The Buffalo Bills have lacked elite talent at the running back position since LeSean McCoy left following the 2018 season. One could make the argument that they even lacked elite talent during that 2018 season, since Shady wasn’t quite as explosive as he had been in years past.
While McCoy’s calling card during his career was his breakaway speed and video game-like agility, the current state of affairs in the Bills’ running back room relies more on timing and “keeping ahead of the stick.” This isn’t a group that scares people with its speed—frankly, it isn’t a group that scares many people at all—but it is a group that, when things are good along the offensive line, can do damage.
In today’s edition of our state of the Buffalo Bills roster series, we examine the running backs.
Contract status for 2021: Signed; final year of rookie contract ($2,798,956 cap hit, $258,956 dead cap if cut or traded)
Age: 24 (25 on 9/3/2022)
Playing time: 17 games, 16 starts, 718 snaps (59.93% of offensive total)
Key statistics: 188 carries, 870 yards, 4.6 yards per carry, 7 touchdowns, 50 targets, 40 receptions, 228 yards, 5.7 yards per reception, 1 touchdown, 5 fumbles
For the first dozen games of the season, Singletary played over half of the offensive snaps just four times. In those 12 games, Singletary rushed for 495 yards on 108 carries, scoring two touchdowns. In the season’s final seven games, including the postseason, Singletary’s snap share never dipped below 76%, and he thrived as a result of the larger workload. He handled 106 carries and totaled 482 yards and eight touchdowns. Was that a harbinger of things to come for Singletary as he enters the last year of his rookie contract, or was the increased workload borne out of necessity given the lack of impact options at the position outside of him? We’ll find out how Buffalo handles the offseason and then throughout training camp, but one thing is certain: Singletary showed that, when given the chance to be the lead back, he could not only handle the call, but excel in that role.
Contract status for 2021: Signed; third year of rookie contract ($1,237,354 cap hit, $457,208 dead cap if cut or traded)
Age: 24 (25 on 12/15/2022)
Playing time: 13 games, 380 snaps (31.72% of offensive total)
Key statistics: 96 carries, 345 yards, 3.6 yards per carry, 4 touchdowns, 32 targets, 23 receptions, 197 yards, 8.6 yards per reception, 2 fumbles
For a time, it looked like Moss would overtake Singletary as the top back in the offense; however, his plodding style never quite allowed the team to gain any sort of momentum in the running game. By the end of the year, Moss’s role had been reduced to that of emergency substitute, as he really only entered the game when Singletary was too winded to continue. It’s hard to see the Bills releasing Moss, but it’s also hard to see him contributing much moving forward.
Contract status for 2021: Unsigned; UFA
Age: 26 (27 on 2/28/2022)
Playing time: 9 games, 81 offensive snaps (6.76% of total), 57 special teams snaps (13.13% of total)
Key statistics: 26 carries, 125 yards, 4.8 yards per carry, 1 touchdown, 9 targets, 7 receptions, 72 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 kickoff return, 27 kickoff return yards, 1 fumble
The speed element that Breida brought to the table was helpful for a time, as he gave the offense a boost in the middle of the season. Breida touched the ball 23 times in a three-week span covering Weeks 10-12. He rushed for 105 yards and a touchdown and caught six passes for 67 yards and two more touchdowns in that timeframe. A late-season surge from Devin Singletary relegated Breida back to the bench, but he is definitely an explosive weapon capable of helping a team in need.
Contract status for 2021: Unsigned; UFA
Age: 33 (34 on 7/26/2022)
Playing time: 17 games, 306 special teams snaps (70.51% of team total), one offensive snap (.08% of team total)
Key statistics: 6 tackles, 1 fumble recovery
The special-teams ace played more snaps in that phase of the game, behind only Tyler Matakevich and Reggie Gilliam, but he only appeared on one offensive snap. Jones is valued heavily as a leader and a special-teams contributor, but with a salary-cap crunch staring the Bills squarely in the face, he’s unlikely to return on anything other than a deal for the veteran’s minimum.
Contract status for 2021: Signed; final year of rookie contract ($901,667 cap hit; $6,667 dead cap if cut or traded)
Age: 24 (25 on 8/20/2022)
Playing time: 16 games, 5 starts, 315 special teams snaps (72.58% of team total), 155 offensive snaps (12.94% of team total)
Key statistics: 3 carries, 3 yards, 1 yard per carry, 5 targets, 3 receptions, 23 yards, 3 tackles
The man they call Sledge was once again a valuable contributor on special teams, playing more snaps on that unit than anyone other than Tyler Matakevich. He played quite a bit in the early going, as he had double-digit offensive snaps in four of Buffalo’s first five games. He disappeared for a bit in the middle, but as the season wore on, his role on offense expanded again. Gilliam played 9, 15, 18, 19, and 16 snaps in Buffalo’s final five games, helping to pave the way for Devin Singletary’s late-season resurgence.
If you’re reading this and you feel like I’m missing someone, fear not—I wondered the same thing. Christian Wade, everyone’s favorite practice-squad player, is no longer listed on the team’s official roster. He isn’t noted as a practice-squad player, a reserve/future player, nothing. According to his Wikipedia page, this has been the case since September 20, but I just noticed it in January when researching for this piece. Since he does not appear on Buffalo’s roster in any capacity, I am not counting him among the people on the Bills’ roster.
With Singletary, Moss, and Gilliam under contract for next season, I don’t expect that the Bills will do too much here. It’s clear that they need someone who can be a better complement to Singletary than Moss, whose skill set mirrors Singletary’s a bit too closely for it to add much. A speed option added through free agency is the route the Bills have gone the last few years, with T.J. Yeldon and Matt Breida serving as the third back who can run fast and catch passes. I’d like to see the team draft a home-run threat in the later rounds to fill that role. I don’t expect that Breida or Jones will be re-signed, though if I had to bet on one returning, it’s Jones.
Given the lack of financial and draft resources the team has poured into this position, I wouldn’t expect a big-name trade like ones I’ve seen floated on social media for Saquon Barkley or Christian McCaffrey. I’d expect that the team will make a low-key move to bolster the back of the roster, keeping Singletary in line to be the lead back again in 2022.