The Buffalo Bills have only had one player win the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year award. That player, quarterback Dennis Shaw, won the award in 1970 by completing 55.5% of his passes for 2,507 yards, ten touchdowns, and 20 interceptions. (Side note: imagine a guy with those numbers being voted Rookie of the Year in today’s game?)
While Buffalo may not have a history of players winning the award, they do have a player this year who has a solid chance to become the second player in franchise history to win it. Running back Zack Moss, Buffalo’s third-round draft choice, could find himself in a large role on what should be a much-improved offense in 2020. If Moss takes advantage of the opportunities he’ll see, then he should be able to ram his way into the discussion as this year’s top offensive rookie.
Just looking at what the Bills want to do with their running backs, it’s clear that head coach Sean McDermott and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll prefer a carry-share in the offensive backfield. They’ve said as much, with McDermott mentioning at his year-ending January press conference that it’s better to have “two guys that work together” rather than one bell-cow back. This indicates that Moss will come in and have a large role on offense immediately.
Last year, Buffalo’s leading rusher in terms of total carries was Frank Gore. He toted the rock 166 times, with Devin Singletary carrying it 151 times. Given that Gore has moved on in his tour of the AFC East by signing with the New York Jets, Buffalo has, in theory, 166 carries to distribute between Singletary and Moss. This in no way is meant to suggest that Moss will absorb all of Gore’s carries, but even if he takes 60% of them, that means Moss will rush at least 100 times as a rookie. That’s not a very high bar to clear.
Gore averaged 3.6 yards per rush last season, and while he played well in Singletary’s absence early in the season, it appeared that he wore down as the season progressed. It’s safe to assume that a younger, fresher back won’t suffer the same fate, so even if Moss only manages to average four yards per carry in his first year, he’ll prove an upgrade on the field.
A 400-yard rookie season won’t cut it to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year (ROTY) award, however. Over the last 20 years, there have been nine running backs to win the award, and only one, Alvin Kamara in 2017, failed to reach 1,000 yards rushing. Kamara totaled over 1,500 yards from scrimmage, however, thanks to his 81 receptions and 800-plus yards receiving.
What kind of value does Moss have as a receiver? In college, he caught 66 passes for 685 yards and three touchdowns over his four-year career, so it isn’t something he was asked to do very often. However, Singletary didn’t catch many passes in college either, and he immediately proved that he could add value as a receiver during his rookie year. If the Bills continue to utilize their running backs in the passing game, it only adds opportunity for a young player like Moss to show off those skills.
Finally, Moss would need to find the end zone enough to warrant consideration for the award. Scoring touchdowns is something he did quite often at Utah, as he totaled 38 in his four-year career, with at least ten in each of his final three seasons with the Utes. If Moss sees the vast majority of the goal-line and red-zone carries, as expected, he could wind up scoring enough touchdowns where he would be considered for the award.
If you take Moss’s college averages and prorate them a bit to account for NFL competition, we’re looking at a season where he carries the ball around 125 times for a total of 587 yards, adding six touchdowns, 15 receptions, and 150 receiving yards. Does that sound like an Offensive ROTY season? Not exactly. Those estimates assume quite a few things, with the most important assumption being that Moss is relegated to short-yardage and change-of-pace duty for the duration of the season.
While Moss may be seen as an outsider in any Offensive ROTY race given the presence of a budding star in Singletary, all it takes is opportunity for the dark horse to become the front runner. If Singletary misses time due to injury or Moss proves to be the “hot hand,” there’s no doubt that the rookie back has the ability to take the lead in Buffalo’s backfield. And if he does, then he is an excellent candidate for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly spelled Zack Moss’s name as “Zach”. We regret the error.