|By Shawn Childs, Monday, July 31, 2023|
Over his six seasons as the head coach for Buffalo, Sean McDermott went 62-35 with five playoff appearances (4-5). The Bills won the AFC East for the third consecutive year while compiling a 47-18 record from 2019 to 2022. Before 2017, McDermott held the Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator job for six seasons, with his best success coming in 2013 (second lowest points allowed).
After working as Buffalo's quarterback's coach (2019 to 2021) and passing game coordinator (2021), Ken Dorsey took over as their offensive coordinator in 2022. Last year the Bills finished second in points scored (455) and 2nd in offensive yards but below their scoring output in 2020 (501) and 2021 (483). He also held the quarterback's coach job for the Panthers from 2013 to 2017.
Leslie Frazier helped Buffalo's defense finish in the top two in points allowed (2019 – 259, 2021 – 289, and 2022 – 286) in three of the past four seasons, but he is taking a year away from football this season. Their head coach will make the defensive calls until the Bills name a new defensive coordinator.
Buffalo lost LB Tremaine Edmunds (CHI) and RB Devin Singletary (HOU) to free agency. Edmonds showed improved tackling last season and developed into a much better player in pass coverage. He has more than 100 tackles in each season in the NFL with minimal help in sacks (6.5) and interceptions (5). Singletary failed to reach RB1 status in his four seasons with the Bills, but he still averaged 1,031 combined yards per year with 20 scores and 145 catches.
G David Edwards and G Connor McGovern were signed to compete for playing time at left guard. Edwards has two years of experience starting for the Rams while missing most of 2022 with a concussion issue. McGovern struggled as a fill-in starter for Dallas last season. Buffalo has him listed as their starter in early May.
The Bills also added RB Damien Harris, WR Trent Sherfield, and S Taylor Rapp. Harris should be a good fit for this offense as his power running should play well in short-yardage situations and at the goal line. Sherfield projects as Buffalo's WR4 while offering minimal impact value. Rapp tends to be a sure tackler with improving success against the run. He has been up and down in coverage in his four seasons with the Rams, with minimal sacks (1.5) and nine interceptions.
Buffalo added more firepower to their offense by trading up to get TE Dalton Kincaid with the 25th overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. He should instantly upgrade the Bills' passing attack while offering the ability to make plays at all three levels of the passing game. He projects as a chain mover with scoring upside. His route running, hands, and release project well, but Kincaid does need to get stronger to defeat more physical defenders and earn more playing time when asked to be used as a block/pass option.
The guard position was also a concern for the Bills in the draft, leading to a pair of additions – O'Cyrus Torrence (2nd) and Nick Broeker (7th). Torrence is a mountain of a man (6'5" and 300 lbs.) who wants to win by bullying defenders. His range and first step are limited, leading to some failure vs. speed rushers. I expect him to play well on quick-hitting run plays while gaining momentum late in games when the Bills play from the lead. Broeker comes to the NFL with concerns about pass protection, but he has the tools to win as a run blocker. His strength, fire, and hands grade well off the snap when able to attack forward.
In the third round, Buffalo added LB Dorian Williams. His game is built on attacking the football, but he needs a clear path to the ball to win in tight quarters close to the line of scrimmage. His speed and vision put him on time while needing to avoid overthinking on change of direction plays. Williams should help in pass coverage. His biggest risk is beating the big bodies in traffic due to his size (6'1" and 228 lbs.).
The Bills took a flier on WR Justin Shorter in the fifth round. His size (6'4" and 229 lbs.) gives Josh Allen an upgrade in the deep passing game and the potential to win on fade routes at the goal line. Shorter doesn't bring an edge in quickness or route running, but he'll win his share of jump balls. Buffalo will force defenses to defend the whole field when Shorter is in the starting lineup. His next step is improving his release vs. press coverage.
Their final selection went to CB Alex Austin in the seventh round. He has a risk/reward feel early in his career due to risk in coverage when moving away from the line of scrimmage when facing forward. His instincts and overall skill set play better in press and zone coverages. However, Austin lacks the technique to match top route runners on lengthy plays.
