One of the most popular sleepers of last season, Buffalo Bills WR Gabriel Davis is anything but a sleeper heading into 2022, as dynasty fantasy football managers hope he can build off his end-of-season momentum. Is Davis primed for a breakout in 2022, and can he live up to expectations as he assumes a potentially more prominent role in the Bills’ offense?
Gabriel Davis’ dynasty profile for 2022
If you have been following PFN for some time, you likely would have heard me talk up Davis multiple times over the years. I was all-in on the second-year receiver heading into 2021. Davis was coming off a 35-reception, 599-yard, 7-TD, WR57 season as a rookie and appeared ready to take the next step. Interestingly, he finished with nearly identical numbers last season, yet we all felt they were disappointing.
Playing in all 16 games, Davis hauled in 35 receptions on 63 targets for 549 yards and 6 touchdowns to finish as the WR58. The addition of Emmanuel Sanders did take away some of the reps we hoped would go to Davis.
No matter how much the Bills pass (59%) or run 3+ WR sets (81%), the bulk of targets would always go to Stefon Diggs. Yet, something happened in the playoffs. Davis went absolutely ballistic. It’s why dynasty managers are so bullish on Davis for 2022.
Is Davis’ playoff performance a sign of things to come?
In the divisional matchup against the Chiefs, Davis scored 52.1 PPR points, just over 41% of his season total in a single game. He hauled in 8 of 10 targets for 201 yards with 4 touchdowns. It was one of the most absurd games you’ll ever see. However, this was not an outlier, but a continuation of a trend that started in the regular season.
Davis was Buffalo’s WR4 all season in terms of snaps. Diggs (1,066), Sanders (790), and Cole Beasley (738) all out-snapped Davis (664). From Weeks 1-13, Davis never played more than 52% of snaps. In Weeks 14-20 (six games), Davis averaged 84.1% of the snaps. What changed? The absence of Sanders in Weeks 15, 16, and 17 due to injury.
Over those final four regular-season contests, Davis had 16 receptions on 32 targets for 207 yards and 3 TDs. Even if you want to throw out the outlier game in the playoffs, from Week 14 through the Wild Card Round, Davis was on a pace for 61.2 receptions, 843.2 yards, and 13.6 touchdowns.
That’s 227.1 PPR points or just 0.2 points less than Amon-Ra St. Brown, who was WR21 on the season. Cut the TDs in half, and he is still a top-30 receiver. And remember, that is without the game against the Chiefs. Davis was the No. 2 receiver well before his blow-up game. All it did was place eyes on him and raise his value.
The Bills’ receiving room will look different in 2022
Why is this important? Sanders is 34 and slated to hit free agency, and the Bills have allowed Beasley to seek a trade. Davis was and will remain the WR2 of the team for the 2022 season, assuming they don’t add a big name in the draft.
If you wish to strike while the iron is hot and flip Davis for a haul, go for it. But I am not one of those people who will recommend trading away every player who does something good. That’s how you stay a middle-of-the-pack team and always say, “next year will be the year for me.”
I see the merit in trading Davis if you are risk-averse. But in my eyes, I see a receiver who is poised for a third-year breakout, has top-24 upside, and is attached to the No. 1 dynasty QB for at least two more seasons.
Fantasy projection for Davis
I love Davis as a dynasty asset and have since he came out of the Bounce House. I’m actually surprised I don’t have one of his jerseys. I’m going to pause here and take care of that. Be back in a bit. Okay, one expensive trip to Pristine Auction, and I am back. Also, no, that wasn’t a joke. It just happened (jersey No. 37 in total over the last year).
For starters, I do not see Sanders coming back to Buffalo. While he is a great veteran presence and still a valuable receiver, I see him getting a contract elsewhere. Also, odds seem to be favoring Beasley leaving the Bills. While Beasley is a target machine, he lacks any significant upside, so this isn’t a substantial deal.
I project the Bills to bring back Isaiah McKenzie this offseason to fill the slot role. He is one of the more underrated complementary receivers in the NFL and just needs opportunities to show it.
With Diggs slated to see somewhere in the ballpark of 27-29% of the WR targets as he has since joining the Bills (27% team target share), Davis projects favorably into the No. 2 role and should see roughly 18-21% of the team targets or 27-30% of the receiving volume. Remember, Josh Allen threw the ball a staggering 646 times last season, so even at 18%, that’s 116 targets.
Throw in some back-of-the-napkin math, add in Davis’ average depth of target, catch percentage, and utilization in the offense, and it’s not far off to get a projection around 110+ targets with 65 receptions, 975 yards, and 6 touchdowns. That’s 198.5 PPR points as a mid-WR3, which I feel is fair and allows room for growth and upside. Who knows — maybe that jersey might go up in value after all. We’ll consider it an investment opportunity.