Charles Clay Sleeper 2017
This summer, the Buffalo Bills hired an entirely new offensive coaching staff, which has left many people questioning whether it is safe to take Buffalo Bills players in fantasy football. As I wrote in my article analyzing Rick Dennison’s arrival, things will likely not change much for Buffalo, as they will continue to run a west coast offense designed to get the ball in LeSean McCoy’s hands as much as possible. Anthony Lynn quickly fixed the mess that Greg Roman left the team in, and the result was that the Buffalo Bills made a late, yet unsuccessful push towards a playoff spot.
Rick Dennison worked with Gary Kubiak for over a decade, and it is likely that the Bills offense will look a lot like the short pass offenses that Kubiak used in Baltimore, Houston, and Denver. Historically, Kubiak’s offenses were pretty effective, so Bills fans are probably hopeful going into next season.
One player who has stagnated in Buffalo is Charles Clay. Clay was signed to a five-year $38 million deal back in 2015, but he has failed to really deliver in Buffalo as he has been used primarily as a check down option, and as an extra run blocker for LeSean McCoy. To pay a guy this much money to be used in such a small role is one of the reasons that the Bills haven’t made the playoffs for 17 years.
Clay has barely been fantasy relevant since he joined Buffalo from Miami, although he did show improvement towards the end of the season as he put up 229 yards and scored four touchdowns, and had a breakout performance of sorts in the week 16 matchup against the Miami Dolphins, which was great news for me as I started him in one of my finals games.
Clay’s improved performances raise a question, and that is whether we can trust him next year. Fantasy Football Calculator currently have Charles Clay going undrafted, which is puzzling as I feel he is worth a flier in the late rounds.
One reason for this is that he is the second most reliable receiver on the Bills roster, and in honesty, their most reliable receiver is not even that valuable, as Sammy Watkins has missed a lot of time in recent years. Zay Jones is a prospect, but it is unrealistic to expect high production from a rookie, so this makes Clay the de-facto second receiver on the Buffalo Bills roster. The Bills lost 76 targets and over 600 yards when Robert Woods opted to join the Los Angeles Rams, and although Jones will take some of these, it is realistic to think that Charles Clay may have an expanded role in this offense, as there is a vacuum in the receiving corps.
Clay was targeted more often in the red zone than any other Bills receiver last year, and while Sammy Watkins obviously contributed to this, Clay should still see some red zone work as he is a reliable target underneath, and someone who could become the safety blanket for Tyrod Taylor. Clay does not have the highest ceiling in the world, but he should have a high floor as he is the 2nd best Bills receiver, and he started to get more looks towards the end of last year.
Another reason that makes Clay an attractive deep sleeper, is that tight ends have historically done well in the Gary Kubiak/Rick Dennison offense. Gary Kubiak had great success with Owen Daniels in Houston, and to a lesser extent in Denver and Baltimore. Below are Daniels fantasy finishes throughout his career in Gary Kubiak’s system in Houston. Daniels was affected by injuries in 2009 and 2010, so these seasons have not been included, although Joel Dreessen did finish with 73 fantasy points in the 2009 season, and Owen Daniels was averaging nearly ten points per game before he went down in the 2013 season.
As you can see, tight ends historically do quite well in this system as the scheme prioritizes short gains, and although Clay isn’t going to be a top tier tight end, he could be a reliable option who could be useful in certain matchups. The Bills play the Miami Dolphins twice a year, and the Dolphins are a team who don’t have a single effective coverage linebacker so that Clay could feast underneath in those situations.
Clay is worth a stash in very deep leagues, as he has good matchup potential, and should have a very high floor which makes him a reliable flex or TE option in bye weeks, and when players have tough matchups. Many people do not draft two tight ends, but Clay could be a valuable person to pair with a late round rookie flier such as Evan Engram or David Njoku if you are a person that prefers to wait on a tight end.
In 10 man leagues, or leagues with fewer rounds, Clay isn’t worth a look, but in 12 or 14 man leagues, he is absolutely worth a look as a stash option. He is in an offense that historically makes tight ends look good, and he could take advantage of the extra attention given to Sammy Watkins and LeSean McCoy. Don’t bank on Clay as a TE1 from week one, but it wouldn’t be that surprising if he developed into one.