Last year, the Bills' offensive line gave up 33 sacks on 574 pass attempts (14th due to one game being canceled). They finished 9th in passing yards (4,291) with 35 passing touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Buffalo ran the ball 430 times for 2,232 yards and 15 scores, with ball carriers gaining 5.2 yards per rush with 20 runs over 20 yards.
The star power of Josh Allen covers up some deficiency of the Bills' offensive line. However, LT Dion Dawkins remains the best player on their offensive line, with his most significant edge coming in pass blocking. However, he did regress as a run blocker. C Mitch Morse was up and down in pass blocking while continuing to fade in the run game. The other three positions on the offensive line rank below the league average, opening the door for changes in starting personnel in 2023. Last year, Buffalo gained only 7.5 yards per pass attempt compared to 6.8 in 2021.
QB Josh Allen - Stud (low risk)
Over the past three seasons, Allen has been the best fantasy quarterback in the league, leading to 15,180 combined yards with 129 touchdowns. On the negative side, his interceptions have risen each year in the NFL (5, 7, 8, 10, and 12). He gains a massive edge as a runner, highlighted by his last two seasons (122/763/6 and 124/762/7). Since arriving in the NFL, Allen has had 38 rushing scores in 77 games.
After a fast start over his first six games (33.12 FPPG in four-point passing TD leagues) in 2022, he scored more than 30.00 fantasy points in only two other contests (33.45 and 39.90) over his final 12 starts of the year. In Week 9, the Jets held him to 205 passing yards with no TDs via the air while coming out of the game with an injured right elbow. Allen played through the issue with his regression shown in his passing yards (249.6 yards) and passing touchdowns (1.9) per game over his final 10 starts.
Buffalo still needs to develop their secondary receiving options behind Stefon Diggs (108/1,429/11 on 154 targets), something Allen needs to reach a higher ceiling in passing production. The addition of TE Dalton Kincaid should be a big win for the Bills' passing game once he finds his stride. Gabe Davis (48/836/7) must improve his catch rate (51.6 – 54.1 in his career) and eliminate his drops (16 over the past two seasons) to reach a competitive WR2 status in the NFL.
Fantasy Outlook: In the early draft season in the high-stakes market, Allen ranks second behind Patrick Mahomes at quarterback. Despite the appearance of greatness, his yards per pass attempt (7.4 over the past three seasons) have yet to reach an elite area. He gains plusses for his ability to run and score on the ground, along with having an elite WR1. This combination puts Allen in an elite fantasy area while potentially having another gear if the Bills' young tight end hits the ground running and their WR2 and WR3 increase their production. With a floor of 5,000 combined yards and 40 touchdowns, he projections to be another edge in 2023. Next step: 5,400 yards and 45 scores.
Other Options: Kyle Allen, Matt Barkley
RB James Cook - Sleeper (undervalued)
Cook saw minimal playing time over his first three seasons in college (1,221 combined yards with seven touchdowns and 40 catches). In 2021, Georgia gave him 140 touches, leading to 1,012 combined yards with 11 scores and 27 catches. He averaged 6.5 yards per carry and 10.9 yards per catch in college.
Cook is the younger brother of Dalvin Cook, while offering a sleeker build (5'11" and 199 lbs.). He brings explosive speed and upside in the passing game. His challenge to get on the field on passing downs comes from his questionable value in pass protection (supported by his weakness in this area in his first year with Buffalo).
In his rookie season, Cook gained 687 combined yards with three touchdowns and 21 catches on 110 touches. He finished 44th in running back scoring (106.70) in PPR formats, averaging 0.97 fantasy points per touch. His only playable fantasy games came in Week 13 (105 combined yards with six catches on 20 chances) and Week 16 (11/99/1 and one catch for nine yards). Buffalo had Cook on the field for 25.6% of their snaps last season.
