We can safely say that Alabama running back Najee Harris is the early favorite for the Buffalo Bills. A short while after Mel Kiper mocked Harris to the Bills in his last mock draft, ESPN colleague Todd McShay had the same projection in his post-Super Bowl mock (ESPN Insider account required).
McShay apparently didn’t read Kiper’s mock, since he expected some pushback for choosing to give the Bills a first-round running back:
Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
It has been three years since we had multiple running backs in Round 1, and Kiper will shake his head at this pick, but the Bills’ run offense was a visible issue during their playoff run. Quarterback Josh Allen led the team in rushing over three games with 145 yards, and no running back broke 65 in total. During the regular season, the Bills averaged 4.2 yards per carry, but no player broke 700 yards on the ground.
Devin Singletary looks more effective as a third-down back, and Zack Moss struggled to stay healthy this season. After spending third-rounders on each of them over the past two drafts, it’s time for Buffalo to get a true difference-maker in the run game to balance the Allen-Stefon Diggs connection in the pass game. Harris showcased his strength, size and speed en route to 1,466 rushing yards and 26 rushing touchdowns this season.
Both Kiper and McShay came to the same conclusion: that the Bills struggled in the playoffs without a reliable running game, Zack Moss is returning from ankle surgery, and Devin Singletary isn’t an every-down back.
And it’s a valid point.
Especially when the Bills have a blueprint available: The Kansas City Chiefs, while they won the 44th Super Bowl, had leading rusher Damien Williams at 498 yards. They brought in Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who had 803 rushing yards (and 1100 yards from scrimmage) in 13 games during the regular season this year.
This early in draft season, a running back looks like a supreme luxury, because we don’t know which veterans the Bills will sign. If Daryl Williams and Jon Feliciano are replaced by Trey Adams and Ike Boettger, then we’re dealing with different circumstances.
I’ll go on the record saying that if the Bills draft a running back, Harris and Travis Etienne should be the only options. Go big or go home.
But when I weigh the value of a premier running back against the other positions on the field, and I think about where Buffalo struggled this year, my mind goes back to the trenches. When opponents had the upper hand, it was because the Bills weren’t able to disrupt them with their front four, or because the Bills weren’t blocking well enough to win tough yards on 3rd-and-1 or 2nd-and-2.
With that in mind, I zeroed in on two Texas Longhorns from the board here. Edge rusher Joseph Ossai is a remarkable athlete with a red-hot motor and a knack for big plays. He’s a little undersized, but the Bills only have one twitched-up edge rusher on the roster—a man named Jerry Hughes. Samuel Cosmi is 6’7” and 310 lbs, with 34 career starts at tackle—40 percent on the right side, and 60 percent on the left side. He’s another gifted athlete, and has room in his frame to bulk up and become an impact run blocker. Either player would satisfy me more than a running back would.