The Buffalo Bills, undefeated through two preseason games, have been helped by several standout performances from players on the roster. Rookie receiver Khalil Shakir leads the team in receiving with 151 yards on eight catches (an excellent 18.9 yards per reception). Reserve linemen Bobby Hart and Cody Ford pulverized the Denver Broncos in the team’s 42-15 smackdown on Saturday. But the most impressive player, at this point, has been Raheem Blackshear, the running back out of Virginia Tech.
His stats through two games definitely stand out: 11 carries for 69 yards and two TDs, plus six catches on seven targets totaling 81 yards. Dig a little deeper, and it’s more impressive: four of his carries came within the five-yard line, when there was barely any real estate left to claim. Take out those carries, which gained seven yards, and the remainder of his run production was an eye-popping seven carries for 62 yards, at a clip of 8.9 yards per carry.
The tape, if anything, speaks louder than the stat sheet. Blackshear makes use of a wide array of open-field moves to elude tacklers. He has a rugby gallop, a stutter-step, jukes and hard cuts, and a spin move. Even better, he can execute those without dropping his speed too much. A natural receiver with good hands, he also has solid vision to anticipate defenders coming into his space.
To sum it up, Blackshear’s shown himself to be a hell of a player—a receiving back who might have upside to play on every down.
But you have to wonder if he’ll ever get that chance with the Buffalo Bills.
The running back room is already set with this team, and arguably was set as soon as training camp began. Devin Singletary, in the final year of his contract, is the lead back. Zack Moss looks resurgent, more than a year removed from ankle surgery. James Cook, the rookie second-round pick, will see plenty of playing time. The team is so confident in special teams captain Taiwan Jones that they aren’t even playing him in the preseason. And Reggie Gilliam recently signed a new contract as the team’s fullback of choice.
I’m sure the Bills would love to keep Blackshear on their practice squad. He could be their insurance policy for Cook, in case of injury. Maybe he could study under Jones, improve his tackling, and work his way onto the team with special teams next year. Maybe Singletary leaves in free agency, Moss departs in another year, and Blackshear works up the depth chart.
But that’s the struggle if you want to fight for a role on a team with Super Bowl ambitions. Look around and you see those battles everywhere. Cam Lewis and Nick McCloud are moonlighting at safety, hoping to demonstrate enough value to stick. Mike Love, a defensive end now in his fifth season with the Bills, is doing his part to remain with the practice squad for yet another year. Ultimately, these players need to fight their hardest, hope for a little luck, and decide whether they’d prefer to be around a high-quality organization in a depth role, or roll the dice on a bigger opportunity with a team that has many more problems.