Earlier this week we ranked the top quarterbacks for fantasy football in 2017. While we waited for a verdict on Ezekiel Elliott's 2017 season from the NFL to continue our rankings, the Buffalo Bills decided to shake up the receiver rankings at the same time.
On Monday, the Bills signed veteran Anquan Boldin. But the moves made by Buffalo on Friday were intriguing to say the least.
First, the Bills sent their number one receiver, Sammy Watkins, and a 6th round draft pick in the 2018 NFL Draft to the Los Angeles Rams for cornerback E.J. Gaines and a 2nd round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
That move was subsequently followed by another corner-for-receiver deal. Buffalo dealt corner Ronald Darby to Philadelphia for Jordan Matthews and a 3rd round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Buffalo adding a couple picks is a nice component of these deals, and they also saved money. Both nice. Neither has any impact on fantasy football this season.
So let's talk about Watkins and Matthews.
- Watkins, 24, was the fourth overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft out of Clemson.
- Matthews, 25, was the 42nd overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft out of Vanderbilt.
Advantage Watkins, who was hyped coming out of a football powerhouse program and has athletic ability for days. Matthews went to Vanderbilt.
- Watkins is listed at 6-1 and 211 pounds.
- Matthews is listed at 6-3 and 212 pounds.
In their careers,
- Watkins has 153 receptions out of 275 targets. He has played in 37 games.
- Matthews has 225 receptions out of 349 targets. He has played in 46 games.
Everything here is a significant advantage to Matthews, who has been a more consistent part of the offense in Philadelphia in spite of quarterback changes and has been on the field more than Watkins during the three years since they were drafted. Indeed, Matthews is one of only five receivers in NFL history to catch at least 65 balls and post at least 800 receiving yards in each of his first three seasons - and he did that with a merry-go-round at quarterback in Philly.
- Watkins has 2,459 yards receiving, averaging 16.1 yards per reception. He has scored 17 touchdowns.
- Matthews has 2,673 yards receiving, averaging 11.9 yards per reception. He has scored 19 touchdowns.
Advantage Watkins. The dynamic athletic ability that made him the fourth overall pick has shown - when he's been healthy - on the field in Buffalo, leading to one of the highest yard-per-reception averages over the last three years in the NFL. Matthews is more of a steady possession receiver.
That's all the past, though. What about the new homes of these guys?
Let's start with Matthews, who heads to a Buffalo team that has a lot of nice pieces but the mix doesn't feel settled.
Shady McCoy will remain a key component of their passing game as well, and we already mentioned Boldin. However, the problem in Buffalo is simple: there doesn't appear to be a vertical threat on the roster.
The Bills used a second round pick on Zay Jones out of East Carolina this spring, He put up huge numbers at East Carolina (caught an NCAA record 158 passes for 1,746 yards and 8 touchdowns) but his average depth of target was only 8.3 yards. Indeed, the perfect mentors for the rookie might be Boldin and Matthews.
But who is going to stretch out an opposing defense?
If we back off the need for a deep threat, though, the reality is that the Bills host three games to open December before traveling to New England and Miami to close out the season. If you've paid attention to professional football in your life, you undoubtedly know that Buffalo isn't a kind place to play once the snow begins to fall; deep threats are great only if you can get the ball to them. Having more consistent receivers will likely be a good thing for the Bills.
Overall Fantasy Impact: Bills
I think the biggest winner in these deals is quarterback Tyrod Taylor. He won't be able to open up the field, but now he has two dependable veteran targets and a good rookie coming to work with. When the weather goes to hell in Buffalo, Taylor should be able to get the ball out quickly and keep the chains moving. Whether or not the Bills can get the ball in the end zone will be something to keep an eye on, though.
Let's look at the situation in LA now, where Watkins will certainly bring some sexy to a team that wasn't lacking in that department.
In 2016, the Rams used the first overall pick on Jared Goff out of Cal to be the face of the franchise as they moved from St. Louis to LA. Rookie seasons aren't an end-all measuring stick for quarterbacks, but Goff's rookie campaign wasn't very good. He completed under 55 percent of his pass attempts and threw seven touchdowns to only five touchdowns.
But, again, he was a rookie. And running back Todd Gurley - an emerging young superstar in his own right - was banged up, which put more pressure on Goff and Case Keenum to win games with their arms.
Tavon Austin is the biggest threat on the Rams' offense. Watkins has speed to stretch a defense; Austin has Devin Hester-level speed. He's a game-breaker in every way, but the Rams have struggled to find the right role for him. He finished second on the Rams in rushing yards last year (albeit with only 149 yards on the season) and third in receiving yards with only 509.
The Rams needed real receivers to open up space for Austin.
So they added... two former Bills.
Robert Woods, who spent the last three seasons playing opposite Watkins in Buffalo, signed in LA earlier in the offseason. The addition of Watkins will likely shift the two back into the roles they played with the Bills, with Woods being more of a possession receiver; Woods had 51 receptions for 613 yards and one touchdown last year.
Overall Fantasy Impact: Rams
To me, the big winner here is Gurley. Woods, Watkins and Austin is a more interesting mix at the receiver position than the Rams has last year, should present more opportunities for the Ram's quarterback to make big plays, and should open up the field for Gurley. Because the quarterback position is still a mess, Gurley will still need to be the heartbeat of the offense but now there are more options for the ball to get spread out.