Buffalo is a hard team to read going into the season. Several of its marquee names -- Willis McGahee, Nate Clements, London Fletcher-Baker and Takeo Spikes -- are gone, replaced as part of the team's youth movement. The Bills also focused their free-agent dollars on upgrading the offensive line.
One position for which the team found an answer last season was quarterback, where J.P. Losman showed signs of being a productive passer for the long term. That also makes his go-to guy, wide receiver Lee Evans, an emerging fantasy superstar.
Losman and Evans likely will be the only Bills veterans drafted in fantasy leagues, but neither will be the first Bill taken. That will be running back Marshawn Lynch, who is one of the top blips on the rookie radar. IDP'ers also have a rookie about whom to get excited -- linebacker Paul Posluszny, the tackling machine out of Penn State.
Projected draft round Player Round J.P. Losman, QB 8-9 Marshawn Lynch, RB 2-3 Anthony Thomas, RB 15-16 Lee Evans, WR 3-4 Roscoe Parrish, WR 17-DND Peerless Price, WR DND Robert Royal, TE DND Rian Lindell, K DND Defense/special teams DND Draft position based on a standard 12-team combined scoring and yardage league with a 17-round draft. DND: Do not draft.
Key additions: G Derrick Dockery, T Langston Walker, C/G Jason Whittle. Key losses: CB Nate Clements, LB London Fletcher-Baker, RB Willis McGahee, LB Takeo Spikes.
Aaron Schobel, DL. Schobel not only is the best Schobel in the NFL -- sorry, Matt and Bo - he also is one of the league's five best pass rushers. His sack total has gone from eight to 12 to 14 over the past three seasons, and he should continue to fly off the edge with good results in a scheme that suits his upfield mentality well. It also helps that the team re-signed opposite end Chris Kelsay to keep offensive tackles honest.
Marshawn Lynch, RB. Lynch comes in as the complete package as a runner and a receiver. The welcome mat pretty much was laid out for him as soon as McGahee was sent packing to Buffalo. Lynch's value is rising quickly in drafts, as owners are realizing he will consistently get 20-25 touches a week. Considering all the equal-time committees around the league, Lynch -- even with the possibility of coach Dick Jauron favorite Anthony Thomas in short yardage and, more significantly, goal-line situations -- looks very promising in yardage-friendly leagues. You'll feel pretty good with Lynch as your No. 2 fantasy back, but because there's that bit of rookie unpredictability, be sure to get a good veteran No. 3 shortly afterward.
Lee Evans, WR. Evans can explode for monster games -- often against the Dolphins -- and then be taken out of the next game or two. That really is the only knock on him. His inconsistency keeps him from joining Marvin Harrison and the rest of the elite group of No. 1 fantasy receivers, but his rapport with Losman and his skills as a downfield and red-zone target make him one of the more solid No. 2s -- more than, say, the Dolphins' Chris Chambers, a fellow former Wisconsin wideout. Until the Bills get a reliable real No. 2, Evans will be bottled up in some games, but keep in mind he also the ability to beat any No. 1 cornerback in the league.
J.P. Losman, QB. Don't be fooled by his uncanny resemblance to Adam Sandler. This Tulane product has much more talent than that Louisiana-bred Waterboy, Bobby Boucher. I've been a fan of Losman's play since his days with the Green Wave. Back then, he was kind of a wacky QB who just let his athleticism take over. Now his game is starting to show the refinement required of an NFL passer and playmaker. You can bet his 2004 first-round brethren, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning will again be drafted ahead him in fantasy '07. That doesn't mean Losman will be the fourth-best producer in that crew, though -- in fact, he has a decent chance of outscoring two of those QBs. The reason Losman drops is that the others play for better teams and have more than just one big weapon in the passing game. At this point, Losman should be looked at as a fantasy backup in a possible QB platoon. I've seen him go as low as yet another '04 draft pick, Houston's Matt Schaub, but Losman has considerably more fantasy starter potential than Schaub.
Terrence McGee, DB. McGee steps into the role of No. 1 corner in place of Clements, who left for big money in San Francisco. He's ahead of the pace in that he already is an established playmaker and a good tackler. McGee also is one of the league's most dangerous kickoff returners and a constant threat to take it to the house. Without Clements, McGee likely will get fewer chances to make plays on the ball because opponents will test Jason Webster more, but he will make the most of them.
