Bryce Brown: A super sleeper hiding in plain sight
When you talk about Buffalo Bills running backs, the conversation usually starts and ends with C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. What many fantasy owners are overlooking is the newly-acquired Bryce Brown. The Bills traded a fourth-round (or potentially third-round pick) to Philadelphia for Brown. The move was looked at as an attempt to add much-needed depth to the Buffalo backfield. The truth may be that Brown is being groomed as the Bills' 2015 feature back. It may sound a little crazy at first, but let's break down Buffalo's backfield situation and the parties involved.
Spiller and Jackson are both entering contract years. Jackson, who will be 33-years-old, is in all likelihood on his way out of Buffalo when this season concludes. That should come as no surprise. What may come as a surprise is the fact that Spiller could be on his way out too. There is a very good chance Spiller would require over-payment next season since he will be cashing in after the expiration of his rookie contract. If a team pays him for his upside instead of his talent, it's possible the Bills will let him walk. This will depend pn how he performs in 2014. If this scenario becomes a reality and the Bills lose their top-two backs, it would open the door for Brown to take the reins in Buffalo. The Bills would undoubtedly seek out another back (whether in the draft or via free agency) to pair with Brown since they would lack depth behind him. So this means if Spiller under-performs in the short-term, the Bills may want to see what they have in Brown as soon as this season.
What the Bills have in Brown is a 220-pound back with loads of talent. In two full seasons with the Eagles, Brown averaged 4.6 yards per carry. He accumulated 878 rushing yards and six touchdowns. The former Kansas State back seemingly solved his fumbling issues last season. After fumbling four times in 2012, he didn't put the ball on the ground at all in 2013. Still, Brown saw his touches significantly diminished under rookie head coach Chip Kelly. He is not the prototypical Kelly RB and has not proven he is the kind of outstanding pass-catcher Kelly ideally prefers to execute his offense with. Also, with Kelly's recent history of only wanting "his guys," it is also possible Brown didn't conform to that mold.
Brown's 2012 season with Andy Reid at the helm had him averaging 4.9 yards per carry and amassing 347 yards in his only two starts. The talent is clearly there and a fresh start may be exactly what he needs. He will be given an opportunity to showcase his talents this season. The former KSU back has the power to pound the ball up the middle and just enough explosiveness to break the big play. He possesses a rare combination of size and speed. If the former seventh-round pick makes the most of it, he may enjoy a very lucrative future with the Bills. Particularly if he manages to outplay Spiller.
If Spiller does play well (like he did in 2012), it doesn't mean Brown's opportunity goes out the window. Spiller has proven he lacks durability and cannot carry a full workload. The former Clemson Tiger maxes out right around 200 carries. This leaves plenty of carries to go around. Buffalo led the league in rushing attempts last season (546), so expect the Bills to run more than they pass again this season. Seattle was second on the list with 509. This led to the Bills running backs often limping to the sidelines banged up. Do any other owners remember scanning the waiver wire for Tashard Choice last season? Those were dark days; nevertheless, it's a reality. When you watch the Bills, it feels like Spiller is hobbling off the field once or twice a game. This, coupled with an aging Jackson, could open the door for Browns emergence.
Although Jackson is coming off a career-best fantasy season (in which he scored 10 TDs and produced 1,277 yards from scrimmage), he is a decade older than Brown and likely to have his touches reduced. When Brown's role expands, Jackson's production will suffer more than Spiller's. Brown could vulture an abundance of touchdowns too in order to protect Spiller from those tough runs up the middle. Jackson is obviously also an injury risk in his advanced age. He often struggles with nagging injuries throughout a season. Brown will undoubtedly begin to chip in to Jackson's playing time by the year's end. In his contract year, he would need to blow the other RBs out of the water to maintain his workload. It's really hard to see the Bills providing him the same workload, especially if they aren't in the playoff hunt.
Spiller and Brown could form one of the best one-two punches at their position if utilized properly. Many felt Brown could fulfill such a lofty title with LeSean McCoy heading into 2013, but it just never came to be. That type of RB situation would be perfect for what the Bills are attempting to do with their offense. They want to take pressure off sophomore QB E.J. Manuel while he develops in to a legitimate starting quarterback. A two-headed RB tandem would certainly open up passing lanes for Manuel to attack.
Brown's high stakes ADP is 215.3 (Editor's note: FFToolbox is one of the few sites which tracks the high-stakes drafts in order to compile a unique set of average draft position rankings. These drafters sometimes put hundreds of dollars on their leagues. They are some of the most intense, passionate and highly-rewarded fantasy football owners in the world.), making him the 65th running back off the board. He is being drafted later than lackluster and completely unproven running backs like Charles Sims, Isaiah Crowell and even Marcus Lattimore, to name a few. If you can draft Brown as a RB5 or RB6, you can't beat that value, on a run-happy team with an injury-prone featured back and over-the-hill No. 2 back.
How the transition to Buffalo affects his PPR value remains to be seen. Brown has never been a great pass-catching back, but they could try to use him like Jackson and get him more involved in the passing game. His value only increases in dynasty and keeper leagues. You can even leave him on the waiver wire and keep a very close eye on him. Demand is obviously very low. As soon as you see his touches begin to increase or you see Jackson or Spiller limping to the sideline, be sure to scoop Brown up before one of your foes do. His ceiling may be limited to a flex this season; however, next season could be a whole different story.