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Fantasy Football: Zach Wilson, Buffalo RBs, Patriots WRs and more AFC East analysis

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One of the most common ways to get started on your fantasy football preparation for the season ahead is to not only look at positional rankings but also at the state of each NFL team's offense.

Which teams are most set up for success? Which teams are set to struggle? Which of those expected bottom-feeder teams have latent fantasy talent to mine from? Which of those top teams could actually disappoint fantasy managers?

Over the next few weeks, fantasy football analyst Liz Loza will sift through every division and highlight the biggest fantasy issues facing each team within. First up, the AFC East.

What will the AFC East bring to the 2022 fantasy season? (Photo by Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)
What will the AFC East bring to the 2022 fantasy season? (Photo by Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)

Buffalo Bills: Which RB will lead the backfield?

Despite being nicknamed “Motor,” it took nearly three years for Devin Singletary’s engine to turn over in Buffalo.

By late November 2021 (and with Zach Moss in and out of the lineup), however, Singletary had emerged as Buffalo’s lead rusher. The third-year player averaged 17 touches per contest (15 rushing and 2 receiving) and recorded six touchdowns from Weeks 12 through 18. The team continued to rely on him into the postseason, during which the former Owl managed an additional three scores.

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It’s that nose for the end zone that made Singletary such an exciting product coming out of FAU (4,287 rushing yards and 67 rushing TDs while in Boca). While the 24-year-old possesses an astounding ability to shimmy, shake and stomp through even the tiniest hole … he’s not fast (4.66) and he’s only 5-foot-7 and 203 pounds. Plus, he’s limited as a pass-catcher (just six receptions over his final year of college and a pro career average of 2.3 per game since 2019).

It makes sense, then, that Buffalo would want to add complementary depth and dynamism to the backfield.

Enter: James Cook.

Dalvin’s little brother won’t break many tackles, but he can glide through space with 4.4 speed and plus fluidity. He can also catch all the balls. And not just little dink and dunks. Cook owns a varied route tree and can be deployed as a receiver in several ways.

The knock against the rookie is that he’s never thrived as a workhorse, but has instead primarily been considered a third-down option. While a team like Buffalo certainly has the capacity to unlock a player’s full potential, it’s unlikely that Cook will be given the lion’s share of touches from the jump. But that doesn’t mean that Cook can’t eventually overtake Singletary.

And the "when" of that is what fantasy heads are betting on.

After the Bills flirted with J.D. McKissic, it was evident they weren’t fully sold on Singletary. I’d argue that the floor they got in Cook is well beyond the ceiling that McKissic could have provided. Given that Buffalo spent a second-round pick on the rookie, the org appears to agree. That sort of enthusiasm for a position undervalued by the market demonstrates a prime opportunity for Cook. Ironically, the rookie is currently being drafted in the 12th-round, a few spots behind McKissic.

I’ll take that kind of value on upside any day … even if it means having to stash him until Thanksgiving.

Miami Dolphins: Can Tua support Tyreek?

He’d better.

After the organization hires a system-friendly HC, efforts to fortify the offensive line by adding Terron Armstead and Connor Williams and steals away Patrick Mahomes’ speediest weapon, there are no more excuses for Tua Tagovailoa.

I stanned the Phins QB1 hard coming out of college, going so far as to write: “[Tua] plays with the confidence and improvisational ability of a man raised to believe football is his destiny.”

Tyreek Hill added to that platitude, stating earlier this week that Tua throws one of the “prettiest balls” he’s ever caught. The star wideout went on to praise his QB’s accuracy and arm strength, adding that he was supremely confident in Tagovailoa’s abilities.

The jaded skeptics will roll their eyes and mutter something along the lines of, “What else is he supposed to say?”

And that’s fair.

Miami Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill (10) has been a fantasy star
Will Tyreek Hill be a fantasy star as a Dolphin? (AP Photo/Mary Holt)

The difference is, Tua has been granted all of the wishes this year. At his ceiling, he’ll never be Mahomes, but he could be Drew Brees: A QB that is accurate, poised and mobile enough.

What fans need from Tua is not proof of a cannon. In fact, it’s not measurable at all. Tua needs to convince himself — and then the rest of us — that he believes football is his destiny … and he’s ready to step into it.