Anthony Thomas, RB. He got back on the fantasy map when McGahee was on the shelf last season. He had a strong (109 yards) outing against the Colts (who didn't, really?) and proved he still was a valuable reserve commodity despite his limited, straight-ahead power running style. Jauron is a no-nonsense coach, and that's why Thomas has been one of his backs in Chicago and Buffalo. Thomas is a blue-collar grinder, and his experience will make it worth the Bills giving him 5-10 carries a game while Lynch gets completely settled. Hitch a handcuff to the A-Train if you draft Lynch earlier -- a strong offensive line should only make Thomas more productive if he has to play in place of Lynch, who battled injuries in college.
Paul Posluszny, LB He's my choice for reality rookie of the year because he should be very active in making tackles all over the field, much as last year's top defensive rookie, the Texans' DeMeco Ryans. Posluszny has a bit of an early fight to gain every-down starting time, but he is a special player who will work hard to get to the ballcarrier on every play. The second-round reality steal is about to turn into a late-round IDP steal.
Defense/special teams. This team wasn't a turnover machine when Clements, Fletcher-Baker and Spikes were here, and it will struggle to deliver in that department at least until the younger cast members come together. There is some upside in sacks with ends Schobel and Kelsay, and in the return game with McGee and punt returner Roscoe Parrish. As a whole, however, the Bills are at best a bye-week pinch hitter in a good matchup against a bad offense.
Robert Royal, TE. Royal emerged as a sneaky pickup in the second half last season as a bye-week fill-in and a play for the tight end-desperate. He found the end zone once each in Weeks 13, 14 and 15. Although Losman did seem to connect well with him near the stripe last season, Royal's value is about the same this year. He's someone to watch on the waiver wire, but there clearly are more than a dozen better fantasy options at the position.
Roscoe Parrish, WR. Parrish, a speedster who's at his best streaking down the sideline, would appear to be the team's second-best wide receiver after Evans. But Parrish's strengths don't exactly fit the profile of a possession-type No. 2. He reminds of me the Panthers' Drew Carter -- a blazer who's best suited to do his best work against slower nickel and dime backs in spread formations. Until Parrish can become a better complement to Evans, he shouldn't be on your fantasy roster as more than a late-round flier.
Rian Lindell, K. Twenty kickers scored more points than Lindell last season. Move on.
Chris Kelsay, DL. Kelsay can hold his own, which helps Schobel, and he's improving as a pass rusher after posting a career-high 5.5 sacks last season. Fantasy-wise, however, he has little IDP value until he's poised to produce in double digits.
Peerless Price, WR. Unfortunately, he has several fantasy receiving peers, and they all are mediocre. In a former Bills life, he once was a breakout player opposite Eric Moulds. After going to the wideout wasteland known as Atlanta, Peerless' asking price should be "undrafted."
Josh Reed, WR Reed came in with a world of promise after dazzling everyone at LSU. In the NFL, the combined nuances of pass catching, route running and creating separation just haven't come together for Reed. I don't think the Bills will find a true No. 2 to complement Evans, so that slot will be a sporadic source of production into which you shouldn't tap.
Ultimate Fantasy Football Tip: Evans is only 32nd on the price list at wide receiver, coming in at $4.74 million. You can bet he'll produce like a top-15 receiver, making him one of the game's best all-around bargains.
TO KNOW LIST
Coaching: One reason for Losman's promise is offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild, the Rams' former quarterback guru under Mike Martz. Fairchild understands the downfield passing game better than most, and Losman and Evans are the biggest beneficiaries. Fairchild also knows how to use dynamic, versatile athletes, so Lynch's learning will be accelerated. The Bills need to lean more to the run to help their new-look defense, but you can still expect them to pop big plays.
Defensively, all the players are thinking aggressively and always are in attack mode. That bodes well for the future when the young unit has the right cohesiveness.
Offensive line: Sure, they added Derrick Dockery and Langston Walker to start at two key run-blocking positions (left guard, right tackle, but I'm not ready to put Buffalo's front five in an elite category. Let's consider it the same as left tackle Jason Peters -- solid but not spectacular. Expect good enough all-around play, which puts the onus on Lynch, Losman and friends to execute.
Schedule analysis: The Bills do face a tough early stretch with Denver, Pittsburgh, New England, the Jets, Baltimore and the Jets again in the first seven weeks, but as expected, paying that early price opens things up nicely come fantasy playoff time. The Bills get home games against Miami and the Giants in Weeks 14 and 16, which sandwiches a matchup against the Browns. You definitely will want to weigh matchups before you play Losman, but Lynch and Evans are pretty much every-week starters, regardless of opponent. Fantasy Strength of Schedule: Toughest (or 32nd easiest).