Buffalo Bills: 2014 Outlook
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Buffalo Bills

By Rusty Reeves, Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Buffalo's brass has done a decent job of setting the table for Manuel to have a successful season (and that's without Stevie Johnson). They acquired Mike Williams from the Buccaneers. They then paired him with first-round pick Sammy Watkins. Robert Woods and field-stretcher Marquise Goodwin were already in place, plus the Bills have a couple of running backs who are apt receivers. The question is whether Manuel can take full advantage of his situation. He completed only 56-percent of his passes with as many touchdowns as turnovers prior to an October knee injury that sidelined him for a month. He put together some better games once he returned, but it was still a very uneven rookie campaign. It's worth noting that Manuel (who has a capable running ability) has undergone three knee surgeries since entering the league. His athleticism and continued maturation as a passer could lead to a bright future, but it's unlikely that Manuel finds his stride in his second season. He's not off to a good start if spring practices are any indication. He is a low-end QB2 on most days.

YOU GOTTA BELIEVE: It is understandable if a large number of fantasy owners skip over this section of the article. Spiller was a first-round pick for many of them last year. He was going to be the focal point of the Bills' offense. Then an ankle injury hampered him for much of the season, and he burned his owners so badly with inconsistent outputs that some may never forgive him. It also didn't help that he was misused by the Bills' coaching staff even when he was running at full strength. Hopefully they learned the error of their ways, because Spiller remains this team's most dangerous weapon on offense. He averaged 4.6 yards per carry on just 201 totes last season. And there's reason to believe he will see much more work this season. Similar things have been spoken regarding Spiller before, but there is no denying that he presents massive upside when healthy. And right now, he is. The former Clemson alum could be a major steal at his current third-round average draft position.

Editor's note: Last year, Spiller was typically drafted around the middle of the first round of fantasy drafts. He was supposed to be the next big thing. He still can be; you just have to take the risk to glean the reward.

Jackson played a full slate of games last year after a couple of injury-shortened seasons, and he responded by gaining more than 1,200 yards from scrimmage to go along with 10 touchdowns. However, he is clearly Buffalo's No. 2 running back entering 2014 and will see his role reduced as the Bills try to get Spiller involved more often. Given Spiller's rather slender build and history of getting dinged up, Jackson makes for a wise mid-round selection as an insurance policy. He caught a career-high 47 passes and averaged 4.3 yards per rush in his age-32 season, so he's definitely got some gas left in the tank. Jackson said he wants to play a few more seasons in the NFL, but they will likely come with some other team as he is in a contract year.

Injury Status: Out - Groin

Here's the reason why Jackson is probably headed out of Buffalo after this season (or at least the Bills hope Brown shows them enough to make them feel safe in letting the veteran go). At first glance, Brown (a former top collegiate recruit) looks like a future star back. He is big, fast and runs with impressive power. The following glances show a player who doesn't follow his blockers enough, has struggled at times holding onto the ball and tries to break off 50-yard gains on every play instead of taking what the defense gives him. The Eagles gave up on Brown after two seasons for a fourth-round pick in 2015. Now it is Buffalo's job to take his raw talent and mold him into more of a disciplined runner. He could see some action this season, but he is an even better guy dynasty leaguers need to track. Spiller can also opt out of his contract after this season, which could grant Brown a huge opportunity.

Can Watkins be an immediate difference-maker for this offense? If he lives up to some early comparisons, yes. Prior to the draft, NFL Films' Greg Cosell said he considered Watkins the best wide receiver prospect to enter the league since A.J. Green and Julio Jones in 2011. Both of those players gained more than 1,000 total yards and put up WR2-worthy fantasy totals as rookies. Buffalo didn't trade up to draft Watkins and then trade Stevie Johnson just to let Watkins sit and learn. He will be thrown into the fire and looked at as the team's No. 1 wideout from the get-go. His level of first-year success is largely tied to Manuel's own improvement, but he should see enough targets to make 1,000 yards a distinct possibility. It should also go without saying that he is one of the top picks in dynasty drafts.

Editor's note: If there was one thing Manuel could do in college, it was throw screen passes. This limitation might actually work in his favor with Watkins due to the receiver's uncanny skills after the catch. Lots of potential here; it just may take a season to full ripen.

While the sky's the limit for Watkins, Woods represents a steady presence for this receiving corps. A fundamentally sound player at just 22 years old, Woods posted a relative nondescript stat line as a rookie last season -- 40 catches for 587 yards and three touchdowns in 14 games -- and didn't catch more than five passes in any week. He may never record impressive season totals, but Woods will see plenty of playing time as he can line up out wide and in the slot. He is worth a stash late in point-per-reception drafts. He is a critical cog in Manuel's progression as they enter their second year together.

Like Bryce Brown, the Bills acquired Williams knowing that he is a player with some red flags, but also a player who could pay considerable dividends if they can get him to play up to his potential. Williams has had a peaks-and-valleys career since catching 11 touchdowns as a rookie in 2010 with the Buccaneers. Last season was his rockiest yet as he was put on injured reserve in October because of a torn hamstring. Then it was learned that he accumulated more than $200,000 in fines for missing or being late to mandatory meetings and rehab sessions. He landed in Buffalo via trade in April. Williams may turn into the Bills' second-best wideout or he may be cut before the season begins. Peaks and valleys, indeed. Williams has been largely forgotten in re-draft leagues. The 27-year-old has a lot to prove.

Graham wrapped up last season with three catches for 62 yards and a touchdown in Week 17. Unfortunately for him, that may be the last contribution he makes to this team. He is competing against Marcus Easley, Kevin Elliott and Chris Hogan for the No. 5 WR gig, and his future with the Bills has basically been in doubt since the clock hit all zeroes in that final game. He hasn't topped 400 yards in either of his first two seasons.

Although Watkins definitely fills a need at wide receiver, the Bills have another glaring one at tight end. Yet they did nothing to address it in the draft or free agency, and it looks like Chandler will be their lead option once again. To his credit, Chandler came back from a 2012 ACL tear to set career-highs in receptions (53) and yards (655). However, he is slower than government decision-making and underwent another knee surgery this offseason from which he has not fully healed. Even if he keeps his starting job, he is a low-end TE2.

Carpenter turned in his most accurate season in 2013. He was on target with 33-of-36 field goals and missed just one of his 30 attempts from less than 50 yards away. That helped him finish among the Top 12 kickers in fantasy points, but beware a regression. Carpenter missed at least five field goals each season from 2010-12, and we're not too far separated from a time when the Dolphins kicked him to the curb due to his inconsistency. He will also likely face competition from 2013 rookie Dustin Hopkins, who was a record-setting scorer in college. Carpenter is a fine kicker with a big leg, yet this offense probably won't be productive enough to make him a comfortable every-week fantasy play.

This unit was extremely good in two important categories last season -- interceptions and sacks. Specifically, they finished second in the league in both. However, there's no way a repeat performance should be expected. Safety Jarius Byrd is now in New Orleans. Cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin are on the mend following offseason hip surgery. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who loved to dial up the pressure that led to those 57 sacks is now the head coach in Cleveland. Worst of all, the Bills lost the heart of their defense when linebacker Kiko Alonso suffered a torn ACL during a workout. As a rookie last year, he finished third in the league with 159 tackles and paced the Bills in tackles for loss and interceptions. He finished second in the Defensive Rookie of the Year voting, and now he's almost certainly done for the season. Playing the Jets and Dolphins twice per season may be good matchups, but the Bills don't have the personnel to exploit them as well as they did last season.