The Buffalo Bills and their fans have long known the value of a versatile running back. Ever since the days of Thurman Thomas acting not only as one of the league’s best pure runners, but also as one of the league’s most dangerous receiving threats, it’s been clear to us that running backs are more than just rushers.
Finding a player who can contribute as a receiver out of the backfield is especially important in the modern NFL. Lining up a dynamic receiving threat on a helpless linebacker or a safety who’s used to playing deep zones can create huge issues for a defense. Motioning one out wide can not only help an offense in decoding a defense’s coverage, but can also wreak havoc on the checks and communications that are so important in a defensive backfield.
In today’s edition of “90 players in 90 days,” we discuss a dual-threat running back who didn’t have much opportunity to shine on offense with Buffalo last season.
Name: Nyheim Hines
Height/Weight: 5’9”, 196 pounds
Age: 26 (27 on 11/12/2023)
College: N.C. State
Acquired: Traded to Buffalo on 11/1/2022; the Bills sent running back Zack Moss and a conditional sixth-round pick to the Colts
Financial situation (per Spotrac): Hines enters the second year of the three-year deal he signed with the Colts in September 2021. His 2023 cap hit is $3.5 million, and the Bills would be responsible for a dead-cap charge of $2 million if he were released or traded prior to the season. As a vested veteran, the entirety of his base salary becomes guaranteed if he’s on the roster for Week 1. That value is $2.56 million.
2022 Recap: Hines never had much of a role as a pure runner with the Colts, but through seven games last season, he found himself in an even smaller role than he was accustomed to having. He had carried the ball just 18 times for a total of 36 yards, adding 25 receptions for 188 yards. He returned punts for Indianapolis, totaling 11 returns for 111 yards before being traded to the Bills. Upon arrival in Buffalo, Hines never broke into the main rotation on offense. Whether that was because of offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey’s preferences, worries about Hines knowing the playbook, or a desire to keep him fresh for his role as the primary return man is unclear. However, Hines played on just 66 offensive snaps for Buffalo in nine games. He rushed six times for -3 yards, adding five receptions for 53 yards. His main contribution in Buffalo, though, was as a return man, and he he made his biggest contribution in the Bills’ final regular-season game. In the first game following safety Damar Hamlin’s collapse on the field, Hines took the opening kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown in an absolutely electric moment. He added a 101-yard return touchdown in the third quarter, as well. In the regular season with the Bills, Hines returned 16 punts for 153 yards and 19 kickoffs for 554 yards and two scores. Hines continued to shine as a returner in the playoffs, totaling 146 kickoff return yards on six tries. He had three punt returns for just 17 yards and added two receptions for 11 yards in Buffalo’s two playoff games.
Positional outlook: Hines is one of five true running backs in camp. He’s joined by James Cook, Damien Harris, Latavius Murray, and Jordan Mims. Fullback Reggie Gilliam is also a member of the backfield crew.
2023 Offseason: Hines is healthy and he has participated in offseason activities to date.
2023 Season outlook: Hines figures to be the team’s primary return man once again this season, but his role on offense is the big question for me. He has proven throughout his career to be a dynamic receiving threat out of the backfield, as he has 240 receptions for 1,778 yards and 8 touchdowns across his five NFL seasons. In a backfield that already has a bruising runner in Harris and a dynamic pass-catching threat in the up-and-coming Cook, it’s hard to think about ways to integrate Hines into the offense. Hines and Cook could each be used as slot receivers or as jet-sweep players along with receiver Deonte Harty, who should slot into the Isaiah McKenzie role from the last few years. If Dorsey can find a way to deploy Hines situationally, it just adds another element to the Bills’ offensive attack. I like the idea of lining up with two tight ends and two running backs because, whether those backs are Harris and Cook, Hines and Cook, or Harris and Hines, the Bills can do a lot of things with their formations that could wreak havoc on a defense. Hines’ ability as a receiver opens up a lot of possibilities on offense. While we know he is a great return-man, taking a step forward in terms of his offensive contribution is something I want to see in 2023.