Which Buffalo Bills Receiver Should You Target in Fantasy Football?
Photo credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: John Brown
- The Bills have overhauled their pass-catchers in an effort to boost the talent around second-year quarterback Josh Allen.
- Ian Hartitz takes a look at which receiver is offering the most fantasy value currently.
It’s officially time to start fantasy football prep. I’ll be answering the biggest questions heading into the 2019 season; this is part of that series.
The Bills haven’t boasted anyone’s idea of a productive pass offense for the better part of the last two decades. They’ve instead made a habit of relying on a strong defense paired with a solid rushing offense to create mostly poor results.
There is reason to be more optimistic about the 2019 squad’s chances at finding a bit more success than usual, however.
- Stud cornerback Tre’Davious White highlighted the NFL’s second-best defense in Football Outsiders’ overall DVOA last season behind only the Bears.
- 2018 No. 7 overall pick Josh Allen had an up-and-down rookie season but did flash some big-play ability and ultimately led the Bills to a 5-6 record during his 11 starts.
- The Bills didn’t sit idly in free agency, spending all sorts of money on John ‘Smokey’ Brown as well as Cole Beasley to address their porous group of wide receivers.
We’ll focus on the latter point in this article and take a look at what to expect from the Bills’ passing game this season.
The Josh Allen experience was a mixed bag in 2018
The Bills are doing their best to surround their hopeful franchise quarterback with a wide array of weapons at wide receiver. This is good, because they largely boasted the league’s worst passing “attack” in 2018.
- Allen’s yards per attempt in 2018: 6.48 (28th among 29 quarterbacks with at least 10 starts)
- QB rating: 67.9 (28th)
- Touchdown rate: 3.1% (27th)
- Interception rate: 3.75% (29th)
- Completion rate: 52.8% (29th)
That said, Allen did demonstrate a penchant for taking shots downfield, as he led all quarterbacks with a 19.7% deep-ball rate (per Pro Football Focus).
The seventh overall pick of the 2018 draft flashed at times and has the physical tools to make pretty much any throw on the field.
Still, the biggest part of the offense’s success was often Allen’s ability as a rusher. His average of 53 rushing yards per game was the highest mark among all quarterbacks in NFL history, although Lamar Jackson would actually be No. 1 at 79 rushing yards per game if we only included his starts from last season.
Perhaps the passing game will take a step forward in 2019 thanks to the group’s plethora of new toys.
The Bills offense is suddenly full of competent weapons
The Bills are expected to utilize free agent additions Smokey Brown and Cole Beasley, along with Allen’s incumbent BFF Robert Foster, in 3-WR sets.
John Brown is one of only 11 wide receivers to average at least 15 yards per reception since 2015 (minimum 100 catches). He posted a 3.8-66.8-0.44 average line in nine games with Joe Flacco in 2018 vs. a 1.3-16-0.13 line in eight games with Lamar Jackson.
Brown oozes upside as one of the league’s premier field-stretchers when healthy.
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) March 8, 2019
Cole Beasley is locked in as the Bills’ starting slot receiver after securing a four-year deal worth $29 million.
The former Cowboys slot receiver has worked as one of the league’s shiftiest route-runners since entering the league in 2012. Beasley has caught 319 of 450 career targets, good for a 71% catch rate.
He joins Michael Thomas (77%), Adam Humphries (70.4%), Tyler Lockett (70.3%) and Adam Thielen (70.1%) as the only wide receivers to catch at least 70% of their targets since 2012 (min. 100 targets). Beasley has quietly and surprisingly functioned as one of the best red-zone weapons for the better part of the past half decade.
76 players had at least 30 targets inside the 10-yard line from 2010-2018
Seven converted at least 50% of those targets into TDs …
Julius Thomas (57%)
Odell Beckham Jr. (53%)
Rob Gronkowski (52%)
Jordan Reed (50%)
Michael Thomas (50%)
Tony Gonzalez (50%)
Cole Beasley (50%) 👀 pic.twitter.com/kSxzTrox2j
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) June 17, 2019
Robert Foster was a 2018 undrafted free agent who didn’t run more than 10 routes in a game until Week 10. He proceeded to work as the overall PPR WR26 during the team’s ensuing season-ending stretch, gaining at least 90 yards in four of seven games.
Foster has the size (6-foot-2) and speed (4.41-second 40-yard dash) to at least serve as an above-average field-stretcher in 2019. He joins Mike Wallace, DeSean Jackson, Torrey Smith, Kenny Stills, Martavis Bryant and Sammie Coates as the only receivers to average at least 20 yards per reception in a single season over the past 10 years (min. 20 receptions).
We could also feasibly see Zay Jones carve out a bigger role than expected, but it seems unlikely he finds a spot in starting 3-WR sets considering the financial resources the team invested in Brown and Beasley.
The tight end room is led by ex-Bengal Tyler Kroft, along with backups Lee Smith and Jason Croom, while LeSean McCoy, Frank Gore, T.J. Yeldon and 2019 third-round pick Devin Singletary are expected to form a four-headed running back committee.
Brown and Foster are worthy of dart throws
Smokey has missed time throughout his career with sickle cell trait, but he’s still played in 72 of 80 (90%) games since entering the league in 2014. Brown is a great fit inside of the Bills’ downfield-heavy passing game, as few cornerbacks over the years have been able to hang with him.
And then we have Beasley, who provides the Bills with a consistent underneath option that their offense was lacking.
Unfortunately, Allen’s deep-ball nature doesn’t bode well for his new slot receivers’ target volume, and we also don’t have a huge history of Beasley working as an elite fantasy option.
Beasley’s fantasy finish by season…
- 2012: PPR WR123
- 2013: WR82
- 2014: WR76
- 2015: WR52
- 2016: WR33
- 2017: WR71
- 2018: WR42
Perhaps Buffalo will be more willing to utilize Beasley downfield than Dallas was, but his historical usage isn’t that of a high-ceiling fantasy option.
The Bills figure to again boast a somewhat limited passing game that probably won’t enable more than one (at the most) consistent fantasy football performer.
Still, both Brown and Foster have demonstrated enough big-play ability to warrant late-round dart throws considering they presently aren’t being selected among the top-65 wide receivers in PPR average draft position. These receivers are particularly intriguing in best-ball formats, where we don’t have to worry as much about their boom-or-bust nature.