Fantasy Outlook: I love the explosiveness and upside of Cook in the Bills' offense, but his scoring output will be limited until he works his way into more touches. If healthy, Damien Harris should see the bulk of carries on early downs and at the goal line while offering closing value in the fourth quarter in tight games. Cook must hold off Nyheim Hines in the passing game to secure a 50-catch opportunity. I expect Buffalo to get Cook between eight and 10 touches per game in 2023, putting him on a path to gain 1,000 combined yards with 40+ catches and between five and seven touches. His ADP (89) since April 1st in the Fantasy Football World Championship ranks him as the 29th running back selected. For reference, that running ranking scored 9.49 FPPG in PPR leagues in 2022. I expect him to outperform his current draft value.
RB Damien Harris - Quality Backup
After an excellent growth season in 2021 (1,061 combined yards with 15 touchdowns and 18 catches), Harris lost his way and opportunity last year after a Week 5 hamstring against the Lions. His season started with 53 rushes for 246 yards, three touchdowns, and seven catches for 29 yards (52.5 fantasy points in PPR leagues). Harris only touched the ball four times vs. Detroit, followed by minimal chances (49/205 and nine catches for 67 yards) over the next 12 matchups. Over this span, he had six missed games due to hamstring, illness, and thigh issues.
With New England, Harris ran the ball more than 65% of the time inside, gaining over 2.5 yards per rush after contact. When at his best in 2021, he gained more than 100 yards in five games (23/100, 18/101/1, 14/106/2, 10/111/1, and 18/103/3), with two coming against the Bills and four at home. On the downside, Harris finished with 40 rushing yards or fewer in six starts. He only had 40 catches for 281 yards and one score in his 36 career games.
Fantasy Outlook: Over the past two seasons, Buffalo gave Devin Singletary 365 rushes over 33 contests (11.06 per game), leading to 12 rushing scores. I expect Harris to average closer to 15 rushes with minimal chances in the passing game. Josh Allen's ability to score via the run should limit Harris to about eight to 10 touchdowns on the ground unless Buffalo's offense pushes much higher in scoring. His career high in touches (220) came in 2021 over 15 games. He comes off the board as the 35th running back in the draft season in the FFWC. With an entire season of games, Harris should rush for more than 1,000 yards while scoring about 180 fantasy points in PPR formats.
RB Latavius Murray - Deep-league Only
Over the past two seasons, Murray has bounced around three different NFL franchises. Last year he played well in his only game (11/57/1 with one catch for eight yards) for the Saints in Week 4. Denver acquired him to cover the loss of Javonte Williams, giving Murray a chance at starting snaps in seven matchups. He gained 665 combined yards with three touchdowns and 19 catches over his final eight games for the Broncos, highlighted by two weeks with more than 100 yards rushing (24/130/1 and 15/103/1).
Fantasy Outlook: Murray gives Buffalo experience as an insurance card for Damien Harris. I don't expect him to be drafted or offer any fantasy value without an injury.
WR Justin Shorter - Dynasty Only
Over the past four seasons with the Florida Gators, Shorter caught only 107 passes for 1,532 yards and eight touchdowns on 182 targets. Last season, he missed the final four games with a hamstring issue. His best value in 2022 came in two matchups (7/155 and 8/106) while also hitting on a pair of long scores (1/75/1 and 3/71/1) in two other contests.
Fantasy Outlook: The Bills should get Shorter on the field to test defenses deep. His resume is minimal, indicating limited snaps early in his NFL career.
Other Options: Deonte Harty, Dezmon Patmon, Isaiah Coulter, KeeSean Johnson
UPDATE: Shorter has been placed on IR and is off the radar except in dynasty leagues.Injury Status: Injured Reserve
WR Stefon Diggs - Stud (low risk)
Diggs has been an absolute stud in his first three seasons with the Bills. Over 49 games, he's caught 336 passes for 4,189 yards and 29 touchdowns on 484 targets while averaging 18.99 fantasy points per game in PPR formats. Davante Adams (359.40, 344.30, and 336.00 fantasy points) was the only wideout to outscore over this span.
