2023 Franchise Focus: Buffalo Bills


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2023 Franchise Focus: Buffalo Bills

For the first time since the Bills lost four straight Super Bowls in the early 1990s, Buffalo has made four consecutive playoff appearances. Like those early-90s Bills teams, Buffalo does not have a ring to show for it. But unlike those squads, this Bills team has yet to advance to the Super Bowl. Josh Allen and company, nonetheless, have been one of the most successful NFL teams since the quarterback landed in town, though running into the Chiefs and Bengals the last three years has meant their seasons have come to disappointing ends.

Allen has been, essentially, the Bills’ entire offense throughout their successful run, and off-season moves in 2023 suggest that Sean McDermott and his staff want to take some responsibility off his plate by tightening up formations and running the ball more. We’ll see if that leads to that elusive January success.

Listen to the accompanying Franchise Focus podcast with Locked on Bills Joe Marino

The Betting Basics

Odds courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook

Team FuturesOdds
Season Win Total (O/U)10.5 (-134/+110)
AFC East+130
Playoffs (Y/N)-245/+194
AFC Championship+450
Super Bowl+900

Season Prop Movement

Win Total: 10.5 (-140) in late March to 10.5 (-134)

Super Bowl: +850 in mid-February to +900

Projected Fantasy Contributors

All ADP is from Underdog Fantasy as of publication date.

Josh Allen (Proj: QB3 | ADP: 26.6 | Pos ADP: QB3)

Allen’s two-year run as the overall QB1 in fantasy football ended in 2022, but perhaps only because of the Damar Hamlin tragedy that forced the cancellation of Buffalo’s late-season matchup with the Bengals. Allen finished with 35 TD passes, 14 INTs, and 762/7 added on the ground. He finished 14.9 total fantasy points behind Patrick Mahomes, but was still the QB1 with a career-best 25.9 FPG average, .2 FPG ahead of Jalen Hurts and .6 FPG ahead of Mahomes. And Allen did all this with a partially torn UCL in his throwing elbow — it was an injury that did not require off-season surgery, but certainly could have affected his play. Though Allen led Buffalo to a 13-3 regular-season record, the Bills sputtered to a divisional-round loss to Cincinnati, in which they scored only 10 points and Allen was basically the entire offense, leading Buffalo in passing (obviously) and rushing. The loss to Cincinnati highlighted some problems with Buffalo’s offense — they may have been asking Allen to do too much. It seems Buffalo hasn’t been able to run the ball effectively in Allen’s entire career, while the offensive line was in the bottom half of the league in pressure rate above expectation. So it’s a possible philosophy change that has Allen’s ADP at QB3. Buffalo signed interior lineman Connor McGovern away from Dallas this off-season and drafted Florida mauler O’Cyrus Torrence early on Day 2. They let RB Devin Singletary walk in free agency, adding former Patriots bruiser Damien Harris to ostensibly be their early-down grinder. Meanwhile, the Bills’ only significant addition to their pass-catching group this off-season was first-round TE Dalton Kincaid, despite recently extending TE Dawson Knox, an indication that Buffalo could play a large share of “12” personnel this year (the Bills’ 7.0% usage of 12 personnel in 2022 was third-lowest in the entire league). Make no mistake, Allen’s still one of the best QBs in the NFL, an MVP candidate, and fantasy difference-maker. He still has Stefon Diggs at his disposal —presuming Diggs doesn’t up and leave at some point. But Buffalo may have decided this off-season that they were putting too much on Allen’s plate, and they simply don’t need him getting hurt again. That’s wise.

Kyle Allen (Proj: QB57 | ADP: N/A | Pos ADP: N/A)

Allen comes from Houston to back up Josh Allen — no relation. And in an ideal world, he won’t play much, if at all. Josh has started every game for the Bills over the last three seasons, and his backups — most recently Case Keenum, but also Mitchell Trubisky and Matt Barkley — have combined to throw 36 passes over that span. Kyle has starting experience, with 19 of them for three different teams, including two with the Texans last year. In those two games, he threw 2 TD to 4 INT while averaging an atrocious 5.3 YPA. He is, at best, a capable backup who would be a massive downgrade in every manner from Josh — with the exception of his surname — if forced into action.

