As we inch closer to the 2020 NFL Draft, every possible situation, motivation, and decision is being combed over with a microscope by Bills Mafia. No doubt the quarantine in a social media age has bolstered the ability for that to happen.
With the first and second waves of free agency over and the Buffalo Bills’ backfield having only been bolstered with special teams ace Taiwan Jones, fans have focused on a potential area of need behind Devin Singletary. T.J. Yeldon stands alone in the roster spot expected to absorb a significant load carried last season by future NFL Hall of Fame running back Frank Gore.
Fans’ opinions of Yeldon have ranged over his tenure with the Bills. From optimism about what he could provide Josh Allen in the passing game, to frustration over fumbles early in 2019, to constant guessing as to when Yeldon would finally be utilized in an offensive game plan, to where we are now.
There is widespread dissatisfaction with what he provides the Bills in the backfield as an alternative to Devin Singletary. This dissatisfaction is simply the byproduct of our current reality. A reality with more than ample time to overthink everything.
Yeldon is a rosterable NFL player. He is not the sort of backfield liability that Taiwan Jones or Senorise Perry might be if injury were to thrust them into RB2. Yet that is the current temperature of the conversation.
General manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott have both spoken glowingly about Yeldon this offseason. Beane has on more than one occasion said he believes Yeldon is positioned well to contribute heavily in 2020.
“We’re very confident in T.J. He’s a 3-down player. He’s a guy that we feel can play at any point’” said Beane last week. “Very good out of the passing game. Was probably more of a threat than Frank out of the backfield, but we just felt Frank was that heavier downfield presence than Devin’s style and that’s not T.J.’s biggest strength. If something happened to Devin, T.J. has carried the load in Jacksonville and has proven it, so we look forward to bringing him back for Year 2.”
Many blow off these comments as smokescreen, GM speak, or offseason nonsense. At the same time, Beane has remained surprisingly candid and forthcoming most of the time in his comments about players and the Bills’ plans.
What does Beane want to do and what should the Bills do? If J.K. Dobbins (Ohio State) or Jonathan Taylor (Wisconsin) are available at pick 54 in the draft, have at it. They are premiere talents who wouldn't simply be an upgrade over Yeldon; they’d be an upgrade over Singletary, too!
However, count me among those not at all worried about RB2 being in the hands of T.J. Yeldon.
If the Bills aren’t going to upgrade the position immensely through a new RB1 at pick 54, then almost any other rookie RB is going to be significantly behind Yeldon. Not only would [insert your favorite rookie’s name here] be behind Yeldon in familiarity with the offense, but also in pass protection, which is immensely important for a QB who likes to hold the ball as long as Josh Allen. In those extended moments of a play when things break down and the pressure begins to shift, I’d much rather have Yeldon and his blocking savvy and receiving skills over a rookie who is adjusting to the NFL game on an abbreviated offseason.
Last but not least, if Yeldon is more productive than some expect in 2020, that would not be the first time a veteran RB brought more to the table than Bills fans expected. How replaceable running backs are is often a talking point this time of year, but somehow that has become bedfellows with the idea that Yeldon is an unacceptable RB2. Lest we forget Chris Ivory. Lest we forget Frank Gore. Both moves that were lambasted by fans as getting guys who were not difference makers on offense. Fair to say that I think on both counts those guys proved us wrong. Even with Gore’s production fading out at the end of the season, he brought far more to the table early in the season than any of us even though was possible.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I’ve doubted Beane’s ability to get production out of the guys he’s rolled out at RB2 twice and been wrong both times. If Yeldon is still the obvious RB2 after the draft comes and goes, you won’t find a vocal doubter in me.
You can follow me on Twitter @NickBat and look for episodes of “The Nick & Nolan Show” podcast on the Buffalo Rumblings podcast network.