By Dustin Pritchard and Josh Bolles, 3.8.2013
Don’t pick a bone with new Buffalo Bills Head Coach Doug Marrone. As the Head Coach of the Syracuse Orange the past four seasons, he was known for his discipline, and he transformed a team that had suffered a gloomy seven straight losing seasons and turned the program around, winning two bowl games. Of course his standards of accountability were important, but more relevant to fantasy football owners is that fact that Doug Marrone is one of the best offensive minds out there.
In his final season as Syracuse Head Coach in 2012, the offense averaged 476 yards per game, a school record. Syracuse Athletic Director Daryl Gross understood what Marrone had done done in his time as the Orange football coach.
“We just had the most prolific offense we’ve ever had here,” Gross said. “And you just look at the West Virginia game to see how tough our defense is. Coach Marrone did a great job of installing the concepts and philosophy that have taken us to where we are – the hybrid spread/West Coast offense that no one else runs and a tough, physical, disciplined, run-through-the-wall defense.”
Marrone honed his offensive mind as the OC of the New Orleans Saints from 2006 – 2008, where he was a key part of Drew Brees’ and Sean Payton‘s immediate success. He left the year before they won the Super Bowl, but his importance to the installation and his knowledge of that offense cannot be understated. This type of offense (kind of a west coast/spread offense) yields profits for savvy fantasy owners.
In 2005 the Saints had a paltry 31st ranked offense. In 2006, when Marrone became the OC, the team’s offense jumped all the way to 5th best. Marrone’s final season as Saints OC, 2008, the team had the league’s best offense. Of course you have to give credit to Head Coach Sean Payton, but do not make the mistake of discrediting Marrone just because Payton’s Saints teams have had some success offensively without him.
From a fantasy perspective, Marrone’s running backs have seemed to benefit the most. Before coaching for the Saints, he served as the New York Jets Offensive Line Coach from 2002 – 2005, helping his hogs pave the way for RB Curtis Martin, who is now in the Hall of Fame. With the Saints, it’s almost ridiculous how often they were utilized, especially in the pass game. In 2006, Reggie Bush caught 88 passes for 742 yards and rushed for another 565, with 8 total TD, as the team’s 2nd RB. Deuce McAllister rushed for 1057, 10 TD, and pitched in 30 receptions for 198 yards. In 2007 the numbers were down a bit, but still impressive as Bush hauled in 73 catches for 417 yards, 581 rush yards and 6 total TD., with Aaron Stecker and Pierre Thomas picking up the slack. 2009 brought Pierre Thomas 12 total TD and over 800 rushing/receiving yards and Reggie Bush rushed for 404 with 2 TD and caught 52 balls for 440 and 4 TD, in 10 games. Deuce McAllister came back from an ACL injury to rush for 418 yards and 5 TD. We can learn from this.
Two main points: Marrone’s offenses favored a running back rotation (which we knew with Buffalo given they have CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson). Secondly, Marrone likes to throw to his running backs, a lot. This is very welcome news for Spiller and Jackson, both of which are excellent pass catchers. We expect Spiller to have a dominant season (#7 RB right now). Fred Jackson is an obvious injury risk, but still has the talent to contribute fantasy points, albeit inconsistently. Both should be drafted.
The receiving situation in Buffalo, outside of Stevie Johnson, is messy. Besides Stevie, they have TJ Graham, Marcus Easley, Chris Hogan, and Kevin Elliot signed. These are not draftable in commodities even in the deepest of fantasy leagues. Expect the Bills to bring in a load of help at this position via the draft and free agency. Over the past three Stevie Johnson (#25 WR right now) has been pretty consistent at a little over 1000 yards, around 80 receptions, and 10-6 TD. We expect him to get a small bump in yardage just because of the new offense, but the QB position is a big question mark and obviously whoever it ends up being will have a huge impact the rest of the offense.
The Bills could cut QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. They have Tarvaris Jackson, who has some previous experience starting with the Vikings and the Seahawks (36 career games started. More than you thought huh), but he doesn’t represent a good option, at least for fantasy purposes. He’s only eclipsed 3000 yards once, in 14 games as a starter for the Hawks in 2011, but he only tossed 14 TD to 13 INT. No matter how friendly the system, Tarvaris’ presence doesn’t look to do any favors to the receivers at least. The draft, a trade, and free agency of course always options as well..QB is the Bills’ biggest need, but it remains to be seen what they will do, so this is a fluid situation. Keep an eagle’s eye on this one.