I have a hard time envisioning it happening this year, but the Buffalo Bills' offense could be sneaky good in 2013. The only divisional powerhouse is New England, and they are going through plenty of changes this offseason. Miami's defense has, too, but they appear to be vulnerable against the pass. The New York Jets lost their best player in cornerback Darrelle Revis this offseason, which will not result in addition by subtraction.
The key for Buffalo resides solely with the success of rookie quarterback EJ Manuel. He could be much better than you expect. The heady freshman has a respectable offensive line and a potentially lethal ground game to fall back on. Manuel's new offense will rely on changing the tempo of the game to keep defenses off-balance, and it somewhat models what Sean Payton runs in New Orleans. Sure, Manuel has to beat out Kevin Kolb. OK, you can stop laughing now.
Buffalo's receiving corps has been built in what I consider ideal fashion. They have a veteran in Stevie Johnson to lead the way and mentor the cadets. He is not elite, although Johnson offers enough to keep defenders on their heels if they play too relaxed.
Second-year man T.J. Graham (5-foot-11, 188 pounds) is built for the slot, which is from where I think he ultimately will excel. He didn't get to show it too often last year, particularly because of system limitations, but he can flat-out fly down the field. Graham's rookie average of 10.4 yards per reception is not a fair indication of what he can do in the vertical game.
Robert Woods, a possession receiver with downfield ability, should eventually move into the starting lineup opposite the often mercurial Johnson. The rookie receiver from USC has all of the physical tools (6-foot, 201 pounds) necessary to be a stud at the next level, but he has to do it before being crowned the next big thing. Blocking is an important aspect the receivers' responsibilities in this offense; Woods is very capable in this area of his game.
While Graham can stretch a defense, rookie Marquise Goodwin is the epitome of a burner. He ran a 4.27-second 40-yard dash at this year's NFL Scouting Combine and is at his best streaking down the sidelines. Goodwin doesn't have the strongest collegiate resume, yet he brings a home run factor this offense desperately needed.
Does Manuel have what it takes to lead this team?
Quarterback-turned-wideout Brad Smith should be a specialty player for the Bills, but he has no fantasy value at this point. Still, he brings a veteran presence to a youthful crew.
Marcus Easley has shown flashes of having what it takes to contribute, but injuries have robbed him of valuable experience. He spent much of last year on the practice squad and will likely be fighting for a roster spot in training camp.
Yet another rookie, Da'Rick Rogers (6-foot-2, 217 pounds), has freakish talent and potential. Unfortunately, he also has immeasurable downside because of immaturity and character concerns. He could be a true X-factor in this offense, perhaps even climbing into a starting role during the season, assuming he makes it out of the final wave of offseason roster cuts. His situation really is that volatile.
Tight end Scott Chandler (knee) returns but is coming off anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction. He has participated, at least in a limited fashion, in offseason minicamps and should be available come Week 1. However, that doesn't mean he will be 100 percent healthy. This offense could lead to big numbers for him, if his health is right.
Rookie seventh-round pick Chris Gragg could be the future of the position for the Bills. As a former wide receiver, with 4.50 speed, he has killer upside in a hybrid tight end role, even if it doesn't come to fruition for a few seasons. That doesn't help fantasy owners today, I know, but he could be used down the seam in mismatch situations with head coach Doug Marrone's creativity.
Fantasy football value
Must-own players: C.J. Spiller (RB1), Fred Jackson (RB4), Stevie Johnson (WR2/3), Robert Woods (WR5)
Possible sleepers: EJ Manuel (QB3), T.J. Graham (WR6), Da'Rick Rogers (waiver wire matchup play)
Passing game: @Miami Dolphins (Week 7), @New Orleans Saints (Week 8), New York Jets (Week 11), Atlanta Falcons (Week 13), @Jacksonville Jaguars (Week 15), Miami Dolphins (Week 16)
Running game: @New York Jets (Week 3), @New Orleans Saints (Week 8), @Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Week 14), Jacksonville Jaguars (Week 15)
I cannot stress it enough that this entire situation runs through Manuel. It will go as he does, and he brings enough to the table to make this offense competitive, especially against suspect opponents. Do not rule out the Bills because of their recent history of disappointing play. While much needs to align, particularly involving the team's youth, don't be caught off-guard if this team catches the league by surprise.