Around noon eastern on Friday, the league handed Ezekiel Elliott a 6-game suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy.
Normally, such earth-shattering news would dominate NFL headlines. And it did.
For about an hour.
Then, the league produced a true stunner when Buffalo traded away Sammy Watkins and separately traded for Jordan Matthews.
Matt Schauf addressed the impact of Watkins’ arrival in Los Angeles. Here, I’ll review the fantasy value of the Bills’ fully remade WR corps — and what it means for Tyrod Taylor.
Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin and Justin Hunter made up the Bills’ leading receivers in 2016. But they’re all playing elsewhere this fall.
So, there’s a huge opportunity for Matthews to step into a #1 role. After all, his competition comes from rookie 2nd-round pick Zay Jones and 36-year-old Anquan Boldin, who was signed on August 7.
Standing 6’3, 212 pounds, Matthews brings a large frame with an excellent catch radius to boot. Per Pro Football Focus, he’s accrued a league-high 2,389 slot yards since entering the league in 2014.
Now, Jones and Boldin also profile as slot types, so it’s likely Matthews will see the bulk of his snaps out wide. It’s not ideal given where he’s previously excelled.
The Bills' offensive philosophy probably won’t be conducive to big-time stats, either. Rick Dennison has tailored his offenses to the strength of his personnel, ranking 17th, 13th, 6th, 18th, 30th, 10th, 3rd, 21st and 26th in pass attempts in 9 seasons as an OC. With LeSean McCoy and a solid run-blocking O-line, this unit is built to run.
We’re also a bit concerned about the timing of this deal. Matthews has less than 1 month to gel with Tyrod Taylor and prepare for Buffalo’s season opener. Perhaps that produces a slow start (the Bills open vs. Jets, at Panthers, vs. Broncos and at Falcons).
Ultimately, Matthews’ path to 100+ target looks relatively clear. And there's value in that fact alone. We peg him a WR4, but his history as a TD scorer — 19 in 3 seasons — shows there's upside for more. We’ll see where his ADP settles in over the coming weeks.
Matthews is an upgrade over Sammy Watkins only when it comes to reliability.
Matthews has missed just 2 games through 3 seasons (compared to 11 for Watkins over the same stretch). But the former Bill brought a big-play, downfield element that Matthews can’t match. (His career yards per catch sits at only 11.9.)
From that lens, Taylor takes a hit. The 3rd-year starter has thrived on deep balls but no longer plays alongside a speedster. Charles Clay brings seam-stretching ability at TE, although he’s been hampered by injuries in recent seasons. After a small jump up our rankings, he remains an undervalued TE target.
Taylor’s rushing ability will keep him in the fantasy spotlight as a streaming option. But losing his top weapon forced us to drop him 2 spots in the QB rankings.
The Lions had a clear plan for Boldin last season.
Feed him … in the red zone … frequently.
Only Jordy Nelson and Kyle Rudolph garnered more red zone looks last season, helping the veteran post 8 total scores. He added little elsewhere, posting career lows in yards per catch (8.7) and 20+ yard catches (5, out of 67 catches).
Boldin could fill a similar role for Buffalo, subbing in near the goal line to provide a much-needed target. Between the 20s, though, it’s unwise to expect a major role. New OC Rick Dennison used 11 Personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs) on just 52% of his plays last year in Denver, per Football Outsiders. That ranked 26th league-wide.
Matthews and Jones, at least for now, project as Buffalo's top-2 WRs.
And sure, the Broncos lacked a standout 3rd WR in 2016. But Dennison’s history turns up much better production in the run game. The Bills reinforced their run-first desire by adding Patrick DiMarco and Mike Tolbert over the offseason.
We project Boldin for 50-490-4, giving him a low-ceiling outlook that’s unappealing in “best ball” and lineup setting formats alike.
The Bills really like Jones. That was evident when they traded up to select him in Round 2 of the 2017 draft.
But should redraft owners feel the same?
Well, the Watkins trade certainly boosts Jones’ immediate outlook. Matthews is a downgrade at WR1, helping raise Jones’ target ceiling. We bumped the rookie’s target share from 15% to 17.5%.
But that adjustment still puts his season-long numbers at just 53-616-4, placing him WR66 in PPR.
The same basic arguments against Boldin — volume and offensive philosophy — hold true for Jones. Of course, the East Carolina standout brings superior athleticism. And he's proven capable of handling monster workloads, exiting college with a D1-record 399 career receptions. We're simply much more likely to see Jones emerge in year 2 once he gets some NFL seasoning.
For now, consider him merely a late-round flier who could provide relief during bye weeks.