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Juggernaut Index, No. 29: The Buffalo Bills

Andy Behrens
Roto Arcade

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Pretty sure the kid stayed 'til the end, didn't want to (Getty Images)

The Juggernaut Index is our annual preseason ranking of NFL teams for fantasy purposes. Repeat: FANTASY PURPOSES. Here, we care about yards and points, not wins and losses. This isn’t your standard NFL power ranking. If a team’s roster features upper-tier fantasy assets, that group will rank near the top of the J.I. If instead a team features nothing but fantasy drek, you’ll find ‘em near the bottom. Make sense? Great. Really, the J.I. is just a gimmick, a way to deliver team-by-team fantasy spin.

Buffalo is entering the earliest stages of a rebuild under first-year head coach Doug Marrone, so expectations for 2013 are relatively modest. This franchise hasn't made a playoff appearance in the 21st century. The Bills have finished with double-digit losses in each of the past four seasons. Last year's defense was a punchline, and the offense was uncommonly turnover-prone (34).

So there are some issues here, no question.

Buffalo isn't likely to be a fantasy wasteland in the season ahead, however. Marrone is no stranger to point-scoring, having served as the Saints' OC under Sean Payton from 2006 to 2008. The Bills will feature some useful and well-known fantasy pieces in 2013, plus a smattering of rookie skill players, and the team clearly intends to dial up the tempo. Let's try to keep an open mind about this bunch.

Of course Buffalo still needs to select a quarterback to direct the new offense, and the names under consideration aren't exactly ideal. Veteran Kevin Kolb is battling rookie first-rounder EJ Manuel for depth chart position. Neither player should receive serious draft-day consideration in standard fantasy formats. And if you happen to play in a deeper, deviant fantasy format — perhaps a 20-teamer, or a two-QB league — then whoever selects either Kolb or Manuel should expect ridicule.

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No pressure, EJ Manuel (Getty)

Kolb was off to a not-terrible start for Arizona in 2012 before a semi-disgusting injury ended his season. He's a competent passer with average arm strength, not elite in any area. We can assume he'd receive better protection in Buffalo than he did in Arizona, where he received almost none at all. It's not crazy to think that Kolb could function reasonably well in a quick-rhythm, quick-strike offense; it is crazy to think that he could emerge as an every-week fantasy option.

We can expect to see Manuel at some point this season, obviously, since the team drafted him No. 16 overall. He's an interesting target for dynasty leaguers, a 6-foot-5 quarterback with read-option running ability and plenty of arm. Without question, Manuel looks the part of a modern NFL QB. He was viewed by most draft scouts as an unfinished product, however, not necessarily a plug-and-play starter. (That is to say, we're not talking about Luck or RG3.) Manuel needs to demonstrate that he can avoid head-scratching plays when pressured, and that he can consistently make anticipation-throws. He's on the must-watch list for the preseason.

The Bills' receiving corps is hardly the league's best, but Stevie Johnson is a proven commodity coming off three straight 1,000-yard campaigns. He remains a WR3 for fantasy purposes and his Yahoo! ADP shouldn't scare you off (92.8). He's the clear No. 1 in Buffalo's receiving hierarchy, likely to again lead the team in targets. Beyond Johnson, however, we have a bunch of unknowns on this roster. Second-year burner TJ Graham made some noise during OTAs, but nothing here is settled. USC rookie Robert Woods is a pro-ready wideout, the 41st overall selection in the draft, a player who should eventually put up significant reception totals. Woods certainly belongs on the fantasy radar, if not on your Week 1 roster. Another first-year Buffalo receiver, Marquise Goodwin, ran a 4.27 40-yard dash at the combine, which is insane. We won't draft Goodwin except in deep dynasty formats, but his usage is worth monitoring.

The Bills also took a post-draft flier on Da'Rick Rogers, a talented receiver covered in red flags. If Rogers can avoid any summer screw-ups, he could earn a share of the targets. He's a big receiver (6-3, 206) capable of degree-of-difficulty plays. Definitely a player of interest, and it's not as if the Buffalo depth chart is cluttered with stars at his position.

And for those of you in points-only leagues: Scott Chandler is still hanging around, recovering from an ACL injury, believed to be on track to open the season. Great news for the Bills, not a huge deal in fantasy.

Without question, the most dangerous weapon on the Bills' roster is CJ Spiller, one of the league's more explosive skill players. Spiller averaged 6.0 yards per carry last season and 10.7 per catch. He rushed for 1,244 yards on only 204 carries, and his highlight reel is full of silliness like this. If you're not eying Spiller in the first half of the first round, then you'll never get him. He's fantastic. The only person in the NFL who's had any success stopping Spiller is Chan Gailey, and he's no longer a threat.

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CJ Spiller, doing Spillerly things (Getty)

Marrone knows what he has with CJ, and he's hit all the right fantasy notes so far. This from the Buffalo News:

Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone indicated after today's voluntary workout C.J. Spiller will not be pulled from games in short-yardage, third-down or red-zone situations because of size or skill set.

"My philosophy's always been if someone starts off and they're running well, keep feeding them the ball," Marrone said.

[...]

"CJ has great ability to get outside and also run inside. I see CJ Spiller, from the time I've been here, has worked extremely hard to really step his game up, and that's exciting.

Yes, Fred Jackson is still in the team picture, but he's entering his age-32 season, coming off back-to-back years that were shortened by injury. Jackson gained 2.2 fewer yards per carry than Spiller last season, so it's tough to build a case for a shared workload.

The bottom line with this backfield is that it should again be productive, and Spiller figures to be the centerpiece. He's a terrific receiving threat (43 on 57 targets in 2012), and he'll be playing in an up-tempo offense. I'm in. Think of Jackson as a high-end handcuff.

Buffalo's defense was, you'll recall, a notable disappointment last season. (Unless you were a Russell Wilson owner.) The Bills gave up 27.2 points per game and ranked next-to-last at stopping the run (145.8 YPG). Under new coordinator Mike Pettine — formerly the Jets' DC — things will surely improve, but probably not to the point that you should draft this D/ST. If you're playing IDP, the key names to know here are DE Mario Williams (10.5 sacks), rookie MLB Kiko Alonso, FS Jairus Byrd (76 tackles, 5 INTs) and SS Da'Norris Searcy. No other Bills are on the approved list at this time. Please check back later.

2012 team stats: 21.5 points per game (21), 214.4 passing yards per game (25), 138.6 rushing yards per game (6)

Previous Juggernauts: 32. NY Jets, 31. Oakland, 30. Jacksonville

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