James Cook (Proj: RB28 | ADP: 96.6 | Pos ADP: RB30)

A 2022 second-round pick, you can make an argument Cook was underutilized as a rookie. In 16 games, Cook made no starts and posted 89/507/2 rushing (5.7 YPA) and 21/180/1 receiving on 32 targets. He finished with just 6.0 FPG in half PPR, 50th among RBs. Only three times did he finish with 10 or more FP, only one of which came in a game in which he did not score. But Cook was a big-play machine, generating an explosive run on 12.4% of his carries, which was highest among RBs with 50 or more runs, per Fantasy Points Data. And Cook’s production wasn’t just all from explosive runs. Among that subset, Cook was “stuffed” at the 8th-lowest rate in the entire NFL. He gained at least 3 yards on his carries at the 7th-highest rate in the league. The issue with Cook is potentially his lack of true bell-cow ability, as he gained just 55.6% of his yardage after contact, 7th-lowest in the league (former teammate Devin Singletary wasn’t much better, at 57.9%). The Bills might merely view Cook as an explosive changeup who excelled in certain metrics because of his role and not in spite of his role, choosing instead to give more of their “grinder” carries to Damien Harris (65.6% YACO%) and potentially Latavius Murray (61.2%). Neither player was elite in that regard a season ago, but better than what the Bills put out there. And the Bills’ offensive line moves this off-season — adding interior maulers — suggests they want more of that approach. But with his big-play ability and receiving chops, Cook is so far the favorite Bills RB among Underdog drafters.

Damien Harris (Proj: RB40 | ADP: 116.5 | Pos ADP: RB38)

A former divisional rival of the Bills, Harris spent four years with the Patriots, a run that included his breakout 2021 campaign in which he scored 15 rushing TD. While reducing a running back to only his touchdowns is foolish — Harris has just 5 total TD in his other three seasons combined — it’s potentially that nose for the end zone that gets the Bills excited. Since Josh Allen arrived with Buffalo in 2018, the QB has 38 rushing scores. All other Bills have combined for 41 rushing touchdowns, the most of which were by the departed Devin Singletary (16, over four combined seasons). Maybe the Bills just want Harris to handle some of that work so Allen doesn’t have to take unnecessary shots. And it’s possible they view him as more of a grinder than the undersized Singletary or James Cook can be. Harris is also much more experienced in man/gap rushing concepts, with nearly 80% of his runs in his massive 2021 campaign coming from that scheme, and over 60% of his 2022 runs as well. (Cook is a better fit for zone schemes.) It’s possible the Bills want to run more gap-type stuff, having spent a lot of off-season resources adding interior, mauling linemen. If that’s the case, Harris is a good bet to lead this team in carries. But if he isn’t scoring touchdowns, his fantasy value is roughly zero, with just 40 catches (and no receiving scores) in four NFL seasons.

Latavius Murray (Proj: RB78 | ADP: 215.7 | Pos ADP: RB80)

The seemingly ageless Murray ran for 760 yards at age 32 in 2022, mostly with the Broncos (and briefly with the Saints), the most he’s run for since 2017, his first season with the Vikings. And he was pretty efficient overall, averaging 4.4 YPC, gaining over 61.2% of his yardage after contact, and scoring 6 TD. As any 33-year-old running back who is still chugging along is almost certain to do, Murray signed a cheap one-year deal with the Bills in May, and is just looking to cash checks for as long as he can. Good for him! For our purposes, he’s the backup early-down grinder for Buffalo behind Damien Harris, and while he’s not someone getting drafted often — or at all — if Harris were to miss time, Murray could have some Waiver Wire value.

