In a crowded Buffalo Bills backfield, the competition at running back should be one to keep an eye on throughout training camp this summer. Anthony Dixon finds himself as the first player profiled in our 2015 Bubble Watch series, with a number of factors working for and against him in his bid to make the team.
More than just a short-yardage back
Heading into the 2014 season, many thought that Dixon would specialize in goal line and short-yardage situations. Dixon flashed big-play ability early in his Bills tenure with a memorable 47-yard scamper against Chicago in Week 1. Other examples include a 62-yard game on nine attempts against Kansas City, and a 30-yard touchdown run against the Jets. While no one will see Dixon as a feature back for the Bills, there were enough instances last season to show that he could fill the void in a pinch if needed.
Special on special teams
Dixon played on 56 percent of all special teams snaps last season, second on the team to just Ty Powell. His ability on special teams made Dixon an easy choice for the previous coaching staff to keep active on game days, relegating Bryce Brown to the inactive list. While you could argue that the new coaching staff could see Dixon filling a different role, special teams coordinator Danny Crossman was retained by Rex Ryan this offseason. Dixon blocked two punts last season, displaying the ability to make game-changing plays as a valuable member of the special teams unit.
Added backfield competition
The status of Buffalo's incumbent running backs immediately came into question this offseason - first with the trade for LeSean McCoy, then with the drafting of Karlos Williams. When McCoy was acquired, there was some immediate speculation that Fred Jackson would be released, until (reportedly) Terry Pegula stepped in to ensure that Jackson would remain in Buffalo. When this happened, attention immediately turned to Dixon or Brown as the possible odd man out.
This speculation intensified when the Bills selected Williams in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft. A converted safety entering his junior season at Florida State, Williams excelled on offense and with the special teams unit. While a mid-round pick is not a lock to make the 53-man roster, most believe that Williams is expected to make the cut. Veteran fullback John Conner is part of the equation, as well; he's a fullback that has played for Ryan before that also has the ability to contribute on special teams.
Salary cap questions
This is not a big issue with Dixon, but his salary in 2015 ($1.26 million) is nearly double that of Brown ($660,000) and Connor ($585,000). Dixon is also on the books for over $1.3 million in 2016, a critical year for the Bills to evaluate the long-term contracts that will be needed to secure Marcell Dareus, Nigel Bradham, and Cordy Glenn. Should the cap come into question for the Bills, the price tag of a fourth running back could play into the equation for the front office at One Bills Drive.
The competition at running back will be one to monitor throughout the summer, with the fan-favorite Dixon having plenty of support in the Bills community. Do you think Dixon deserves to be on the bubble, or does he versatility on offense and special teams make him a sure thing? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.