It doesn’t take an expert to conclude that Buffalo Bills struggled running the football in 2020. After being among the top ten in the league in rushing yards year in and year out, the Bills finished just 20th, averaging 107.7 yards per game. It’s no secret that this must improve in 2021. Brandon Beane said it himself; the Bills have to run the ball better, and a key component of the Bills rushing attack rebound could be second-year running back Zack Moss.
Moss was a relatively highly regarding prospect going into the 2020 NFL Draft. After having a prestigious career at the University of Utah, where he set the record for most career rushing yards in school history, Moss entered the NFL draft. Most experts believed that Moss would get drafted during the second day of the draft. This prediction was, in fact, true, as the Bills drafted Moss in the third round with the 86th overall pick.
However, like the running game as a whole, Moss had his ups and downs throughout the 2020 season. He finished with 418 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. That being said, Moss learned a lot during his rookie season. Including some of the things that stood out to him the most when comparing the NFL to college football.
“The details of the game,” said Moss. “The effort level of this league is higher than college.”
For Moss, these were big eye-openers as he quickly learned the importance of truly understanding everything in the meeting room, as well as the athleticism and urgency all players in the NFL have. However, Moss knew that he had to find his edge, which made him stand out on the Bills roster. In keeping in touch with the mentality that is the process that Sean McDermott preaches, Moss stuck to something that he knew could translate to success.
“Just being prepared,” said Moss. “Just trying to be the most consistent dude I can day in and day out.”
Getting on the field wasn’t always the easiest. Being not only a running back in a pass-first offense, Moss was also a rookie. He could do one thing that would get him on the field and gain the trust of both quarterback Josh Allen and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll: excelling in pass protection.
“As a back, especially with the way the game is going nowadays, you have to be able to pass block, understand pass protections, know where blitzes are coming from, and know how to work with your offensive line,” Moss said.
This worked as Moss found a role in the Bills offense early in the season. Moss would get a good amount of snaps through the season. However, it was clear that Moss became the number one running back in the offense by seasons end. His snap count was higher than his companion in the backfield Devin Singletary.
“I started to see that a bit of the run plays tried to come to be a lot more,” said Moss. “I always know, at the end of the day, if I’m doing what I know I need to do, something is going to give.”
However, whether it was Singletary or Moss in the backfield, the touches weren’t there to be had. Singletary was 23rd in rushing attempts with 156, while Moss had just 112 attempts, the 44th most in the league. For context, Moss had only ten more rushing attempts than his own quarterback Josh Allen. For Moss, it was frustrating for him at times to have so few touches during games.
“When you come from getting the ball and being the guy… and you come to the league, and the carries aren’t there,” said Moss. “At the end of the day, you got to be a pro.”
After the lackluster year on the ground for the Bills, fans and analysts want to see the Bills use valuable capital to address this issue. Many called for the Bills to use their first-round pick on a running back like Najee Harris or Travis Etienne. Although players like those two would bring playmaking ability to the offense, Moss urges people not to get too ahead of themselves.
“I think we got enough in this room,” said Moss. “Given the opportunities, I think we showed a lot last season. Maybe it wasn’t always flashy, but we did our job the best that we possibly could.”
Going into 2021, Moss knows he can be better and that he will be better. He had some moments of brilliance throughout his rookie campaign but knows that these moments can’t just be flashes much longer.
“Everything that I was able to flash last season.” said Moss, “I want to make that consistent impact to this team.”
Yet, the younger runner is motivated to prove the doubters wrong. That he can be the impact player, the Bills need in their backfield. On top of that, Moss faces a setback heading into 2021. He’s coming off of an ankle injury that required surgery in the offseason. For some young players, this can be disheartening. For Moss, he embraces that challenge of coming back better than before.
“Coming back from this injury, so I got so much motivation in me right now to get back in there and really prove myself, help take over and help this team get to that Super Bowl,” said Moss.
The running needs to improve in 2021. In his opinion, Moss says it’s a rhythm thing. That the more the running backs carry the ball and the more the offensive line run blocks, the better the running game will be. Moss knows they can do it and be a more dynamic rushing attack this season. Not only that, but Moss is confident that not just himself but the entire running game is ready to put on a show.
“We going to really show what we can do this season and seasons following,” said Moss. “Just stay patient and just continue to rock with us.”