Two major announcements came out around the same time on Monday night that impacted the Buffalo Bills’ running back position. Devin “Motor” Singletary has left Orchard Park, NY, agreeing to a one-year deal with the Houston Texans. Now headed for the Bills is former New England Patriots running back Damien Harris, also on a one-year deal. This is of course a deliberate set up to establish the idea we’ll be comparing and contrasting. As a bit of foreshadowing, I’ve seen the chatter on the signing and frankly... I’m not sure I agree with much of the initial buzz.
Play 1 — Contact Balance
A thing I’m a big fan of is contact balance. The ability to keep your body oriented or balanced despite taking a hit. This is a good highlight for Damien Harris and shows off his ceiling for contact balance. I think he’s got plenty of it overall. Not elite like LeSean McCoy, but good like Devin Singletary.
Play 2 — Arm extension
Two things to note on this play. The first is that Harris used his left arm at the pause to keep himself clean from the tackle. The next is that he fell forward after contact and created a couple more yards. This is where contact balance can help out.
Play 3 — Hitting a wall
Contact balance allows extra yards when leaning the right direction. On this play, Harris was hit from the side and had a small wall in front of him. Leaning/contact balance was less useful here. For this, you want a pile pusher. This play is pretty representative of Harris hitting a pile, in that the pile typically wins. Both Singletary and Harris averaged 1.5 yards after contact in 2022. That’s not a perfect measure of the ability to push a pile, but it’s part of the equation.
Play 4 — Cutting back inside
You’re probably going to get sick of the comparison, but this is another play where the duo in question are more alike than different. Harris dif a great job seeing the play develop and he knew he couldn’t beat the highlighted player (Darnell Savage Jr.) to the edge. Harris cut inside where there was a little hope of creating some extra yards. Where have we seen good vision and adequate but not breakaway speed before?
Play 5 — Possible offensive holding?
Damien Harris is a willing and overall capable blocker. This play was against cornerback Taron Johnson, who couldn’t escape around Harris. On other snaps, I saw him do pretty well against linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and more. Harris holds his own.
Play 6 — More piles
I’ve seen a lot of people insinuating that Harris might be a bit more battering ram than Singletary was for the Bills. I really just don’t see it. Harris did fall forward like we’ve seen above, but the weight of defensive tackle Ed Oliver pulled him right down.
Play 7 — End on a high note ♪
I like the vision and the cut back to get into the end zone. Harris also committed to finishing the play.
I’m not deliberately trying to be a contrarian, but it does seem my look at Damien Harris is different than a lot of other people are suggesting about his play. I think there’s an argument to be made that Harris runs a little more powerfully than Singletary, but I’d counter that he seems a touch less elusive too. Harris is about 11 pounds heavier, which isn’t anything to sneeze at but it’s not a giant gulf either. Further, Harris is also four inches taller than Motor, meaning it’s a tick harder for him to become the “low man” in many contests.
Maybe they’ll use Harris differently? Perhaps. The Patriots didn’t in 2022 though. Pro Football Reference tracks the percentage of their team’s rushing attempts a player accounts for when the team is at the five-yard line or closer to the goal. When the Bills were within five yards of the end zone, Devin Singletary accounted for 38.9% of the rushing attempts that Buffalo took in this area of the field. Damien Harris? Only 16.7% of the Patriots’ rushing attempts were given to Harris.
But Skare, didn’t Harris play in fewer games due to injury? Sure, but it was a difference of about five games. Singletary played in 45% more games — and well over double the percentage of his team’s carries inside the five.
Here’s the thing. I think Damien Harris will be fine with Buffalo. I liked Devin Singletary and felt he could be successful with the team and overall he was most weeks. I don’t see Harris as an upgrade necessarily or a player with a very different skill set from Singletary, but he certainly isn’t a downgrade either. This is a pretty lateral move in my eyes, and I’m completely okay with that idea.