WR and perhaps Woods further along the line are the only part of this passing game you’redrafting before flier range next season. (Williams too, camp pending).

On the topic of Johnson, his addition to a receiving corps in San Francisco that struggled last season (with Michael Crabtree injured for most of it) should be seen as good news for Colin Kaepernick who enters 2014 with many more options than he had last year, but the news is less exciting for Johnson who projects for a WR 2/3 target load alongside Crabtree, Anquan Boldin.

Back to Buffalo, Bryce Brown, who showed flashes of talent in 2012 (and flashes of fumbles, too) but played very little for coach Chip Kelly last season winds up in the Bills’ backfield mix. As it stands now, his own fantasy value isn’t much of a conversation with the presumption that he’ll be behind C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson on the depth chart. There aren’t enough carries there to make him fantasy relevant, though his own workload could affect that of the other two. His 2015 outlook is much more intriguing, as is his upside if Jackson or Spiller wind up missing any time this year. Update: Since time of writing the Bills added another lineman (Seantrel Henderson) in the 7th round.

In the end, Brown is a depth back and the impact on Spiller’s value shouldn’t be that significant. C.J. stands to benefit from the addition of Watkins whose abilities as a deep threat must be respected by opponents right out of the gate and should therefore help keep defenses honest in the run game, clearing out room for Spiller and Jackson to work. More good news: Buffalo added two players to their offensive line in the first five rounds – Cyrus Kouandijo (Alabama) and Cyril Richardson (Baylor) – which should help improve a run blocking unit that graded out in the bottom 10 in the league according to Pro Football Focus. Neither projects immediately atop the depth chart, but with strong camps they could change that and will certainly contribute in any case. Richardson is a big body with power who profiled best as a run blocker, so if he is able to make a contribution this season it bodes well for the run game in general. As for Kuoandijo, few people see him as a left tackle – at least not this season – but he’ll get some work on the right side and with 35 5/8″ arms he has the build of a capable NFL lineman. At pick #44, Buffalo found great value here. We’re not looking at game changers with either of them, but good blockers are hard to come by and each should help the run game in 2014.

Again, it was an interesting weekend in the Bills’ draft room and it suggests an interesting 2014 is on the horizon. To summarize the take aways:

  • At the end of the day, Watkins is probably going to be overdrafted (you’d have loved him with a more established QB) but he should be expected to make an impact at the pro level right away.
  • Robert Woods won’t miss Steve Johnson and has a good shot to significantly improve on his year one numbers, based on volume and progression.
  • Inexperience at WR (and QB) could hurt the passing game overall in Buffalo this year. Manuel’s contributions (above average, if not overwhelming) as a rusher help offset some of this concerns but I’m not excited about him despite the Watkins pick.
  • Good news for Kap, bad for Stevie.
  • The run game looks good. Keep an eye on camp, and don’t believe reports of puke-level workloads for Spiller this time around.

4 comments

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  1. nick

    Unless the Bills have a truly breakout season, Whaley and rest of front office are gone once new owners take over. Young receivers plus young QB will make it tough to reach playoffs, but 7-9 or 8-8 isn’t going to cut it either. Bills need to win at least 9 and show ability to get to next level and playoffs in 2015. Other teams in league have grown up quickly in recent years — the Indy rebuild, Seahawks, Carolina; and gone down fast — Falcons, Redskins, Houston, Ravens. 5-year programs are a thing of the past. I hope the gamble pays off.

    1. Jon Collins

      Thanks Nick – And such is the problem, a bit, with the way life works as an NFL GM/Coach… guys know they are on a win or you’re out contract arrangement and are forced to push all the chips in. I think its probably one of the bigger reasons why longer tenured coaches have better long term drafts.

      At any rate, I think they can keep their jobs with a certain degree of success this season and despite the gambles, the draft addressed some needs. Buffalo can be competitive this year.

  2. Dave

    You forgot about Mike Williams – WR from Tampa we picked up for 6th round pick. Our 3rd round pick Preston – bruising ILB as well as a RB – rushed close to 1000 yards and 12 TDs for Louisville. I believe we got a steal on our 7th rounder Seantral Henderson if he can turn his troubles around. These 3 OT with Woods and Cordy Glenn should make Buffalo a ground and pound team – taking preasure off our WR and QB Your thoughts?

    1. Jon Collins

      Hi Dave,

      Thanks for taking the time to write, and indeed I did forget about the acquisition of Mike Williams… he’s been a solid player in Tampa Bay with a nose for the endzone – working well in recent seasons with Vincent Jackson in town. Obviously, Watkins and Jackson are a different style of receiver, but the point is that he can be a strong compliment. Plus, that eases some of the pressure on Woods. This all assumes that Williams a) is fully healthy when the season starts and b) can stay out of trouble. So, keep an eye on camp for those developments.

      As with the tackles, I do think they make for strong additions to the line – and while I pointed out their flaws against the run last year, it wasn’t a terrible unit. With that said, most of the picks (while the two were discounted as much for off-field stuff as they were for talent reasons) project as stronger contributors down the road rather than Week 1, or even Year 1, starters. They’ll add depth, and that’s great for the line in general, but I’m not plugging those three names in to starting roles just yet.

      As far as the run goes, they’ll improve the unit no doubt, but I do think with a move up to pick Watkins at four (and as you point out, adding to the position with Williams… who can probably do a solid Steve Johnson impression, and I’m sorry I overlooked that) they’re looking to do something a little more than go to ground and pound.

      Look for Spiller to get going this year, Brown to pitch in a bit on 3rd down, and if Fred Jackson continues to defy age I think they’ll have three productive runners behind a revamped line for sure.

      Thanks again.

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