Stefon Diggs (Proj: WR5 | ADP: 7.4 | Pos ADP: WR5)

Diggs has been one of the best receivers in the NFL for his entire Buffalo Bills tenure, which started in 2020. In his 16-game 2022 season, Diggs scored the most touchdowns (11) he’s had with Buffalo, while also averaging the most yards per reception (13.1) of his tenure. Among receivers with 50 or more targets, Diggs was 6th in yards per route run (2.59), 5th in passer rating when targeted (122.6), and 6th in missed tackles forced (18). He was the WR5 in both total half-PPR FP and FPG. And yet… his season ended on a bad note. After having fallen below 10.0 FP just once in his first 10 games of the season, he did it three games in a row from Weeks 14-16. And then, through no fault of his own, the Bills’ Week 17 games was canceled because of the Damar Hamlin tragedy. Then, in the playoffs, Diggs caught just 4/10 targets for 35 yards in the Bills’ divisional-round loss to the Bengals. It marked a season-low catch rate for Diggs, and the second-fewest yards he had on the season. Diggs was last seen yelling at Josh Allen in the snow, and then had a bizarre moment at mandatory June camps when he was not present for the first day of practice. The temporary Diggs/Bills rift was closed after some “conversations,” per coach Sean McDermott, and given Diggs just signed a new contract last year, it’s clear it was some sort of personal issue. Maybe it’s as simple as it being a target issue — Diggs had 99 targets in the Bills’ first nine games of 2022, and just 74 in the final nine (including playoffs). His production dip coincided with the Bills sputtering out in the playoffs, and the Bills have made no meaningful improvements to the WR position this off-season, so Diggs stands to be one of the best bets in the NFL to approach 150 targets yet again, and extend his streak of 100-catch seasons to four years. That makes him a locked-in first-round pick in all season-long formats, though the added volatility of his potential unhappiness here could make some queasy when clicking his name.

Gabe Davis (Proj: WR23 | ADP: 78.3 | Pos ADP: WR41)

As one of the most popular breakout picks in the entire fantasy industry — including on this very site — Davis’ 2022 campaign got derailed almost before it started. He showed up on a national stage in Week 1, posting 4/88/1 on 5 targets in the Thursday night season opener against the defending champion Rams. But in practice before the Bills’ Week 2 contest, Davis injured his ankle, missed the game, and appeared to be missing something for much of the year. Coach Sean McDermott later described Davis’ injury as a high ankle sprain, and while he was never going to be as consistent as Stefon Diggs, it certainly affected his floor. Davis still had ceiling games, generated mostly on touchdowns — only once in his final 15 games of the season did Davis reach 10 FP in a PPR league without scoring. He had a couple of long scores in Week 5 against Pittsburgh as part of a 3/171/2 day, but that was his only 100-yard and multi-TD campaign of the regular season. All in all, Davis scored 8 touchdowns and averaged a career-high 17.4 YPR, but he averaged just over 3 receptions per game. His 11.5 FPG ranked him as just WR38 on the season, a major disappointment for a player who often went in the top 50 overall picks by the end of last summer. You just wonder if Davis’ balky ankle limited what was already a merely functional route runner. Davis’ 16.0 average depth of target was most among all receivers with 50 or more targets, which certainly explains his bottom-20 targets per route run rate (17%). In essence, he was running almost all deep routes, routes that didn’t require him to get in and out of breaks quickly. The good news? Before Davis’ ankle sprain, he had scored at least once in six of his previous eight games, with 10 total TD in that span. The Bills made no moves of note at WR this off-season, going bargain hunting on free agents (Deonte Harty, Trent Sherfield) and spending only a Day 3 pick on a rookie (Justin Shorter). Davis is the overwhelming favorite to start opposite Stefon Diggs on the perimeter. And because of his underwhelming 2022 season, he’s a much cheaper investment than last season, going about three rounds later on average.

Khalil Shakir (Proj: WR95 | ADP: 196.1 | Pos ADP: WR83)

