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Buffalo Bills running back analysis prior to training camp

During the playoff drought years prior to Josh Allen, the Buffalo Bills leaned on their running backs for offensive success. Think back to all the running backs the Bills had through just the 2000s. Travis Henry to Willis McGahee, the McGahee to Marshawn Lynch, then Lynch to Fred Jackson, then it was Jackson and C.J. Spiller, then it was LeSean McCoy, and here we are now.

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During the playoff drought years prior to Josh Allen, the Buffalo Bills leaned on their running backs for offensive success. Think back to all the Running Backs the Bills had through just the 2000s. Travis Henry to Willis McGahee, then McGahee to Marshawn Lynch, then Lynch to Fred Jackson, then it was Jackson and C.J. Spiller, then it was LeSean McCoy, and here we are now.

All of the Running Backs I mentioned above were leaned on heavily for production. Without a franchise quarterback, the Buffalo Bills were left to just one winning formula. That formula was old school football. Good defense and a good ground game to control the clock and keep the ball out of the opponent’s possession.

Now the Buffalo Bills are in a place where their air attack is what wins them football games. In 2020, the Bills attempted 596 passes to 411 rushes. However, just because the volume of rushes decreases doesn’t mean the efficiency has to as well. In 2019, the Bills had a 4.4 yards per rush average, and last year that efficiency dipped to 4.2 yards per rush. Although there weren’t major changes made to the backfield or the offensive line, improvement is still possible in 2021.

Some Bills fans may be yearning for one Running Back to emerge as the bell cow that takes the majority of the touches. However, the time for that in the modern NFL has come and gone. Teams understand that running backs have shorter careers due to the nature of the position. Therefore, we see more and more teams employing a “Running Back by committee” mentality. Something that was actually made popular by the Carolina Panthers with Jonathan Stewert and DeAngelo Williams.

After drafting Devin Singletary and Zack Moss in the third round of back-to-back drafts, it’s tough to imagine that one will get an overwhelming majority of carries. Yes, one will have more carries than the other, but they want to get as much out of those respective investments as possible. Therefore, it would be wise to split carries between them as evenly as possible.

Who plays what role in the 2021 Buffalo Bills offense?

In my humble opinion, I think Zack Moss will be the primary ball carrier. Thus, the one that will end the season with the most carries and be the one that’s in the first offensive huddle for most games. I think Moss will be RB1 for various reasons, but mostly because of my personal preference/attachment to his running style. His ability to be a factor in all phases of the offense enables him to be on the field in a variety of situations. He can catch, run with power, and pass block. Furthermore, prior to Moss’s injury in the playoffs, we started to see the coaching staff prefer him to Singletary on multiple occasions. As Moss got more and more acclimated to the pro level, we started to see him getting more opportunities.

However, I think Moss will be RB1a while Singletary is RB1b. I don’t think there will be a glaring disparity in their opportunities next year. I just think that the coaching staff already showed proof that they prefer Moss to Singletary when both are healthy. With that being said, Moss is coming off an ugly ankle injury from the playoff game against the Colts. We have already seen footage of him wearing the red non-contact jersey during OTAs. Therefore, Singletary will likely start with the starting running back gig while Moss gets back into game shape. From there, it’s Singletary’s job to lose and Moss’s job to win back.

2021 Buffalo Bills RB3

Beyond Singletary and Moss are a bevy of options when it comes to who could possibly step in and be the third running back on the depth chart. The Buffalo Bills signed Matt Breida this offseason to fill the void of speed in the running back room. However, Week 17 hero Antonio Williams will still be competing for a spot on the roster. Furthermore, Christian Wade has been marinating on the practice squad waiting for his chance to contribute during the regular season. But Taiwan Jones continues to be the active third Running Back on game days because of his contributions on special teams.

It would be nice to roster someone like Breida. However, if he can’t contribute on special teams, he could end up just like T.J. Yeldon and find himself a healthy scratch on gamedays. The same goes for Wade and Williams when it comes to being that final Running Back to make the final roster. Yeah, the Bills could keep four on the final roster, but it’s unlikely all four would be active on gamedays. Therefore, it could be an efficient use of roster spots to have someone like Breida, Wade, or Williams contribute on offense and special teams. Opposed to rostering Jones purely because of his prowess as a gunner on punt coverage at the expense of his offensive utility.

Air Raid Hour recap

if you enjoyed my analysis of the Buffalo Bills 2021 running back room prior to training camp, you will love the most recent episode of the Air Raid Hour. We went into deeper detail when it comes to all of these topics on the Buffalo Bills running backs. Additionally, Judge and I talked about recent news including the prospects of a Zach Ertz trade to Buffalo and a potentially slimming Star Lotulelei.

If you missed us live you can watch the replay by clicking the link embedded above. If you disagree with anything I said or have any feedback you can reach out in the comment section or let me know on my Twitter @MirskyKendall.

As always, go Bills!