The Buffalo Bills have an aging running-back room headed by LeSean McCoy, who turns 31 in July, and Frank Gore, who turns 36 next week. Clearly, the team was going to select a running back in the 2019 NFL Draft, as an injection of youth was necessary to set up the team for long-term success at the position.
So what’s wrong with Buffalo selecting Florida Atlantic running back Devin Singletary, a player who averaged 1,429 yards on 238 carries, an average of six yards per carry, over the course of his collegiate career? The Bills spent an early third-round pick on a player with average-at-best athleticism for his position while there were other players at positions of need on the board that many analysts graded higher overall.
The Bills had needs at tight end and edge rusher, and they also needed help in the defensive secondary. They proved this by selecting Ole Miss tight end Dawson Knox via trade-up later in the third round and then by selecting Miami (Fl.) safety Jaquan Johnson in the fifth round. They selected edge rusher Darryl Johnson from North Carolina A&T in the seventh round, and used another selection on a tight end in that same round, taking Boston College senior Tommy Sweeney.
The player picked immediately after Singletary was tight end Jace Sternberger, who not only was graded higher than Singletary by NFL analyst Lance Zierlein, but he also had significantly better collegiate production than Knox. The next running back selected, Alabama’s Damien Harris, was just as productive as Singletary on a per-touch basis, averaging 6.4 yards per attempt throughout his college career. Throw in the fact that he has approximately 250 fewer touches (read: contact plays) under his belt, and Harris looks like a pretty attractive prospect in comparison.
Buffalo also passed on edge players from bigger schools who could have stepped in and immediately contributed to the defensive-line rotation. Chase Winovich (77 overall), Jaylon Ferguson (85 overall), and Oshane Ximenes (95 overall) all graded out higher than Singletary at a position of need. Reaching for a running back earlier than they needed left them in a position where they drafted a lesser player to help the pass rush, arguably a far greater need than another running back.
Five running backs (Dexter Williams, Rodney Anderson, Ryquell Armstead, Alexander Mattison, and Trayveon Williams) with a higher overall grade, per Zierlein, were selected after Singletary. One running back with the same grade, Bryce Love, was selected after Singletary. Washington selected Love with a pick they received from the Bills in the trade-up to grab Knox.
Selecting Singletary set off a chain of events that forced the Bills to forfeit draft capital in order to draft at positions they deemed to be “of need.” Had the Bills resisted the urge to draft a running back with their third-round pick, instead opting for an edge rusher (for argument’s sake, let’s say they selected Ferguson), then they’d have had two fourth-round picks with which to draft a running back and a tight end. Their draft could have looked like this:
DE Jaylon Ferguson (74 overall)
RB Bryce Love (112 overall)
TE Foster Moreau (137 overall)
Admittedly, this is nit-picking. Singletary could very well go on to have an excellent career, and he could contribute in a Bills’ backfield that looks quite crowded now, with the aforementioned veterans combining with T.J. Yeldon and Singletary to make for a strong four-way competition for time and touches.
The argument could be made that it’s actually Knox, not Singletary, that was the biggest reach. Given that Singletary was selected earlier at a position that has much less value in the modern NFL, I’m inclined to go with him over the athletic tight end. It was that pick that set up the chain of events where a trade-up for Knox occurred, as well, for even if the Bills didn’t take Singletary, they had a solid option in Sternberger available to them. They could then have made the trade that they did to move up the board to select an edge rusher, which would have been a better choice than a running back at that time.
Judging value in the immediate aftermath of a draft is always a difficult, if not impossible, task. In a draft where general manager Brandon Beane and company did so much right, this was their one minor misstep.