The Buffalo Bills enter the 2020 offseason with notable buzz surrounding the possibility of adding a dynamic wide receiver to the offense and assisting soon-to-be-third-year quarterback Josh Allen in his hopeful leap to “franchise QB” status. But there is an additional roster need hiding deep in the recesses of the mind of Bills Mafia. It nags at us all amidst the highlights and scouting reports of tall and fast players making acrobatic catches and putting defensive backs in the blender. And although it may not rank highly on basically any fan’s wish list, finding a suitable backfield complement to second-year incumbent Devin Singletary is almost guaranteed to be on the docket for general manager Brandon Beane this offseason. Sean McDermott has openly stated his preference against having one back handle the entirety of the carries and this past season preferred to give rushes (however sparse they may have been) to Frank Gore even after Singletary had established himself clearly as the more dynamic player.
With that idea established, what type of running back should the Bills pursue? Running backs come in all shapes, sizes, and skill sets. The ones who can do it all typically go in the first round, and I’m not sure the Bills will look in that direction this offseason after seeing the success of Singletary last year. With that assumption made, stylistic decisions will have to be made.
Much like a game show, there are three doors to pick from when deciding what type of running back serves best as a complementary back to the former FAU star and there are arguments to be made in favor of each one. Let’s go through the archetypes and also list examples from the upcoming NFL draft of players who might fit that mold.
Door number 1: Power back
The argument: The Bills need a big bruiser who can take some of the physical beating off the plate of Devin Singletary. Buffalo’s starting running back has a good frame for his height, but is only 5’7” and 203 lbs and came into the league with a tremendous amount of carries already on his body. The between-the-tackles running that Frank Gore was tasked with later in the year are the types of runs that Singletary needs to avoid to make sure he can play out his rookie contract without injury issues or diminished capacity, so a power back is just what the doctor ordered (pun intended).
Example: AJ Dillon (Boston College)
Door number 2: Mirror back
The argument: When you take Devin Singletary off the field and put a different back into the huddle, defenses will be able to get a sense for the types of plays Buffalo will run based on the back they put in. This past season, when Frank Gore was on the field, defenses knew that the probabilities had increased that the offense would run between the tackles and in the rare cases they didn’t, Gore didn’t have the burst necessary to get to the outside to make the defense pay for guessing the inside run was coming. Therefore, what the team needs is a back who can be interchangeable with Singletary and who possesses similar traits (lateral agility, vision, contact balance). That way, defenses can be kept off balance without a hint of predictability regardless of who is on the field and the entire playbook can remain open at all times.
Example: Zack Moss (Utah)
Door number 3: Speed back
The argument: Buffalo needs touchdown makers. Explosive players who can take the ball to the house from anywhere on the field are lacking in the current offense and it will help take the team to the next level. Devin Singletary shows good tackle-breaking ability and lateral agility even in the hole, so a true speed back or “satellite” back is what’s necessary; a space player who can take a short pass 60 yards for a touchdown. They don’t need someone to duplicate Singletary’s traits; they need someone who can do something he cannot.
Example: Anthony McFarland Jr. (Maryland)
I think the Bills will search for an explosive speed back in the middle rounds of this upcoming NFL draft. Beane has talked about getting “touchdown makers” and although most interpreted that statement to be talking about only wide receivers, I think it applies in this scenario as well. Every long touchdown that can be scored from distance lessens the need for Josh Allen to methodically take the team down the field one first down at a time and achieves another Beane talking point: It helps Allen recognize that he doesn’t have to do it himself. With explosive and dynamic players around him, Allen truly won’t have to provide all the scoring. At the end of the day, Josh Allen’s development rightly continues to be the focal point of this team.
What would I do? I’d personally take a mirror back like Zack Moss in the middle rounds. Brian Daboll’s offense utilizes players in methods where they can be successful. The downside of that is predictability (i.e. Isaiah McKenzie gets brought on so he can go into jet motion). I think the need for explosive playmakers can be achieved through the additions to the wide receiver room. Being able to rotate your running backs without tipping your hand hasn’t been necessary for the New England Patriots because of the precision at which they operate their offense. Unfortunately, that level of execution hasn’t been seen yet from the players in this offense.
...and that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I’m Bruce Nolan with Buffalo Rumblings. You can find me on Twitter @BruceExclusive and look for episodes of “The Nick & Nolan Show” every week on the Buffalo Rumblings podcast network!