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How can the Buffalo Bills build the best backfield?

Recipe for success: Run the ball!

The start of the new league year is almost a month away, and after a heartbreaking loss to the Houston Texans on Wild Card weekend, it’s now back to the drawing board for Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane on how to improve for next fall. The feature storyline throughout the season was how quarterback Josh Allen would fare in Year 2 of his professional career.

The question arises, whether or not Allen can keep his progression up and how can Buffalo build around him. With the emergence of veteran John Brown as the Bills’ leading receiver and rookies Devin Singletary and Dawson Knox, Buffalo has a great opportunity to build a dynamic offense. By adding a few key pieces, Brandon Beane can raise this team to the next level this offseason.

There is a lot to learn from the 2019 NFL season and not all from how the Buffalo Bills performed. Looking around the league at the most successful teams last year, Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott can learn a lot about how to use their talent. Teams like the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens are prime examples for the 2020 Buffalo Bills. A run-heavy team, with a bruising defense that can also dominate through the air when needed. With rookie Devin Singletary looking to be the feature back and a possible superstar in the league, the Bills are in a great position to build around their young, talented mobile quarterback. San Francisco had a three-headed monster in the backfield with running backs Tevin Coleman, Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert. Baltimore has an elite-level, mobile quarterback in Lamar Jackson and a bulldozing running back in Mark Ingram. By having a successful run game, this can take pressure off Allen to throw the ball and does not make him feel as if he must do it all himself.

During the NFC Championship game, San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo threw the ball only eight times for just 77 yards, while the 49ers ran the ball 42 times. They would end up scoring 37 points in defeating the Green Bay Packers. Once a strong run game is established, opposing defenses will prepare for the run each week by stacking the box up front and that is when Allen can hope to perfect the deep ball to surprise a defense. If Buffalo can model themselves off of teams like Baltimore or San Francisco and continue to have a dominating defense, they can become a force in the league.

Now, who could be added to transform them into a dominant run-heavy offense? There are some options in free agency, as well as this coming draft. After finding Devin Singletary in the third round last April, Buffalo may be able to find another gem. What follows are some names to watch for in the coming months.

Free agency route

Melvin Gordon (26 years old)
Buffalo was linked to the former first-round pick before the NFL trade deadline last season. Whether the price was not right, or the rumor was false, Gordon could be a great fit for the Bills’ offense. Coming off a down year after holding out for four weeks, Gordon’s price tag may be cheaper than it would have been just a year ago. Being a 1,000-yard rusher in 2017, a backfield with Gordon and Singletary—as well as Allen using his legs—could spell trouble for opposing defenses. Melvin Gordon seems to want to move on from the Los Angeles Chargers and with Buffalo holding nearly $90 million in cap space, they may be able to fit a contract in for Gordon.
Predicted contract: 4 years, $40.5 million

Matt Breida (24 years old)
What’s a better way to build a backfield like the San Francisco 49ers than to add a piece from that backfield? Matt Breida will be a restricted free agent this offseason, so depending on whether or not Beane wants to go that route to build his offense, it would be a major addition if it were to get done. San Francisco currently has two running backs on their roster, both being paid over $3 million a year, so making room for Breida may be a tough task for the 49ers. Breida is still young at 24, but has three years of NFL experience after coming in as an undrafted free agent. It would seem that sharing the snaps with two other backs in 2019 hurt his production slightly, as expected, but Breida racked up 814 yards back in 2018. Adding Matt Breida to a backfield of Singletary and a possible young draft pick could be just what is needed for this young Buffalo offense.
Predicted contract: 4 years, $21 million

Lamar Miller (28 years old)
The 2018 Pro Bowl running back missed the entire 2019-20 season due to a torn ACL in the Texans third preseason game, but could still be a great addition. The two-time 1,000-yard rusher might be a risk to sign, but Brandon Beane has shown that he likes to take risks on players with an injury history and high upside. Miller will be a free agent come March and will not command too heavy of a contract. With Houston, he has been making an average $6.5 million and would be on the cheaper side coming off a serious injury. If all medical factors are cleared, Beane could look to add Miller and not only would he be great in the run game, but he has been very productive in the passing game during his career. If Beane wants to take a risk that could have a big pay-off, Miller might be his guy.
Predicted contract: 1 year, $3 million

Draft route

J.K. Dobbins (Ohio State)
Depending on what Buffalo decides to do with their first-round pick, Brandon Beane may look to use his pick on day two to bulk up his backfield. It may be a stretch to think that Wisconsin running back, Jonathan Taylor will last until late in the second round (pick 54) for Buffalo, but if the front office and coaches are high on Taylor, Beane has shown a propensity to move around the board on draft day. Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins would be a very viable option at pick 54 for the Bills if he falls that far. If Brandon Beane decides to address the offense early in the draft, the Bills could be looking at a new wide receiver and running back early in the 2020 draft. On the flip side, Beane may want to find a new edge rusher for his dominant defense at 22 and Buffalo would most likely use their second-round pick on a wide receiver.

Anthony McFarland Jr. (University of Maryland)
If Brandon Beane does decide to go with a new edge rusher in the first round and a wide receiver in round two, the Bills could go back-to-back years of building the backfield with a middle-round pick. Maryland running back Anthony McFarland is not a big, bruising back by any means, but he has the breakaway speed that can carry a team to victory. Standing at 5’9” and just under 200 lbs, McFarland showed his talent in his short time with the Terrapins, rushing for over 1,000 yards his freshman year and just over 600 yards and eight touchdowns last season. He has electric speed and is a threat to score from anywhere on the field. Brandon Beane may look to add McFarland as a late-round steal after getting Allen a wide receiver in the draft as well.

Late-round sleeper: Eno Benjamin (Arizona State)
Brandon Beane and the Buffalo Bills made sure to do their due diligence at the Senior Bowl, after reportedly meeting with Arizona State running back Eno Benjamin. It’s no secret that the Bills want to build a strong backfield with the emergence of Devin Singletary, so snagging Benjamin in a late round may give Beane a steal in back-to-back years. Benjamin stands at 5’10” and 205 lbs, so not being the biggest runner may be a downfall for him when it comes to draft position. However, with how well Singletary has played at his size, Beane may have no problem taking Benjamin.

The 2020 NFL Draft is all about offensive talent, which is just what the doctor ordered for the Bills. Whether Beane addresses weapons for Allen in the first round or sixth round, expect the Bills to be very active. Buffalo currently holds nine total draft picks and it would be very surprising if Buffalo ended up with nine new players after Mr. Irrelevant is picked.