The Buffalo Bills entered 2019 with a solid pecking order at running back. They had two established veterans, LeSean McCoy and Frank Gore, who were set to absorb most of the carries. They had a young veteran free agent in T.J. Yeldon as insurance, and they also had a rookie, Devin Singletary, drafted in the third round to compete for time.
We all know how that turned out for the Bills. McCoy was released prior to the start of the regular season. Gore began the year by taking the lion’s share of the carries, but by the season’s halfway point, it was Singletary who dominated snaps and touches out of the offensive backfield.
What should the Bills do at running back heading into the 2020 season? In our second look at the State of the Bills roster, we discuss just that.
Contract status for 2020: Signed; second year of rookie deal ($933,956 cap hit; $776,868 dead cap charge if cut)
Age: 22 (23 on 9/3/2020)
Playing time: 12 games, 8 starts, 530 offensive snaps (49.6%)
Key statistics: 151 attempts, 775 yards (5.1 YPA), 2 TD, 41 targets, 29 catches, 194 yards (6.7 YPC), 2 TD, 4 fumbles
In Singletary’s first season, the rookie showed that he is an electric presence each time he touches the ball. While he lacks the long-range speed necessary to score from anywhere on the field, he is always a threat to break a big play, as his short-area quickness and elusiveness are elite. In his first four games, Singletary only had 20 rushing attempts, but he ran for 172 yards—an absurd 8.6-yards-per-carry average. He also had nine receptions for 58 yards. Part of this lack of usage was due to a hamstring injury suffered in Week 2, but he also wasn’t a focus of the offensive game plan. That changed in the season’s second half, as Singletary averaged 19 touches per game. He was still so effective with those touches that most fans wanted to see him handle the ball more, as it was clear that Singletary was, at worst, the second-best playmaker on the offense. Singletary’s rookie year was solid overall, and we should all be excited about what the future holds for him.
Contract status for 2020: Unrestricted free agent
95 36 (37 on 5/14/2020)
Playing time: 16 games, 8 starts, 370 offensive snaps (34.6%)
Key statistics: 166 attempts, 599 yards (3.6 YPA), 2 TD, 16 targets, 13 catches, 100 yards (7.7 YPC)
We knew Buffalo would have at least one “old” running back on the roster, and it turned out to be Gore. In three games without Singletary, the veteran shined, as he ran for 245 yards on 45 carries in Weeks 3-5, an average of 5.4 yards per carry. However, he gained just 354 yards on his remaining 121 carries, an average of just 2.9 yards per rush. He spent much of the year running like a 36-year-old back. While Gore is a great leader and a future Hall of Fame player, it’s clear that the Bills need a more dynamic complement to Singletary next year.
Contract status for 2020: Second year of two-year contract; $1.9 million cap hit ($250,000 dead cap charge if cut)
Age: 26 (27 on 10/2/2020)
Playing time: 6 games, 0 starts, 150 offensive snaps (14%), 39 ST snaps (9.4%)
Key statistics: 17 attempts, 63 yards (3.7 YPA), 15 targets, 13 catches, 124 yards (9.5 YPC), 1 fumble
Yeldon was inactive for most of the season, but he also had a brief run as a receiving back when Singletary was injured. In those same three weeks where Gore shined, Yeldon carried ten times for 45 yards and made ten catches for 100 yards. He also lost a fumble. He showed himself to be a solid option out of the backfield for quarterback Josh Allen, and his speed and ability to turn the edge is something that the Bills’ offense lacked this year. His situation will be an interesting one, as it’s equally likely that the Bills part ways with the Alabama product as it is that they allow him to finish his contract with the team.
Contract status for 2020: Unrestricted free agent
Age: 28 (29 on 9/19/2020)
Playing time: 11 games, 0 starts, 9 offensive snaps (1%), 194 ST snaps (46.9%)
Key statistics: 3 attempts, 3 yards (1 YPA), 1 target, 1 catch, 1 yards (1 YPC)
Perhaps I don’t prioritize special teams enough, but keeping Perry, noted for his performance as a specialist in his time with the Miami Dolphins, active over a better offensive player like Yeldon wasn’t something I enjoyed much this season. As an unrestricted free agent, Perry has the chance to go where he pleases, and I imagine that Buffalo will have some interest in bringing him back. However, I think they need to prioritize playmakers, leaving Perry outside the fold.
Contract status for 2020: Final year of four-year deal ($2.35 million cap hit; $500,000 dead cap charge if cut)
Age: 30 (31 on 4/30/2020)
Playing time: 16 games, 4 starts, 166 offensive snaps (15.5%), 156 ST snaps (37.7%)
Key statistics: 3 attempts, 7 yards (2.3 YPA), 7 targets, 5 catches, 41 yards (8.2 YPC)
DiMarco is a great teammate and a strong lead blocker. He also is a valuable member of the special-teams unit. While we can debate what his role is and whether said role is deserving of his salary, it’s hard to imagine the Bills moving on prior to the completion of this contract.
Contract status for 2020: Signed reserve/future contract on 1/6/2020
Age: 28 (29 on 5/15/2020)
Playing time: N/A; practice squad
Key statistics: N/A; practice squad
The preseason fan favorite spent his first NFL season as the 11th man on Buffalo’s ten-man practice squad—a designation meant to keep the International Pathway Program player in an environment where he could continue to learn the game. Wade showed incredible speed in the preseason, but he obviously has a long way to go in learning the NFL game. He’s a lottery ticket, and if he picks up enough about the game, Buffalo could cash in as early as next season.
Buffalo needs to add a dynamic complement to Singletary. That means moving on from Gore and Perry, and perhaps even Yeldon—though I wouldn’t do so until another player has been added. To rely on Wade as that player would be foolish, but if the former rugby player shows off the same athleticism plus an understanding of the game, counting him out would be equally foolhardy.
Singletary isn’t big, but he’s incredibly strong and has great balance, vision, and hands. He’s a good receiver out of the backfield, and he has the quickness to break big plays at any given time. What Singletary lacks is long speed. He was the only running back in the league this year with at least seven runs of over 20 yards but zero runs of at least 40 yards. Adding a back who is a threat to take it to the house each time he touches the ball should be a priority.
If I were Brandon Beane, I’d keep Yeldon and DiMarco, say goodbye to Perry and Gore, draft a running back relatively early (in the second or third round), and give Wade a legitimate shot at making the roster. With an offense that was 23rd in points per game and 24th in yards, the team simply cannot continue to prioritize special-teams players over playmakers.