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Buffalo Bills should add change-of-pace back for LeSean McCoy

The Bills’ unquestioned best offensive player could use some help in order to remain at peak effectiveness

LeSean McCoy has been the most dynamic player on the Buffalo Bills’ offense since he was acquired via trade from the Philadelphia Eagles prior to the 2015 NFL season. His speed, elusiveness, and explosiveness are elite and his overall production makes him a near-lock for the Hall of Fame whenever he decides to retire.

However, as with all great athletes, Father Time stops for no man, and while Shady still looked as explosive as ever in 2017, he was forced to do some heavy-lifting throughout the season. Without a real backup option at the running back position, the offense was at least somewhat competent with McCoy on the field, and utterly lost whenever he needed a breather.

As McCoy draws ever-closer to 30 years old, the Bills have to give him some help. With that in mind, our State of the Roster series continues by examining the offensive backfield. As always, financial data comes from Spotrac, while all statistical data and snap counts come from profootballreference.

LeSean McCoy

  • Contract status for 2018: signed; $8.95 million cap hit ($6.35 million cap savings is post-6/1 cut)
  • Age: 29 (30 on 7/12/18)
  • Playing time: 719 snaps (68.35% of offensive snaps)
  • Key statistics: 287 carries, 1,138 yards (4 YPA), 6 TD, 77 Targets, 59 receptions, 448 yards (7.6 YPC), 2 TD, 3 FUM

McCoy’s workload this season was much greater than one would anticipate for a 29-year old running back. His 287 carries was the third-highest total of his career, and his highest since his last season with the Eagles in 2014. His 77 targets and 59 receptions were both his highest totals since 2010. Of course, it makes sense that he was on the field so often given the lack of talent behind him, but this is not a sustainable pattern either for Shady’s success or Buffalo’s.

His 4 yards-per-carry average was also the lowest total of his career, but that doesn’t mean that he lost a step in 2017. McCoy looked as agile and quick as ever, which certainly bodes well for his continued success in 2018. It’s hard to imagine Buffalo parting ways with 32% of its overall offensive production, so I anticipate that McCoy will be back with the Bills next season.

Marcus Murphy

  • Contract status for 2018: signed; $630,000 cap hit (no money guaranteed)
  • Age: 26 (27 on 10/3/18)
  • Playing time: 14 snaps (1.33% of offensive snaps), 2 ST snaps (.46%)
  • Key statistics: 7 carries, 41 yards (5.9 YPA), 2 targets, 2 receptions, 7 yards (3.5 YPC), 1 kick return, 18 yards

Aside from McCoy, the only other true running back under contract for 2018 is Murphy, who wasn’t even added to the active roster until December 26. All of his regular-season playing time came against the Miami Dolphins, and he looked at least to be an adequate running back when he went in the game. While watching, I thought that he would make a good future backup for McCoy.

The issue with Murphy is that he isn’t as young as you’d think, but with a lack of NFL carries under his belt, there is far less mileage on his soon-to-be 27-year old legs than the usual NFL runner. Keeping him through training camp, though not a given, would make sense, especially since there is no real penalty for cutting him.

Patrick DiMarco

  • Contract status for 2018: signed; $2.05 million cap hit ($1.55 million cap savings if post-6/1 cut)
  • Age: 28 (29 on 4/30/18)
  • Playing time: 265 snaps (25.19% of offensive snaps), 168 ST snaps (38.44%)
  • Key statistics: 2 carries, -2 yards (-1 YPA), 10 targets, 7 receptions, 28 yards (4 YPC)

The Bills were panned for beginning the free agency period last season by signing two fullbacks, but they each played a healthy number of snaps in 2017. DiMarco served as the lead blocker for McCoy and company, and he performed adequately. $2 million dollars per year is a lot for a player who only appears on one of every four snaps, especially at a non-premium position such as fullback, but he is a strong overall contributor to the squad, especially when factoring in his special teams value.

Mike Tolbert

  • Contract status for 2018: unsigned; UFA
  • Age: 32 (33 on 11/23/18)
  • Playing time: 203 snaps (19.3% of offensive snaps), 87 ST snaps (19.91%)
  • Key statistics: 66 carries, 247 yards (3.7 YPA), 1 TD, 17 targets, 14 receptions, 78 yards (5.6 YPC), 2 fumbles

Tolbert served as McCoy’s primary backup essentially out of necessity, and he wasn’t exactly efficient in that role. He is a high-quality person with excellent leadership qualities, and his ability to contribute on special teams was enough to give Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott comfort in cutting a young running back (Jonanthan Williams) prior to the start of the regular season last year. An unrestricted free agent, I would be very surprised if Tolbert returns in 2018.

Taiwan Jones

  • Contract status for 2018: unsigned; UFA
  • Age: 29 (30 on 7/26/18)
  • Playing time: 3 snaps (.29% of offensive snaps), 128 ST snaps (29.29%)
  • Key statistics: 2 targets, 1 catch, 11 yards, 2 kick returns, 50 yards

Jones was one of Buffalo’s main special teams contributors before suffering a broken arm in the Thursday Night affair against the New York Jets. His lone offensive contribution was a catch and run that iced the Bills’ victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He will most likely be looking for work elsewhere next year.

Travaris Cadet

  • Contract status for 2018: unsigned; UFA
  • Age: 28 (29 on 2/1/2018)
  • Playing time: 103 snaps (9.79% of offensive snaps), 41 ST snaps (9.38%)
  • Key statistics: 22 carries, 93 yards (4.2 YPA), 16 targets, 13 receptions, 93 yards (7.2 YPC)

Cadet was a breath of fresh air for the roster when he signed on November 4. He was a solid receiver and a good enough runner, as his skill set mirror that of McCoy, albeit in a less-dynamic manner. He surpassed Tolbert as McCoy’s primary backup for a few weeks, but then suffered a gruesome ankle injury in Week 16 against the New England Patriots. While re-signing him isn’t a necessity, it’s also a move that wouldn’t surprise me, as he showed himself to be a solid fit in the offense over a limited period of time.

Aaron Green

  • Contract status for 2018: signed; $480,000 cap hit on reserve/future contract
  • Age: 25 (26 on 10/15/18)
  • Playing time: N/A
  • Key Statistics: N/A

Spotrac lists Green as an offensive tackle. (He’s not.) It’s safe to say that he isn’t someone who is expected to make many contributions to the team next season.

Offseason Outlook

It’s painfully obvious that the Bills have to add depth behind Shady, whether through the draft or other avenues, in order to ensure that he can remain the effective, dynamic runner he’s been throughout his illustrious career. The Bills just can’t justify giving carries to someone like Tolbert when he is neither efficient enough nor consistent enough at his age to contribute at a high level.

Both Tolbert and Jones are players who the team can live without next year, and they should move on in order to add youth and explosiveness to the offensive backfield.

If there were to be a surprise cut here, I don’t think it would be McCoy, but DiMarco, who would be the name we’d hear. I don’t think either player is likely to be released, but I’d go with the latter if you made me choose.

Adding a young runner who serves as the thunder to McCoy’s lightning would serve two purposes for the Bills—they would accomplish Beane’s stated goal of adding youth to the roster while also giving the offense a different look for which opposing defenses would have to prepare. The team could then choose between Murphy or Cadet as a third option behind McCoy and a late-round rookie to round out the offensive backfield.