For so much of the 2021 season, it felt like the Buffalo Bills couldn’t pick up big yards on the ground when they needed them. Unless the rusher was quarterback Josh Allen, Buffalo’s running game was inconsistent at best. Then, over the season’s final month, something clicked. The offensive line started clearing space for running backs. The Bills could gain yards on the ground. And they did it with one back primarily leading the way.
Was the team’s success towards the end of the year a harbinger of things to come? From Week 1 to Week 13, Buffalo averaged 107.7 yards per game on the ground. Of the 1,400 yards they gained, Allen rushed for 422 of them. Starting with Buffalo’s Week 14 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the team averaged 156 yards per game on the ground. Of the 1,092 yards they gained through their elimination from the playoffs, Allen rushed for 475 of them.
Removing Allen’s rushing totals, that means that the Bills gained an average of 75 yards per game on the ground from their backs and receivers for the first 12 games of the year, and 88 yards per game on the ground from that same grouping in the team’s better rushing portion over the final seven games. Did the backs play better? Did Allen going Super Saiyan pad the team’s rushing totals? What about the offensive line switches?
In today’s edition of “90 players in 90 days,” we’ll touch on some of that while discussing the team’s leading rusher.
Name: Devin Singletary
Height/Weight: 5’7” 203 lbs
Age: 24 (25 on 9/3/2022)
Experience/Draft: 4; selected in the third round (No. 74 overall) of the 2019 NFL Draft by Buffalo
College: Florida Atlantic
Acquired: Third-round draft choice
Financial situation (per Spotrac): Singletary enters the final year of his rookie contract. That deal was worth $3.898 million overall. For the 2022 season, Singletary carries a cap hit of $2,798,956, and a dead-cap charge of $258,956 is Buffalo’s to carry if he is cut or traded.
2021 Recap: Singletary began the year looking like he’d be the leader of a running back-by-committee setup with him and Zack Moss as the yin to each other’s yang. He played 75% and 64% of the team’s snaps, respectively, in the first two games, amassing 24 carries for 154 yards and a touchdown over those two weeks. He had a tough go of it against the Washington Football Team, carrying 11 times for just 26 yards, before bouncing back against the Houston Texans with 14 carries and 79 yards. In those games, he played less than 50% of the snaps. But since the Bills blew their opponents out, we assumed it was to avoid injury. Well, he played in just 75 snaps over the next three weeks, carrying only 18 times for 80 yards in those three games. His usage was spotty and his results were poor through the middle of December before he finally broke out against the Carolina Panthers. He scored six touchdowns over Buffalo’s last four games, ending the year by carrying 76 times for 323 yards and five touchdowns in the team’s final four regular-season games. For the year, Singletary had 188 carries for 870 yards and seven rushing touchdowns, adding 40 receptions for 228 yards and another score. In the playoffs, he carried 26 times for 107 yards and three touchdowns over two games, adding seven receptions for 38 yards. He fumbled five times on the season, and only once after Week 4.
Positional outlook: Singletary once again looks like he’ll be the “first-down back,” with Zack Moss and James Cook looking likely to mix in at different times. Duke Johnson, Taiwan Jones, and Raheem Blackshear are the other running backs in camp. Reggie Gilliam is the fullback.
2022 Offseason: Singletary is healthy and he has participated in all OTAs and camp practices to date. He was held out of most of the team’s Friday night scrimmage after one big gain, so we’ll monitor.
2022 Season outlook: Buffalo’s rushing attack felt like it took on a clearer identity at the end of the year last season. That coincided with Singletary playing a greater number of snaps per game, as he never dipped below a 68% snap share after Week 14. When the offensive line group added Ryan Bates, things seemed to gel further. Looking at the numbers, I’m not sure how much of that was a feeling and how much of it was real, but Singletary definitely showed that he could carry the heavier load at the end of the season.
The Bills drafted Cook in the second round this year, and he is an explosive receiver out of the backfield and the slot, which could limit touches and snaps for Singletary. However, the Bills could use both backs at the same time, as well. Singletary has always felt like a guy who could have bigger numbers if he had more touches, but the offense operates best when he has the ball between 14 and 18 times in a game. This is Allen’s offense and it’s a passing scheme. Singletary needs to be able to hit the hole and gain chunks of yards when called upon. I expect that he’ll have a similar year to last season volume-wise, so an uptick in efficiency could help some of those counting numbers. He’s a solid runner and a good receiver, as well.