Despite his success in 2022 (108/1,429/11), Diggs failed to lead fantasy teams to league or overall championships due to a subpar run from Week 14 to Week 17 (3/37, 5/60, 2/26, and no game). His season started with exceptional play over his first nine starts (72/985/7 on 99 targets). Diggs ended the season with another disappointing showing in the postseason (4/35), giving him 47 catches for 593 yards and four touchdowns on 73 targets over his final nine matchups.
His season ended with frustration due to the Bills falling short of a Super Bowl title. Diggs also failed to report to Buffalo's spring voluntary workouts.
Fantasy Outlook: Like last year, Diggs will be found at the backend of the first round of 12-team leagues in PPR leagues in the high-stakes market. He ranks fifth at wide receiver behind Justin Jefferson, Ja'Marr Chase, Tyreek Hill, and Cooper Kupp. Buffalo has one of the best quarterbacks and offenses in the league, and Diggs will see the lion's share of targets. His floor remains high while lacking the explosive ceiling in touchdowns of some of the best wide receivers in the game. A 130-catch season is within reach with double-digit scores and the potential to set a career-high in receiving yards.
WR Gabriel Davis - Solid/Safe Pick
Late in the draft season in the high-stakes market, Davis started to charge up draft boards, moving him to WR2 status. After teasing in Week 1 (4/88/1), he missed the following contest with an ankle injury. The Dolphins and Ravens held Davis to short games (3/37 and 1/13), leading to trust issues and many benchings in Week 5. Unfortunately, his best showing (3/171/2) came in that contest vs. the Steelers and a playable outcome (3/74/1) in the next matchup. Davis scored fewer than 10.00 fantasy points in seven of his final 10 starts while offering one other game (6/93/1) of value. In the postseason, he teased again (6/113/1) vs. the Dolphins.
Over his first 47 games in the NFL, Davis has 118 catches for 1,984 yards and 20 touchdowns on 218 targets. He had 16 drops over the past two seasons with a fading catch rate (2020 – 56.5, 2021 – 55.6, and 2022 – 51.6). Davis makes up for this shortfall by averaging 16.8 yards per catch and his scoring ability. In 2022, the Bills looked his way 6.2 times per game.
Fantasy Outlook: Two things work in favor of Davis this season. His draft value will never approach last year, and adding another threat at tight end should help his play-making ability. He ranked 35th in wide receiver scoring (172.60) in 2022 while having an ADP of 91 in the early draft season in the FFWC. My head isn't wrapped around the wide receiver player pool to draft right now, so I would prefer to roster him as a WR4 in my team structure. Not far off from a 60/1,000/10 season with more chances and a better handle when given an opportunity to catch the ball.
Jody Smith: Davis has become one of my favorite values in August. He managed to post top-40 numbers while injured most of last season. A 1,000-yard, 8-score season is within grasp.
WR Khalil Shakir - Deep-league Only
Over the past three seasons at Boise State, Shakir caught 192 passes for 2,708 yards and 19 touchdowns on 293 targets. His highlight season came in 2021 (77/1,117/7). He projects as a slot/possession type receiver who raises his bar with hard work and a high character.
The Bills only had Shakir on the field for 26.4% of their plays, but he finished with only 10 catches for 161 yards and one touchdown on 20 targets. His best game (3/75/1) came in Week 5. In his only other matchup with more than two targets, Shakir had three catches for 51 yards.
Fantasy Outlook: Shakir caught only half of his 20 targets last season. He should naturally move to Buffalo's WR3 with Isaiah McKenzie no longer on the roster. In 2020 and 2021, Cole Beasley had his best two catch seasons (82/967/4 and 82/693/1) playing with Josh Allen. I'd keep an open mind with Shakir due to his ability to play out of the slot. I expect no one to fight for him in drafts until there are positive midsummer reports about him in training camp. At the very least a player to follow.
WR Trent Sherfield - Deep-league Only
After kicking around the NFL for four seasons (37/427/2), Sherfield set career-highs in catches (30), receiving yards (417), and targets (51) in his only season with the Dolphins. An injury to Cedrick Wilson gave him WR3 snaps for the first time in his career. Sherfield scored over 10.00 fantasy points in only two games (4/63/1 and 1/75/1).
