32 Questions: Buffalo Bills
Thirty-two teams, 32 burning fantasy questions. Throughout the preseason, we put one of these questions to an ESPN.com analyst for an in-depth look at the most interesting, perplexing or dumbfounding fantasy facet of each NFL team. Be sure to check out all 32 questions.
Depending on league format, every NFL starter deserves attention. Provided one running back emerges from the thundering Buffalo herd, he'll be someone's No. 2 or 3 running back in your league, for sure, and if a guy like J.P. Losman, who threw for 19 TDs and more than 3,000 yards in '06, can prove the second half of last season wasn't a fluke, he'll be a viable bye-week fill-in. So the real question here is: Where are your Buffalo Bills' thresholds?
Rookie Marshawn Lynch out of Cal would appear to be the easy frontrunner for the RB1 spot in Orchard Park. Now, the bloom came off Lynch's rose a bit as last season wore on, for sure. He didn't perform well for the Golden Bears' two biggest games, at Tennessee and at USC, not coincidentally two of Cal's three losses on the year. Then during the NFL combine, rumors about a congenital disc abnormality in his lower back arose, and while most teams gave him a green light, a few moved him down on their boards. On the positive side, he averaged 6.6 yards per carry for his three-year college career, and the Bills have gleefully reported the kid can catch the ball out of the backfield. Anthony Thomas may have run with the first team during Buffalo's most recent OTAs, but Lynch will almost certainly get more carries once games begin
That said, there's little reason to expect Lynch's production to suddenly far exceed Willis McGahee's in his final year in Buffalo (3.8 YPC, six TDs, 70.7 yards per game). Buffalo's offensive line still mostly consists of the Gang Who Couldn't Block Straight: Jason Peters showed promise at left tackle last year, but those who believe Langston Walker is a savior on the other side didn't watch him whiff regularly in Oakland. (Frankly I'm more interested in the work of Langston Hughes.) In fact, despite public propaganda to the contrary, the Raiders' might be the only clearly inferior o-line in the entire league. Given that the A-Train and even third-down man Shaud Williams will take away some carries, Lynch is only "start-able" as a No. 2 running back in 12- or maybe even 16-team leagues. He should be drafted in all leagues for his upside, though.
Obviously Evans is a top-20 fantasy receiver, but what else is there at his position? Coach Dick Jauron told reporters in late May that Peerless Price (and every last one of his 49 receptions and three TDs) is still the team's starting flanker, with Josh Reed playing in the slot and/or coming off the bench. Clearly, Buffalo still is waiting for one of these guys (or disappointing second-rounder Roscoe Parrish) to become a viable weapon, but you shouldn't. There's not a league format in the world (other than maybe those where you intentionally draft unproductive players) where any of these three guys should enter the season as a fantasy starter. If one can be said to have more upside than the others, you'd have to say third-year man Parrish, but don't hold your breath. He was Devin Hester before Devin Hester was cool, but he's so injury-prone.
The Bills only had 31 tight end receptions in 2006, second-worst in the NFL. Starter Robert Royal is mostly a blocker, though he did receive six red-zone targets in '06, and caught three touchdowns. Royal had an injured shoulder this summer, and Kevin Everett ran with the first team during some OTAs. Everett has much more potential to be a pass-catcher than does Royal, so I suppose you can file his name away in case Royal loses his job. But it's safe to stay away from this position.
Whither Losman? He's been a fantasy punch line for most of his 29 NFL games, perhaps because the Bills reached badly in the draft to get him back in '04 (they traded away a future first-rounder to Dallas). Well, then there are also the silly media comments and his hair-on-fire field demeanor. The truth is, Losman did calm down a little in the final seven games of '06, throwing 12 TDs and eight INTs compared to 15 TDs and 15 INTs in his career before that point. He also averaged 7.1 yards per attempt last year, meaning he did throw downfield (mostly to Evans) on occasion. You'll hear many a clever fantasy wag outthink himself or herself this summer, and tell you Losman's got the potential to be a breakout player. Don't believe it. I'm not buying the o-line, Jauron is still a painfully run-first play caller, Losman doesn't have a ton of viable receiving weapons, and I just don't trust him. By the way, deep down, neither does Buffalo: They drafted Stanford's Trent Edwards in the third round this spring. Maybe Losman is the last bye-week QB in a 12-team league, but that's it.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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