If I were a betting man, I would be willing to bet that the majority of Buffalo Bills fans had never heard of Devin Singletary (aka “Motor”) when the Bills made him the 11th pick in the 3rd round of the 2019 NFL Draft. I wouldn’t blame you either. No disrespect, but it’s not like there’s a huge national spotlight on football programs in Conference USA. Teams such as UTSA, North Texas, UTEP, Rice, Middle Tennessee, and Florida Atlantic – to name a few – drown in a sea of Power 5 Conference programs with multiple National Championships between them. As true as that may be, every so often, NFL pro scouts and General Managers find the proverbial “diamond in the rough”; someone who, for whatever reason, did not attend a Power 5 team but still dominated – proving the old adage to be true: “never judge a book by its cover.”
American Heritage High School: “Motor” Was Born
The state of Florida has produced some of the NFL’s best running backs. Names like Fred Taylor, Edgerrin James, Alfred Morris, Chris Johnson, future Hall of Famer, Frank Gore and current Hall of Famer, Emmitt Smith top the list of all-time great Florida-bred NFL running backs. Devin Singletary, aka “Motor” – a moniker his father Devonn Singletary, Sr. was called while playing at Norfolk State – had dreams and aspirations of seeing his name atop that list one day as well.
He was a 3-star recruit out of American Heritage High School in Delray Beach, FL. He wore the number 2. I shudder to think he knew when choosing his jersey number that he would get not one, but two First-Team All-State selections, amassing a whopping 4,975 rushing yards in the process. Perhaps he did, and we all should take everything he says and does more seriously? Nevertheless, with jaw-dropping stats and high school highlights, one would think every Power 5 school would have beaten down his door to get him to commit to their program. Sadly, that was not the case. I suppose those programs looked at his 5’7” stature and dismissed his high school production in favor of a “prototypical” running back? Regardless, everyone else’s loss became one particular university’s gain.
Florida Atlantic University: “Motor” Shines
Florida Atlantic University – a Division I school in Boca Raton, FL – became the new home for the Deerfield Beach native. It ended up being the right choice. After only 3 seasons with the Owls, Singletary racked up 4,287 rushing yards on 714 carries (averaging six yards per attempt) and 66 rushing touchdowns with 397 receiving yards to boot.
In 2017, Singletary’s motor powered him to an incredible season in which he led the nation in total rushing touchdowns (32), tied the national lead in carries (301), led all FBS players with 162 points scored on 27 regular season touchdowns, and ranked fourth with 1,632 rushing yards. He, deservedly, earned First-Team All-Conference honors after setting the Florida Atlantic single-season record for rushing yardage. If that wasn’t enough, PFF ranked him second in FBS (2017) in missed tackles forced on carries. Needless to say, his collegiate success silenced all doubters wrong and proved why “Motor” was more than a family nickname. Or did it?
Trust the Process: “Motor’s” Dream Comes True
In 2017, then first year Head Coach Sean McDermott began to lay out his plan to build a playoff-caliber team. Part of that plan required the organization, the team and Bills Mafia to “trust the process”. As fate would have it, McDermott led the Buffalo Bills through a miraculous 2017 season in which they had finally broken a 17-year playoff drought.
Prior to McDermott’s arrival, the Bills enjoyed the success of veteran running back LeSean McCoy, whom the organization acquired via trade with the Philadelphia Eagles. As new regimes often do, McDermott and General Manager Brandon Beane made the tough decision to initiate a rebuild in an effort to revamp the organization in their own image, choosing sustained success over short-term gratification.
When Beane assessed his running back room that featured the NFL’s oldest backfield with the 30-year-old McCoy and 30-year-old Chris Ivory (2018), then McCoy and 35-year-old Frank Gore (2019 offseason), he decided to add some much needed youth. The Buffalo Bills selected Devin Singletary in the 3rd round of the 2019 NFL Draft. A dream came true that day for the young man known as “Motor”. He would now embark on a new journey, making his way from the comforts of sunny Florida to the cold, distant land of Buffalo, NY.
“The best situation for me.”Singletary on being mentored by frank gore (courtesy of matt bove/wkbw)
No stranger to adversity, Singletary entered the NFL with a chip on his shoulder and a dog in his heart powered by a motor that never quits. He refused to allow the naysayers tell him what he could or could not do. When Power 5 teams overlooked him, he proved them wrong with a stellar collegiate career. When he was overlooked at the NFL level after posting less than ideal numbers at the 2019 NFL Combine (4.66 40-Yard Dash, 7.32 3-Cone Drill, 4.4 20-Yard Shuttle), he turned the criticism into a chip he placed on his broad shoulders. He immediately went to work, but he did not work alone. After being drafted by the Bills, future Hall of Famer – and fellow Florida native – Frank Gore took the young Singletary under his wings, teaching him everything he knew.
Not every young running back is fortunate enough to enter the NFL with the opportunity to learn from a player of Gore’s caliber. Though young, Singletary was fully aware of what lay before him, calling Buffalo “the best situation for me”. The situation Singletary found himself in apparently fit him like a glove. During his rookie campaign, he amassed 775 rushing yards on 151 carries, averaging 5.1 yards per attempt in only 12 games played while splitting time with Gore. He did, however, experience a slight dip in his sophomore production (687 rushing yards, 156 carries, 4.4 yards per attempt). However, going into year three, Singletary was determined to get better in every single way. I don’t think any Bills fan was ready for what was about to come.
“Motor” Got an Upgrade
Many NFL players use the offseason as time to let their bodies and minds recuperate from the previous season, taking much needed vacations around the world. Then, there are other unproven players who spend their time in the offseason improving themselves. That’s exactly the route Devin Singletary took in the 2021 offseason. An image began to circulate throughout social media that featured a new and improved “Motor” Singletary. Players typically post workout videos in the offseason, but Motor chose a picture because, well, a picture is worth a thousand words.
It was clear that Motor put in the work in the 2021 offseason to upgrade his physique, but would there be an upgrade in his performance on the field? Let’s look at the numbers:
At the conclusion of the Buffalo Bills’ 2021 season, Devin Singletary finished the year with 188 carries for 870 yards rushing (183 yards more than 2020), 4.6 yards per attempt and 7 rushing touchdowns. He finished his third season with career bests in nearly every rushing category.
It is no surprise that running back shelf lives in the NFL are short. Singletary is fully aware of that as he progresses through the fourth and final year of his rookie deal. With the added motivation to perform well enough to earn a second contract, he is eager to prove his worth to the Buffalo Bills or other teams in need of a running back. There is just one problem, however. As the Bills enter their bye week of the 2022 season, Singletary is off to a slow start with only 256 yards rushing (Tied-35th) on 57 carries (Tied-31st), averaging 4.5 yards per attempt (27th) and zero rushing touchdowns (Tied-47th). Not only do these numbers reflect poorly on him, it has caused some to question the state of the Bills’ rushing attack altogether.
Third year running back Zack Moss, along with rookie running back James Cook, provide competition and depth. Meanwhile, the rumor mill suggests that the Buffalo Bills are among teams that have shown interest in Carolina Panthers All-Pro RB Christian McCaffrey. That is only getting stronger as the NFL trade deadline approaches (Nov. 1). What does that mean for Singletary? Absolutely nothing. He’ll do what he’s done his entire life – ignore the noise, keep grinding, and prove to everyone that he is better than advertised.
Featured Image: USA TODAY Sports