Fantasy Outlook: I only see a bench player with a chance to surprise in a couple of games if given starts and more than five targets. Over four seasons at Vanderbilt, Sherfield had 136 catches for 1,869 yards and nine touchdowns while also chipping in with 22 rushes for 284 yards and two scores.
TE Dalton Kincaid - Sleeper (undervalued)
Over his four full seasons in college, Kincaid caught 174 passes for 2,609 yards and 35 touchdowns despite having limited experience in high school. Last year his game reached an impactful level (70/890/8 on 96 targets), highlighted by a sensational game (16/234/1) against USC. He also posted three other strong showings (7/107/2, 11/99, and 5/102/1).
Fantasy Outlook: The overall depth of Kincaid's game should be a big win for the Bills' offense and Josh Allen, but he isn't a lock to hit the ground running in his rookie season. Utah ran plays for him last year, and Buffalo should get him some easy catches close to the line of scrimmage. In addition, Kincaid will force defenses to pay attention to him at the second and third levels of the defense. It wouldn't surprise me to see him outperform Dawson Knox in 2023, with his best success coming over the back half of the season.
Other Options: Quintin Morris, Zach Davidson
TE Dawson Knox - Quality Backup
Over the first five games in 2021, Knox caught 18 of his 24 passes for 261 yards and five touchdowns. After a dull showing (3/25), he missed two weeks with a hand injury that required surgery. Knox produced four playable games (6/80, 3/32/2, 7/60/1, and 5/89/2) over his final 11 starts, including the playoffs. He finished the year with a career-high in catches (49), receiving yards (587), and touchdowns (9) while ranking 11th in tight end scoring (164.10) in PPR leagues.
Knox was a challenging fantasy ride over his first 11 games (33/327/2 on 43 targets), with one missed game (foot injury) in Week 5. From Week 14 through the Wild Card week of the postseason, he scored a touchdown in each contest, leading to 27 catches for 210 yards and five touchdowns on 27 targets. The Bills gave him only 77 targets (4.5 per game – 4.7 in 2021) over his 17 matchups for the year.
Fantasy Outlook: The structure of the Bills' offense at tight end will be different in 2023, with Dalton Kincaid added to the mix. Knox ranked 14th in tight end scoring (135.70) last year. Unfortunately, I can't see him reaching a higher ceiling this season. I view him as a backup fantasy tight end with occasional playable value when he scores.
PK Tyler Bass - Stud (low risk)
Over his first three seasons with the Bills, Bass made 83 of his 97 field goals (85.6%) while delivering 156 of his 160 extra-point tries. He's made eight of his 13 kicks from 50 yards or more yards. Last year Buffalo scored 53 touchdowns while creating 31 field goal attempts.
Fantasy Outlook: Bass finished 4th (165.90), 13th (148.30), and 7th (156.70) in fantasy points over the past three seasons. Besides the potential for bad weather games late in the year, Bass has a top-10 kicking opportunity. The next step in his growth is improving from 30 to 39 yards (24-for-30). In the early draft season in the FFWC, Bass is the third kicker selected.
Buffalo - Stud (low risk)
The Bills climbed to 4th defending the run (1,673 yards), thanks to allowing a league-low 387 rushes. They gave up 4.3 yards per rush, with 10 rushing touchdowns (19 in 2021). Buffalo slipped to 9th in pass defense (3,433 yards) with 21 touchdowns, 17 interceptions, and 40 sacks.
This defense needs LB Von Miller, S Micah Hyde, and CB Tre'Davious White to bounce back from their injuries seasons. DE Greg Rousseau and CB Kaiir Elam showed growth last year after getting drafted in the first round in 2020 and 2021. LB Matt Milano, DL Ed Oliver, and S Jordan Poyer offer veteran leadership.
Overall, this defense is getting older, inviting struggles at all three levels. With minimal help in this year's draft or via free agency, Buffalo should continue to slide down the defensive rankings.