Fantasy Football: How Sammy Watkins' Injury Impacts the Buffalo Bills
Then, Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News dropped a bomb that sent shockwaves throughout Western New York and fantasy football teams across the country.
Star wide receiver Sammy Watkins had X-rays Sunday night after feeling severe pain and discomfort following Buffalo's 13-7 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
Sources: Fear last night was Sammy Watkins might miss rest of season. Dealing w/ foot pain https://t.co/hFCqJ4ORp2 pic.twitter.com/PeA5vQoTHS
— Manish Mehta (@MMehtaNYDN) September 12, 2016
Since then, Mehta has backed off a bit from his original report, stating that Watkins is dealing with a pain management issue.
The local guys are taking a more middle-of-the road approach:
Watkins story updated: Could miss several weeks. Has to decide if he can play through the pain. #Bills https://t.co/pxBv4NkGke
— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) September 12, 2016
And nationally, Ian Rapoport has a slightly less gloomy view:
#Bills WR Sammy Watkins will likely have to play through pain this year. Nothing surgically to do. #Bills don’t plan on shutting him down.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) September 12, 2016
As for head coach Rex Ryan?
#Bills HC Rex Ryan: We're not thinking of shutting down Sammy Watkins right now.
— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) September 12, 2016
Luckily for us, we have a consensus, right?
This is all coming on the heels of four-game suspensions to Marcell Dareus and offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson, a season-ending knee injury to rookie linebacker Reggie Ragland, and a six-week stint on PUP for first-round edge rusher Shaq Lawson.
And we're only through Week 1, folks. After 16 years and counting without a playoff berth, can the Bills right the ship?
A Look at Week 1
Buffalo's offensive showing was, well, "offensive." And that was with their stud Watkins in the mix.
The Ravens were able to contain the explosive downfield plays that Watkins and Tyrod Taylor were able to produce seemingly at will during the second half of 2015 by playing two deep safeties, purposely funneling the Bills receivers into the short-to-intermediate portions of the field.
Watkins was seemingly open all game when running routes in the middle of the field. However, Watkins finished with only 43 yards while catching 4 of his 6 targets.
If Watkins were to miss any time, teams would then be more likely to stack the box with eight men to take away LeSean McCoy in the run game. Meanwhile, as our Joe Redemann pointed out this pre-season when news of foot surgery first hit our Twitter timelines, the cupboard is awfully bare in the Buffalo Bills' receiving corps.
To illustrate that point further, here is the Week 1 output from the other "active" pass-catchers in Buffalo.
That. Is. All.
It's no wonder the Bills were 3 for 13 (23%) on third-down conversions.
Impact on the Team
It really was a pathetic showing, and if Watkins does indeed miss time, the Bills are in trouble.
Robert Woods becomes the de facto number-one wide receiver in Watkins' absence. However, among 54 receivers with at least 75 targets last year, Woods ranked 47th in Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) per target, which indicates how many points above expectation he added to his offense on a per-target basis.
The league average for receivers was 0.67, and Watkins (1.05) paced all receivers.
Tight end Charles Clay would also need to become a bigger factor if Buffalo wants to move the ball on offense, but he finished 15th in Reception NEP per target among 19 tight ends with at least 75 targets last season.
Either Marquise Goodwin or Brandon Tate would be relied on to stretch the field to keep the defense honest. Goodwin grades out as one of the most athletic receivers in the NFL, according to Player Profiler, much more so than Tate.
The biggest beneficiary of all could be LeSean McCoy. Yesterday, he accumulated 20 touches, producing 70 yards and a touchdown; importantly, Shady was targeted 4 times in the passing game.
Those 20 touches would seem to be a safe floor and a boon to his PPR value, as his playmaking ability would be needed even more sans Watkins.
As for how this would affect fantasy darling Tyrod Taylor, the sample is extremely small. Watkins missed two games in 2015 that Taylor played, and per Rotoviz's Game Splits App, the impact to Taylor's fantasy output was fairly minimal, as Taylor scored 21.12 fantasy points per gam in two games without him compared to 23.18 with him.
Part of Taylor's fantasy value is buoyed by his rushing output, which is the beauty of owning a running quarterback. However, let's not allow the small sample size to fool us. "Tygod" will be under even more pressure to perform miracles to keep Buffalo's season from falling off the rails before it's barely gotten on track.
But over the next four weeks, the Bills play the New York Jets (who ranked 6th in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play last year), the Arizona Cardinals (7th), the New England Patriots (12th), and the Los Angeles Rams (8th).
With all the conflicting reports out there, now is not the time to do something hastily. Don't go dropping Sammy Watkins in your fantasy league. Remember, Watkins may not even miss any time, although with a Week 2 matchup against the Jets on Thursday, you can certainly count on a "Questionable" tag on the injury report at the very least.
If you are counting on Tyrod Taylor as your quarterback, well, you might want to think about "Living the Stream" and playing waiver-wire quarterbacks until we find out just how much time Watkins will miss, if any. Heck, based solely on the upcoming schedule, that probably isn't a bad idea anyways.
If Woods and Clay are available on your waiver wire, it can't hurt to snatch one up in case a volume bump is on the horizon. But, if Watkins does sit out Week 2, playing Woods against the Jets on a short week isn't advisable.
Based on their anemic showing in Week 1 alone, it was probably a good idea to steer clear of Buffalo's stuck-in-gear offense until it showed some improvement (assuming you had other options). If Watkins misses time -- or is less than 100% -- the only stampede we might see in Buffalo will likely be coming from opposing defenses.