A 2022 fifth-round pick out of Boise State, Shakir played sparingly as a rookie, running just 114 routes and catching 10 of his 20 targets for 161 yards and a touchdown. But it’s probably worth noting that Shakir then ran 29 routes in the postseason and caught 5 passes on 7 targets for 91 yards in two games, and would have gone over 100 yards in the Wild Card round against Miami had he not dropped a deep target from Josh Allen (he later made a spectacular catch for a first down). The Bills used Shakir both inside and outside as a rookie, as he ran 59% of his routes from the slot, and he’s expected to continue “cross-training.” It also helps Shakir’s outlook that the Bills mostly went bargain hunting at WR this off-season, with cheap investments in Trent Sherfield and Deonte Harty, plus just one fifth-round pick on a rookie (Justin Shorter). What is hurting Shakir’s ADP is that he’s still looked at as a primary slot receiver, and the Bills obviously made a huge investment in a tight end who should factor there immediately in first-round rookie Dalton Kincaid. Nonetheless, Shakir could be worth a late-round best-ball dart throw in the event Gabe Davis doesn’t bounce back from his disappointing 2022 season, and Shakir steals some of his snaps on the perimeter.

Dalton Kincaid (Proj: TE18 | ADP: 125.2 | Pos ADP: TE11)

The Bills felt pressure to move up to draft Kincaid at 25 overall in April after a run of four straight wideouts, ahead of the TE-needy Dallas Cowboys. To move up just two spots, it cost the Bills a fourth-round pick, but it landed them a potentially instant-impact receiver. The #1 TE in this class per our Brett Whitefield, Kincaid enters the NFL as an already polished route-runner with stellar hands and a big catch radius. Though undersized at 246 pounds, he’s more than tall enough (6’3 ½”) to make him a mismatch on linebackers and safeties. And his mere selection indicates the Bills are going to change the way they play. Per Fantasy Points Data, Buffalo played 12 personnel just 7.0% of the time in 2022, third-lowest in the entire league. Given Kincaid was a first-round pick and Dawson Knox was extended just last season, we would expect that number to be closer to a league-high in 2023. And from a fantasy perspective, Kincaid was the only significant addition to a Bills receiving group that needed much help beyond Stefon Diggs. That’s made him a popular early pick on Underdog Fantasy, where he’s going within the top-12 tight ends overall. Indeed, Kincaid is likely to be more of a big slot receiver, while Knox handles the in-line work. But it’s hard to shake the fact that rookie TEs typically do struggle to produce big numbers, especially since he’s going to be one of two TEs we project to play a lot of snaps here. We love Kincaid the player, and aren’t ruling out an impressive rookie season, but we are currently below market on him.

Dawson Knox (Proj: TE25 | ADP: 176.2 | Pos ADP: TE22)

Knox is coming off a decent 2022 campaign in which he posted 48/517/6 receiving on 65 targets, finishing as the TE12 with 7.4 FPG (half-PPR). But he was mostly frustrating, as he finished individually as a top-12 TE just six times in 15 games, mostly coinciding when he scored his 6 touchdowns. Over the past two years, only Travis Kelce (21) and George Kittle (17) have scored more receiving touchdowns than Knox (15) at the TE position, but Knox hasn’t reached even 50 catches in either of the last two seasons, so his fantasy production is almost entirely dependent on touchdowns — Knox has ranked as a top-12 weekly TE in fewer than 50% of his games since 2021. It seems unlikely he’ll hit that 50-catch mark in 2023, given the Bills spent a first-round pick on Utah TE Dalton Kincaid in April. Now, it’s worth noting that Knox and Kincaid effectively play different positions — Knox will be used in line far more than Kincaid, who will most likely spend time in the slot and out wide. Knox is generally well-regarded for his blocking, and that’s not Kincaid’s specialty. Early drafters on Underdog are still valuing Knox as a top-24 TE by ADP, which is fair. But because all of his fantasy value is likely to come from unpredictable short touchdowns in the red zone, he’s a far better best-ball pick and is unlikely to be drafted in most normal redraft leagues.

Hansen’s Final Bills Points

For the first time in his five-year career, Josh Allen wasn’t a bargain at his ADP. But despite a so-so debut for OC Ken Dorsey last year, Allen’s stats were nearly identical to 2021’s under Brian Daboll. It’s fair to be skeptical about Dorsey, and it’s a stretch to expect a major contribution from top pick Dalton Kincaid, so Allen may have to break out the Superman cape again this year. It’s good for fantasy, but those 546 carries (and counting) in the NFL are going to take their toll at some point. Given their underwhelming offseason combined with his prohibitive cost at 20 overall (QB3), we will be below the markets on Allen. We may not like it because he’s a stud, but it’s just good business.

