With week 1 of the preseason officially underway, I would like to present my first top 100 fantasy football player rankings for the upcoming season. As there are several scoring formats for fantasy football, my approach for these rankings is how I view the composite value of players considering both standard and point per reception re-draft leagues. After each completed week during the preseason, I will update my top 100 rankings. After the third week of preseason, generally the week where regular starters see more game action, I will release my full rankings by position, as well as a final overall top 200. For this week’s edition, I have provided a brief analysis of three Bills players who cracked my top 100. Enjoy!
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C.J. Spiller – RB
I have Spiller ranked as my 32nd overall player and 16th ranked running back as of preseason week 1. Neither Spiller nor running mate Fred Jackson played much in the Hall of Fame Game, and I would expect more of the same tonight against the Panthers. Spiller disappointed many fantasy owners in 2013 that picked him early in the first round. As a consensus first rounder a year ago, an injury plagued season has pushed Spiller down the big board to open 2014. Unfortunately, for fantasy owners and Bills fans alike, Spiller’s lack of consistency, coupled with nagging injuries throughout his young career, have ultimately driven his fantasy draft stock down heading into this season. With that being said, Spiller’s raw talent, speed, and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield make the potential of taking him as a late 2nd round/early 3rd round pick much less risky than a year ago. Spiller has shown more than just a “flash of brilliance” during his first four years in the NFL. He now enters his 5th year, a contract year, with something to prove if his goal is to land a lucrative long-term deal, be it from the Bills or another team. Spiller is currently the top man on Doug Marrone’s running back depth chart, and for a player with his ability, I’d be willing to take a chance on drafting him as a RB2 the early rounds, knowing he has the potential to perform as a RB1.
Sammy Watkins – WR
Mr. Watkins checks in at #81 in my overall player rankings, making him the 32nd best wide receiver on my preseason week 1 big board. Watkins failed to record a catch during the Hall of Fame Game last week, but I expect Bills offensive coordinator Nathanial Hackett to force the issue a bit more in tonight’s game while the first team offense is in the game. There is no doubt that Watkins would have received a higher ranking if there were less questions around the quarterback expected to deliver him the ball this season. It is largely unfair to compare someone like Watkins to the production of a player like Julio Jones when he was a rookie. Jones had an established, and for the most part, consistent quarterback throwing him passes his rookie year. In addition, he had a pro-bowl receiver lining up opposite him in Roddy White. If Bills quarterback EJ Manuel can show improvement from year one to year two, Watkins has the chance to produce numbers expected out of his projected 5th-7th round draft slotting. As is the case with teammate CJ Spiller, there is certainly a large amount of risk/reward with drafting Sammy for your fantasy team. Ideally, I’d love to draft Watkins as my 3rd receiver, and not have to rely on him as an immediate starter before I can see the chemistry he and Manuel have in game situations. As a third receiver, I will certainly consider drafting the electric and high upside Watkins over a proven, but average, commodity at the position. For example, I am drafting Watkins over players like Dwayne Bowe, Hakeem Nicks, Greg Jennings, and Steve Smith.
Fred Jackson – RB
In perhaps a bit of hometown bias, I have Freddy sneaking into my top 100, currently listed at #99 overall, and 39th at the running back position. In 2013, the Bills rushed for the 2nd most yards per game in the NFL, and also led the league in rushing attempts. Considering Jackson’s prolific pass-blocking ability, he should see plenty of work on 3rd downs this season. 3rd down work should allow Jackson to receive a nice mix of short yardage carries as well as serve as EJ Manuel’s security blanket out of the backfield. Jackson and Spiller each received over 200 carries in 2013 and it would not shock me at all if that trend continued in 2014. Although Spiller has the ability to hit the homerun on any given play, there is no questioning the consistency Jackson brings to the field for the Bills. In his age 32 season last year, Jackson recorded career highs in both rushing touchdowns (9) and receptions (47). Jackson should also see most, if not all, of the short yardage and goal line work in order to keep Spiller out of harm’s way in heavy sets. Fantasy players have expressed concern that newcomer Bryce Brown may eat into some of Jackson’s work, however, Bills head coach Doug Marrone was recently quoted as saying “I’ve never been a guy that has three backs playing in the game. I’ve always believed, and you guys know, in the two backs. It’ll come down to two backs; the two backs going in there.” I’m not sure how many other ways Marrone could express that his goal is to rely on only two backs during any particular game, alleviating some concern around Jackson losing touches this year.