The Buffalo Bills have made a concerted effort over the last 13 months to make over their offensive skill positions. It only takes one look at the list of backs, receivers and tight ends they've acquired in that time frame to understand how radical the change has been - and all of them could push for considerable playing time this season.
- RB Bryce Brown (May 2014 trade)
- RB Anthony Dixon (March 2014 free agent)
- FB Frank Summers (April 2013 free agent)
- WR Sammy Watkins (Round 1, 2014 NFL Draft)
- WR Robert Woods (Round 2, 2013 NFL Draft)
- WR Mike Williams (April 2014 trade)
- WR Marquise Goodwin (Round 3, 2013 NFL Draft)
- TE Tony Moeaki (December 2013 free agent)
- TE Chris Gragg (Round 7, 2013 NFL Draft)
Those names will be competing - and in some cases, they'll lose - with several holdovers from a previous Bills regime that remain major contributors on offense. That list of names includes running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, wide receivers T.J. Graham and Marcus Easley, and tight ends Scott Chandler and Lee Smith.
That's a lot of names (and quite a bit of talent, too, by the way) without a ton of playing time to go around. Take out the five offensive linemen and the quarterback, and you're left to pick five names out of this list for any given play. Let's take a closer look at the Bills' offense, based on 2013 snap counts, and how playing time percentages at each position could break out.
In order to capture an accurate representation of the personnel used in Buffalo's offense, all we need to do is add up the play time percentages for each position from last year's numbers, then do some quick figuring beyond that.
At running back, Jackson (57.1 percent of snaps), Spiller (33.5 percent), Tashard Choice (9.1 percent) and Ronnie Wingo (0.3 percent) add up to 100 percent of snaps. That's a one-to-one ratio of total offensive snaps, meaning that the Bills had one running back on the field at a time.
At fullback, Summers (19.4 percent) and Evan Rodriguez (1.6 percent) constituted just 21 percent of snaps, meaning that the Bills had a fullback on the field roughly once every five plays.
At wide receiver, Woods (78.4 percent), Graham (71.3 percent), Stevie Johnson (60.4 percent), Goodwin (27 percent), Chris Hogan (16.1 percent) and Easley (5.3 percent) added up to 258.5 percent. That's a 2.6-to-1 ratio for receivers to plays, meaning that the Bills averaged 2.6 receivers per snap last season. This, obviously, is the biggest area of fluctuation, as depending on the down and distance the team could have anywhere from zero to five receivers on the field at any time.
Finally, at tight end, Chandler (79.1 percent), Smith (36.9 percent) and Gragg (4.4 percent) added up to 120.4 percent, meaning that the team averaged 1.2 tight ends per snap. Put another way, the Bills almost always had one tight end on the field, and a second was added at about the same clip that they used their fullbacks.
For the purposes of this breakdown, we'll assume full health and availability for every skill player on offense. How would you break out playing time totals for players at each functional skill position this season? Here's my stab at it, but feel free to leave yours in the comments.
Running back: Jackson and Spiller are still handling the vast majority of the workload. I'll cut back Jackson's load a bit to keep his 33-year-old legs fresh, bump Spiller up a touch, and incorporate Brown into the back end of the rotation to make sure he's involved in case he has to step into a bigger workload at some point.
- Jackson: 45 percent of plays
- Spiller: 45 percent of plays
- Brown: 10 percent of plays
Fullback: Let's just call this "big back," because the Bills like this position to be more versatile than simply being a blocking back. Dixon has experience as a fullback and has the ability to be a goal line back, so I'm comfortable just giving this small role to him.
- Dixon: 20 percent of plays
Wide receiver: This position is trickier than you'd imagine. The Bills have four players that they need to find significant snaps for, but there also needs to be a pecking order, because one or two of them are going to basically be role players. Carving out specific chunks for players is also difficult; injuries prevented any receiver from cracking the 80 percent barrier last year, but in 2012, Johnson played 93 percent of snaps. I'll aim lower than that in the name of needing to get more guys involved, because Johnson was the only consistent receiver on the team two years ago.
- Watkins: 85 percent of plays
- Woods: 80 percent of plays
- Williams: 60 percent of plays
- Goodwin: 35 percent of plays
Tight end: Assuming Smith remains as the blocking specialist (which he should, because he's a standout in that role), the Bills would clearly like to accommodate Moeaki in the lineup, as they've spoken highly of him essentially from the moment he was signed.
- Chandler: 50 percent of plays
- Moeaki: 45 percent of plays
- Smith: 25 percent of plays
This might be more of a one-game look than a season-long look, because obviously there will be injuries, and as a result, more players than the names you see above will be on the field.
There are obviously places where it's easy to disagree, or to openly hope that a player sees more playing time than might be comfortably projected (ahem, Spiller). Maybe you're interpreting the team's intentions slightly differently regarding specific personnel (I imagine plenty of arguments for Gragg forthcoming). But this is the rough framework that we should be working within trying to project play time percentages for Buffalo's personnel next season. What would you change?