The Buffalo Bills running back situation last year was awful. Incumbent starter LeSean McCoy struggled with injuries, and when on the field he was a shell of his former self. With McCoy hurting, journeyman Chris Ivory saw significant playing time along with third string running back Marcus Murphy. If not for Josh Allen rushing for eight touchdowns and setting records, the Bills run game statistics would have been nonexistent. With a new offensive line in place and significant changes made to the depth chart, the Buffalo Bills running back situation is a story to follow in 2019.
The Situation for Buffalo Bills Running Backs
As we head towards training camp, the fight for playing time seems to be amongst four players. Free agent acquisitions Frank Gore and T.J. Yeldon, join McCoy and 2019 third round pick Devin Singletary in the depth chart battle. With the overhaul the front office gave the offensive line in free agency and the draft, there will be no excuse for poor running back play this season. And with no shortage of names to turn to, each back will have to be on point with their play in order to secure and maintain playing time.
Gore may not be in his prime anymore, but the man is a future member of the Hall of Fame who continues to impress year after year. His career lines and story read like something out of a movie. He tore his right ACL and meniscus in 2002 at the University of Miami, and then tore his left ACL in 2003 while still with the Hurricanes. Fun fact, his injury in 2002 allowed backup running back Willis McGahee to become the starter. As of this moment, he is currently the fourth leading rusher in NFL history behind NFL legends Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, and Barry Sanders.
When running backs hit age 30, they often hit a proverbial wall from all the accumulated wear and tear. At age 35 last season, Gore rushed for 722 yards and averaged 4.6 yards per carry. He’s not going to be the bell cow in the Bills backfield like he once was, but he can still get the job done on the field. More importantly than his on-field presence, is what he can offer off the field. Gore’s success, knowledge, and work ethic will be tremendously valuable to a young Bills team. He adds a veteran presence that is hard to match and that everyone can benefit from. Head Coach Sean McDermott loves veteran presence and leadership.
Yeldon spent his first four years in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He was never the featured back, but due to injuries to the men in front of him, he saw regular amounts of playing time. Before the Bills drafted Singletary this year, Yeldon had the best claim to being the Bills running back of the future. Now in a situation similar to ones he’s been in his whole career, Yeldon looks to establish himself in a crowded backfield.
The soon-to-be fifth-year back has a lot going for him in this race. His ability to function as both a runner and receiver makes him very versatile. Being a dual threat back means he’s very intriguing for a Bills offense that wants to be unpredictable in their formations and play calling. Yeldon’s speed and quickness are also big pros for him. His explosiveness in and out of cuts and breakaway speed makes him the fastest Bills running back. Speed kills, and it’s something you can’t coach. Yeldon came in on a two-year deal, but he has the potential to play in Buffalo for a while.
With the additions the Bills made in free agency and the draft, McCoy has been rumored to be a potential trade or cut candidate. As mentioned earlier, McCoy is coming off of a dismal 2018 season. However, so is the Bills offense as a whole for the most part. Yes, he is only getting older. Yes, his style of play based on agility and shifty quick change of direction cuts does not lend itself to older running backs. But McCoy still offers talent and a veteran presence, both of which the Bills need.
When healthy, McCoy is still a dangerous back. He can still function with his style and his dynamic playmaking ability remains somewhat unmatched in the NFL. Having a running back that can catch, run, block, and make plays is never a bad thing, and the Bills need that. Giving Josh Allen someone to check down to or pass to in the screen game adds a security blanket feel with McCoy. Giving the ball to Shady and letting him do McCoy things is nice. Also, he’s kind of become the default face of the Bills. McCoy does the interviews on TV and is the one reporters come to for quotes. There isn’t another person who can handle that role for Buffalo right now. When you couple that with what he can still do on the field when healthy, it points to McCoy still being a player in the Bills offense.
The wild card in this whole conversation, Singletary threw a wrench into the Bills running back talk when he was drafted. Prior to being picked the thought was the Bills use McCoy, Gore, and Yeldon this year with Yeldon being a potential future guy along with whatever McCoy has left. Investing a third-round pick in a running back is serious in today’s NFL, and means there are plans for Singletary with the Bills.
Singletary was a very productive back in college and he led the nation in touchdowns in 2017. He possesses short line quickness and burst that allows him to weave in and out of traffic and make people miss in the hole. However, he does have a lot of mileage on him with all the carries he received in college and he lacks home run speed. At this point, Singletary’s use in the offense is a question mark. How and when he’s used can only be answered the closer we get to the season.
Last Word on the Bills Running Backs Situation
It will be a fight for playing time amongst these four running backs in the Bills offense. They all offer value and functionally in albeit different ways. Don’t be surprised to see a steady situational rotation on a game-by-game or even play-by-play basis. Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll is a Bill Belichick student and values versatility. Therefore we could see a New England style of rotation in Buffalo.
All four backs give the Bills options and weapons and that was lacking last season. The name of the game on offense this off-season has been about supporting Josh Allen. Now we have to see which running back can do that and how. It’ll be a fun competition to watch come training camp, and a storyline to follow as the season progresses.