This article is part of our Team Previews series.
The Bills closed the book on the longest playoff drought in the NFL last season, ending a frustrating string that stretched 17 campaigns. The reasons are simple; a strong running game and a solid defense led to some marketable fantasy performances that could deliver value once again in 2018.
THREE THINGS TO KNOW
WHAT'S MY LINE?
The Bills offensive line will see a massive overhaul in 2018, with changes to at least three-fifths of the starting lineup. Left tackle Cordy Glenn was sent to the Bengals in a trade involving a swap of first-round draft picks. The interior of the line will see a major shakeup with veteran guard Richie Incognito and long-time center Eric Wood both no longer in the mix. Incognito started every game the past three seasons in Buffalo, while Wood amassed 120 starts with the Bills since entering the league in 2009. Both leave Pro Bowl legacies and big shoes to fill. The team's 2017 second-rounder, Dion Dawkins, showed well as a rookie, frequently replacing an oft-injured Glenn in the starting lineup. Glenn's old job should be Dawkins' to lose. Vladimir Ducasse and Jordan Mills also return with a chance to remain starters. Overall, there is a lack of continuity, and the team has not invested much to fortify the unit for the coming season. The obvious concern with all the upheaval is the impact it will have on the Bills' new quarterback, regardless of who it is. More important for fantasy, though, is the effect on lead running back LeSean McCoy. He performed at his typical high level last year, but questions regarding his current blockers could be enough to deter drafters and bidders from paying the going rate.
CATCH OF THE DAY
The Buffalo receiving corps was not regarded as a team strength last season, and that doesn't figure to change in 2018. This offseason, the team swapped out Jordan Matthews for Jeremy Kerley and spent a couple of late-round draft picks on Ray-Ray McCloud and Austin Proehl, eschewing flashy high-cost additions. Kelvin Benjamin returns as the team's top wideout option, and second-year man Zay Jones will look to build off an uneven rookie season. There's sneaky value to be had in Benjamin. While he has seen his receptions and yards drop in each of his three campaigns in the league, his catch percentage has gone up every year. He's logged a relatively stable 14.4 yards per reception over his young career so if he sees a spike in targets, which seems likely as the undisputed lead dog, he should generate more fantasy production. Jones, on the other hand, could be a deep sleeper based on his pedigree as a high-level performer in college. That's assuming he moves seamlessly past what was an eventful offseason. Kerley, Andre Holmes and Rod Streater provide veteran depth but will be challenged by the draftees. At tight end, Charles Clay returns as the No. 1 option. When healthy, he's performed in a very reliable manner. If you want four receptions for 40 yards and a 20 percent chance of a touchdown in a given game, Clay's your man.
PASSING THE TORCH
The Bills hadn't been to the playoffs since the 1999 season, but last year they finally made it back with Tyrod Taylor at the helm. The celebration was short-lived, though, with a quick exit from the playoffs followed by a trade that sent Taylor to the Browns in exchange for the No. 65 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Buffalo's future at the quarterback is now in the hands of two newcomers, AJ McCarron and rookie Josh Allen. McCarron should get the first crack at the job, having shown promise in his only stint as a starter over three games with the Bengals in 2015. He fared well in limited action that season, producing six touchdowns, two interceptions, 854 passing yards and a 97.1 passer rating. Odds are that he'll be capable enough to pair with a good rushing attack and solid defense. Meanwhile, the gifted but raw Allen can be brought along slowly. As the pre-draft process unfolded, concerns over Allen's passing accuracy in college gave way to optimism fueled by his rare arm strength. The buzz grew as Allen aced interview after interview and rose in prominence among this year's quarterback class. Lauded for his competitive drive, the Bills are banking on the 6-5, 237-pounder's ability to refine the rough edges of his game and maximize his physical talent.
PIVOTAL PLAYER: LeSean McCoy
Still the rarest and most valuable of fantasy assets, McCoy is a feature back with the talent and production to be the centerpiece of an NFL offense. He's not without risk, though, as there will be a lot of changes in the Bills offense, and off-field reports that surfaced this summer should be monitored as the season approaches. Chris Ivory is now on hand, but he clearly will defer to McCoy, as long as he's available to play.
RISING: Kelvin Benjamin
There's logic in the belief that Benjamin will see more targets in 2018. With a reliable yards per reception average and a large catch radius, he should very quickly become best friends with his new quarterback.
FALLING: LeSean McCoy
With all the changes on the line and at quarterback, it's hard to be as confident in McCoy's fantasy value this year. He'll likely still be effective at times, but nagging injuries have been an issue throughout his career. Further hurting his case are off-field accusations, which he vehemently denies.
SLEEPER: Zay Jones
Jones went 37th overall in last year's draft for a reason, and the biggest improvement for young wideouts often happens after their first full offseason as a pro. Moreover, high-profile competition was not brought in.
KEY JOB BATTLE – STARTING QUARTERBACK
The Bills must sort through a number of decisions on the offensive side of the ball in August, but none is bigger than the starter at quarterback. AJ McCarron has shown well in limited NFL action and has the most experience of the group, but he's largely untested and something of an unknown quantity. During OTAs, there were rumblings that second-year pro Nathan Peterman actually outplayed McCarron. Beyond the veteran battle, first-round pick Josh Allen is the QB of the future, but there's no telling where he'll land on the Week 1 depth chart. Will the rookie top it at some point in 2018? Can he show enough in camp to get on with the Allen era right away? Time will tell.
Josh Allen – QB (Rd. 1, No. 7 – Wyoming)
Will the best arm in the draft get to show it off as an NFL rookie?
Tremaine Edmunds – LB (Rd. 1, No. 16 – Virginia Tech)
The versatile linebacker will man the middle in his first pro season.
Jeremy Kerley – WR (from Jets)
Inconsistent but has produced at times out of the slot.
Tyrod Taylor – QB (to Browns)
Took the Bills to the playoffs, then got traded away.
Jordan Matthews – WR (to Patriots)
Heads to rival Patriots after an injury-plagued season.
Preston Brown – LB (to Bengals)
Racked up 144 tackles last year, tied for tops in the NFL.
THE INJURY FRONT
Kelvin Benjamin, WR – Said to be fully healthy, Benjamin is the Bills' unquestioned No. 1 receiver and arguably the most important non-quarterback in the offense. In 2017, he was riddled with nagging injuries, including lingering effects from an ACL injury plus two lateral meniscus problems in his right leg. Reports out of Buffalo say he's close to 100 percent and will be ready for camp.
Zay Jones, WR – The second year for a pro is often where NFL players take the largest leap in their development, and the Bills could use a giant step forward from Jones. Unfortunately, he missed the entire offseason program with a knee injury, undergoing surgery mid-May. It's not supposed to jeopardize his season, but he may be playing a bit of catch-up during training camp.
Charles Clay, TE – Clay battled a meniscus tear for most of the 2017 season, but he didn't have surgery and seems to be rehabbing well this offseason. He should return to form as the team's starting tight end in 2018.