The Buffalo Bills offense, as a whole, is a relative unknown. Aside from a far-from-settled situation at quarterback, the offensive line is considerably weaker than last season, and the wide receiver corps is about as deep as a puddle. For what seems like the hundredth year in a row, Buffalo will once again rely on their talented (and deep) running back group to carry the load on offense.
Last week we took a look at the quarterback position and projected full-season statistics for the three signal-callers who are competing for the starting role. This week we review the skill positions. So, without further ado, let’s dive in.
First we’ll address the elephant in the room. Yes, this projection is based on a scenario where McCoy’s domestic assault case (a situation that gets more bizarre by the day), is dismissed and he is allowed to play the entire season. With that out of the way, we can delve into how the Bills plan to use the 30-year-old bell cow.
McCoy is at the point in his career where fans have started to wonder just how soon father time will catch up to him. The team’s entire offense has revolved around him for three straight seasons where he has contributed not only on the ground but in the receiving game as well. With uncertainty under center, the Bills will need to squeeze at least one more solid campaign out of him if they have any hope of making the postseason.
Fortunately, the organization finally has a relatively strong backup in Chris Ivory. While he too is getting up there in age with his best days behind him, the eight-year veteran can still be effective as a change-of-pace back.
There is little doubt that McCoy will once again be called upon to serve as the lifeblood of the offense. That said, he averaged a pedestrian four yards per carry in 2017, a full 1.4 yard drop from the season prior. Despite all of that, he still finished fourth in the NFL with 1,138 yards on the ground. Expect him to have fewer rushing attempts, but more targets in the passing game as a reliable receiving back for a crop of inexperienced passers.
It could very well be the last time he eclipses 1,000 yards rushing in a single season as he strives toward 12,000 for his career.
Projected Stat Line (Rushing): 252 attempts – 1,033 yards – 7 TD
Projected Stat Line (Receiving): 64 catches – 435 yards – 2 TD
Benjamin is a bit of an enigma. Early in his career, he had the makings of a premier starting wide receiver in Carolina. After a torn ACL derailed his 2015 season, though he’s still quite good, it is clear that the 27-year-old has lost a step.
Between the Bills and Panthers last season he hauled in a pedestrian 48 catches for 692 yards, while appearing in 14 games. On paper, that’s pretty rough for a top-flight wideout, but there is more to the story. Simply put, Tyrod Taylor did a horrible job finding his receivers on the outside. As a quarterback who feared any throw that wasn’t a sure bet, he was reluctant to throw jump-balls to the 6’5″ target, an area where Benjamin excels.
So what can we expect from him this season? A lot of it depends on the QB competition. If A.J. McCarron emerges victorious then we may see more of the same since he is more of a conservative passer. Should rookie, Josh Allen begin the season as the starter, his gunslinger style could help Benjamin flourish in a contract year.
At the end of the day, the biggest factor will be his health. He had a bit of trouble toward the end of the season staying on the field. Without him, the Bills’ receiving corps is a complete and utter black hole in terms of talent. Assuming he appears in all 16 games, his numbers should improve significantly with Taylor out of the picture.
Projected Stat Line: 70 catches – 987 yards – 7 TD
If Benjamin is a wild card, then what the heck do we call Jones? After a brutal rookie campaign (not to mention an offseason that he’d like to forget), the East Carolina product needs to show up in a big way in 2018, and given the cast of characters in the wide receiver room, he’ll get his chance.
The offense is slated to have a brand new look under Brian Daboll next season, and given Jones’ elite route-running ability, the new system should help play to his strengths. That being said, no system on planet Earth can account for butter-fingers. He will need to find a cure to his chronic case of the dropsies or his career could fade quickly.
What’s particularly bizarre about Jones 2017 season is the fact that he was known as one of the most sure-handed receivers in the country during his collegiate career. That alone lends credence to the theory that his struggles are more mentally based than physical.
It’s clear that the kid is a little bit different, and perhaps the pressure got to him. Let’s not forget that he’s a 22-year-old making millions of dollars, trying to catch passes on national television. With more experience and a few big grabs to boost his confidence, he’ll be just fine. Expect him to break-out in 2018.
Projected Stat Line: 59 catches – 814 yards – 5 TD
Can we take a moment and recognize just how under-appreciated and under-utilized Clay was with Taylor at the helm? How many times per game was this man running wide open down the field with his QB staring in the opposite direction? Go ahead, watch the film. The guy had his own zip code out there and only saw a paltry 74 targets on the season. Woof.
Fortunately for him, inexperienced quarterbacks historically love their tight ends. They’re big targets who usually run short to intermediate routes for easy completions. If a more methodical field-reader like McCarron is the main guy, Clay could experience his best totals since leaving Miami as a free agent in 2015.
If Daboll is smart, he’ll make sure to focus a good portion the passing game around Clay next season. Due to the fact that the running game will still likely be the focus of the offense, we can’t get too carried away with his statistical projections. Even at that, he should have no problem eclipsing his total of 49 catches in 2017.
Similar to Benjamin, Clay has had his fair share of injury concerns. He missed three games last year, and if the offense hopes to make up for their general lack of depth, he’ll need to stay healthy throughout the season.
Projected Stat Line: 68 catches – 802 yards – 6 TD
Editor’s babble: All the questions marks on offense just got ramped up even more this week with the news about LeSean McCoy’s personal situation. My only concern about Charles Clay is whether or not he CAN be used more in this offense. His knee appears to be damaged to such an extent that it may require them to use him judiciously on offense. It will be curious to see how Daboll will utilize Nick O’Leary. As always, thanks to Anthony Sciandra for his insightful posts that keep us going until training camp. You can follow Anthony on Twitter @SciandraSports.