I’m buying in.

The timing and rhythm between Hill and Tagovailoa are obviously key to the duo’s success, but their commitment to chemistry seems legit. Additionally, noting Jaylen Waddle’s top-14 dominator rating from last year (29.4%) and Mike Gesicki’s success in the slot (412 slot snaps, TE1) Tua’s stats should improve. He may never manage a YPA above 7.5 but that doesn’t mean he can’t flirt with 4,500 passing yards and top-15 fantasy numbers.

As for Hill? The man has finished inside the top-11 in terms of fantasy points per game for five consecutive seasons. The change of scenery will of course affect his production, but his expected volume in combination with his elite skill set should counterbalance the dip in efficiency.

I expect the Cheetah to post top-12 fantasy numbers with a stat line around 90-1,160-7.

New England Patriots: Who is their No. 1 WR?

When I spoke to Mac Jones at Radio Row this past February, he immediately singled out Kendrick Bourne as a player who demonstrated immense growth over the season. Jones also talked about the rapport he had developed with Bourne. That trust was evident — not just in Bourne’s comments about Jones’ physique at OTAs — but via the wideout’s 2021 numbers.

The former 49er was third in team targets (behind Jakobi Meyers who drew 126 looks and Hunter Henry who recorded 75), but averaged an impressive 11.4 YPT (WR2) and 14.5 YPR (WR21). Utilizing reliable hands (78.6% catch rate, WR3) and fantastic YAC ability (6.7 per reception, WR5) Bourne improved Jones’ passer rating when targeted, particularly on third downs (153.8, WR3). That chemistry — especially in clutch moments — will keep Bourne productive throughout 2022 (FF: 58-787-4)

There is a good chance, however, that DeVante Parker eats into his opportunities this fall. New England acquired Parker from Miami in early April. It was reported that Parker requested — and the Dolphins allowed — the intra-divisional move. That’s a little curious, particularly given the soft tissue issues that kept Parker off the field for seven games last season.

Still, if Bill Belichick — who, at least thus far, appears to be the offensive play-caller — wanted him, then BB is going to use him. Probably as the team’s X receiver, too. At 6-foot-3 and 209 pounds, Parker is a physical pass-catcher who excels in contested situations, earning at least a top-21 contested catch rate over his last three consecutive campaigns. The 29-year-old is also two years removed from his 2019 career effort (72-1,202-9, WR7).

It’s a gamble I’ll gladly take given his late-12th round ADP — especially noting the juiciness of his Week 1 matchup @ Miami. 2022 FF: 56-728-5

New York Jets: Will Zach Wilson make the leap in 2022?

Well, it’s certainly going to take a leap of faith on the part of fantasy managers (Wilson is currently the QB23, per ECR), but the Jets appear deeply committed.

Interestingly, despite earning a True Passer Rating of just 72.2 (QB25), Wilson managed a top-10 Red-Zone Accuracy rating (7.2) and a top-seven Deep Ball Catchable Pass Rate (67.4%). While he certainly made mistakes, his receivers didn’t do him any favors, recording 41 dropped passes.

That should change with the addition of first-round selection Garrett Wilson, whose body control, ability to separate (93rd percentile separation against single coverage in 2021, per PFF) and creativity after the catch made him one of the most effective deep targets in the FBS.

Furthermore, big bodies like C.J. Uzomah (whose 6-foot-5, 263-pound frame regularly bailed out a similarly besieged QB last year) and Tyler Conklin (89th percentile burst) give Wilson reliable options in the red area. There is now depth and dynamism at the TE position, offering the second-year QB renewed security over the middle.

Heading into 2022 there’s also a chance for the BYU product to realize his potential as a rusher. With Mekhi Becton (hopefully) back to health and Laken Tomlinson added, Wilson should have more time to show off the plus anticipation and elusiveness as a runner that made him a top-two overall pick.

Frenetic athleticism folded into an uptempo outside zone scheme is what made the marriage between Wilson and (Kyle Shanahan protege) OC Mike LaFleur so seemingly perfect. While the honeymoon for these two is over, fantasy managers could sneakily benefit from their clear commitment to one another.

Engage with Liz on social @LizLoza_FF

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