There are some cases where the backup QB in a high-powered offense is worth drafting as a handcuff — but Buffalo is not one of those places with Kyle Allen, who is a 1-2 week replacement type for an NFL team, if that.

It’s fair to say that we still don’t know exactly what James Cook is in the NFL, but I think we have it right regarding the percentage of RB touches we’re giving him. We have Cook handling 39% of their carries and hauling in 50% of their RB receptions. That’s 10.9 touches/game in 16 games, which is conservative. He may not get much work at the goal with Damien Harris and Latavius Murray here, but Cook’s short-yardage resume in the NFL so far is solid. We’ve been ahead of the markets on Cook because the ROI potential is around 95 overall, and RB29 looks good to me as a really nice RB3 who can be counted on for 10+ points most weeks.

He’s a nice back who can give them a little more downhill power running than James Cook, but Damien Harris may also have to contend with veteran Latavius Murray, who looked like he still had gas in the tank last year. Murray could be their closer, at worst, but Harris may need planetary alignment to rack up the TDs, and he’s not much without the TDs. We are very slightly ahead of the markets as of publication on 6/19 as our 113th player, but those same markets have him at RB36, and we’re at RB40. He’s not a target or an avoid — he’s just there.

It was telling that the Bills decided to sign a 33-year-old free agent in May, but Buffalo welcomed Latavius Murray to the fold shortly after the draft, presumably to be their closer and short-yardage specialist. The move could signal fewer rushes from Josh Allen, but Lat’s rolling with a 215 ADP heading into the summer, so he’s an afterthought for season-long leagues. I’m not even sure he’s worth a flier in Best Ball with the solid Harris there.

My gut feeling is that Stefon Diggs is just a diva receiver who needs to be placated more than most — but he’s still a dawg who will get it done, per usual. It would be naive to brush off the drama with him and the team. Then again, perhaps his “drama” was a pre-emptive strike to signal to the team they should not sign DeAndre Hopkins? Pure speculation on my part, but the fact remains that he’s the clear alpha receiver here, and WR1 production should be maintained, barring an injury issue.

I/we had to take an L on Gabe Davis last year, but it could easily be argued that he’d have eclipsed our projection were it not for the high-ankle sprain he suffered after Week 1, and because one of his games was canceled. Our Adam Caplan was told the injury weighed on Davis all year, which explains his shakier hands and his career-worst catch rate of 51.6%. The guy has scored on 18.5% of his catches in the NFL and had career highs in targets, catches, yardage, and YPR in a down year. Davis is probably best cast as a #3, but barring a shocking development, he should be locked into his #2 WR role. That’s great news because his price tag has been cut in half this year (90) compared to last year (40), and he’s in the final year of his rookie deal. Understanding there is volatility, a healthy Davis is still appealing because he could be a weekly winner 3-4 times at least.

His college tape was good, and the Bills have plans to use Khalil Shakir all over the field this year, but with an ADP of 195 and #1 pick Dalton Kincaid likely playing inside a lot, Shakir is a last-pick-of-the-draft type of option. But unless there's a key injury in front of him, he’s a so-so pick if you’re looking for upside.

It’s easy to see what the Bills are looking for in Dalton Kincaid, who’s athletic enough to beat man coverage and pose a serious threat as a “big slot.” But it’s a leap of faith to believe the rookie will produce TE1 numbers right out of the gate and on a team with a solid starter in Dawson Knox. We’re projecting 115 FP, which is great for a rookie and would have been good for TE20 last year, yet Kincaid’s been the TE11 in ADP. We appropriately have him at TE18, and barring a ballistic showing this summer, he’s unlikely to land any higher.

His season got off to a rough start due to a family tragedy, but it’s fair to say that Dawson Knox is a good — but not great — player. He hasn’t been a guy they’ve designed many plays for, but he’s been a nice checkdown and red-zone threat. His blocking has improved, and he’ll likely be in-line more than ever with Kinxaid added to the mix. With Knox’s target number set to drop, he’ll be even more TD-dependent, so we view him as overvalued at TE21 (our TE25 as of press time).