The Buffalo Bills’ running back room has been an enigma wrapped in a conundrum blanketed by a paradox under Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott. For a quick refresher, here are the running backs to carry the ball for Buffalo since 2018: Devin Singletary, James Cook, Nyheim Hines, Duke Johnson, Zack Moss, Matt Breida, TJ Yeldon, Antonio Williams, Frank Gore, Senorise Perry, LeSean McCoy, Chris Ivory, Marcus Murphy, Keith Ford, and a partridge in a pear tree.
Buffalo’s rushing attack, as a whole, was good last year. They finished seventh in rushing yards per game and second in yards per attempt. Now, we have to understand that counts quarterback Josh Allen in the rushing stats. Allen is a top three rusher at the QB position.
Looking ahead to 2023, both Beane and McDermott have stated they want Allen to take fewer hits. That makes sense, he is the franchise. The Bills’ front office addressed this issue by adding Damien Harris from the Patriots in free agency to go along with more traditional pass-catching backs in Cook and Hines. However, they also lost their leading rusher from last season, Devin Singletary, to the Houston Texans. Let’s break down the coming and going a bit more below.
Damien Harris is a player I have tracked back to his days as a five-star recruit out of the state of Kentucky. Why? He was once thought to be a Michigan lean and if you follow my work on here or social media you know I am a diehard Wolverine. The 26-year-old was the 87th pick of the 2019 draft out of Alabama. He signed a one-year deal in Buffalo worth a reported $1.77M. Harris was dinged up for much of last season, lining up just 238 times for the Patriots, of those snaps 224 were in the backfield. In his 11 games in 2022, the 5’11”, 213-pound back rushed for 462 yards for three touchdowns and added 17 receptions for 97 more yards. He is a solid blocker in the pass game and should give Buffalo an alternate option in short yardage to Josh Allen.
Devin Singletary has been the Bills’ RB1 for the last four seasons, racking up 4122 total yards and 20 total touchdowns. During this free agency period, he signed a reported one-year, $2.75M deal with the Texans. Motor played 794 snaps for Buffalo in 2022, with 690 of them coming in the backfield, and the rest were either in the slot or out wide. The Bills’ feature running back led the team in most boxscore stats last season with his 819 yards and five touchdowns. His 38 receptions and 280 receiving yards were also the most of the squad’s running backs.
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When it comes to ranking the RB stables in the AFC East, close your eyes and throw a dart at team logos on a dartboard. If Breece Hall comes back fully healthy and looks like the guy he was as a rookie, I would give them the pole position. After that, I trust Mike McDaniel to scheme up his guys in Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. The most accomplished member of this group in 2022 was the Patriots’ Rhamondre Stevenson, who finished 13th in yards and 25th in rushing touchdowns last year. Since I am putting my feet to the fire to rank these units heading into 2023, I go Jets, Dolphins, Patriots, and Bills. Before Buffalo fans get upset, I am not counting what Allen can do in these rankings. Also, if Harris remains healthy for 17 weeks and Cook takes a step forward from his 507 rushing yards and two touchdowns with 180 receiving yards and another TD, the Bills could easily vault to the top of the chart.
Looking around the NFL, I wouldn’t put the Bills’ running back stable inside the top ten. As I said above, there is certainly an opportunity to change this by the end of 2023, but they need Harris to reemerge as the five-star freak that went to Bama and became a top 100 pick. They also need Cook to show the versatility we all fell in love with when the Bills took him out of Georgia in the second round last year. If those two things come together and Ken Dorsey can better utilize Hines, Buffalo can be cooking (no pun intended) with gas.
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I could see the Bills using any of their picks on a running back in the 2023 draft. It wouldn’t shock me if they took Texas’ Bijan Robinson in round one. If they did I’d immediately argue they have the best backfield in the division. It also wouldn’t shock me if they didn’t touch RB until we get to undrafted free agents. If a post-draft signing is a route Beane decides to traverse, I have my eyes on Camerun Peoples out of Appalachian State. Peoples stands just over 6ft and tips the scales at 217lbs. With Cook as the long-term answer as RB1 and the main focus in the passing game, Buffalo could still use a bruiser to groom behind Harris, who is only on that one-year deal. Enter Peoples! He can be the bowling ball on short-yardage Bills fans have long yearned for from a guy who runs behind his pads.
“Roschon Johnson is not nearly as well-known as the RB in front of him on the Texas Longhorn’s depth chart, but don’t be surprised to hear his name at pick No. 130 or 137. At 6-foot-2 and 223 lbs, he would bring the thunder to Cook’s lightning. It would be a surprising addition considering the newly acquired Harris, but he is only on one year deal, and Johnson could prove to be a steal if his talent was just hidden behind the otherworldly abilities of Robinson. Johnson had a 45% missed tackle rate, which led all RBs with more than 190 attempts (PFF), and has good vision, while also bringing the hammer. PFF lists him as the draft’s 122nd best prospect, and TDN has rated him 126th overall,” – @LowBuffa.
“There’s a subset of Bills fans obsessed with Bijan Robinson, for good reason, but mark me down as OUT on an RB in Round 1 of this NFL Draft. Taking one late in the draft though could be a priority which is why I have my eyes on Tavion Thomas at Pick No. 205. 6-foot, 237lbs, Thomas is the bruiser the Bills have long coveted. Drafting Thomas would mean a real competition between him and Harris for RB2 in camp. Outside of him I can’t get Deuce Vaughn out of my mind. He may have a redundant skillset to players currently on the roster but if you watch him play there’s no denying he’s a special player,” – @UberHansen.
“Zach Charbonnet (third round) While the hype train is firm on potential all-star Bijan Robinson, the Bills could bolster their running back room with Zach Charbonnet. Already having a speed back in Cook, Charbonnet would provide that big-body bruiser type, to maximize change-of-pace scheming. Charbonnet possesses good speed with soft hands and massive goal-line upside – which would make the Bills more versatile/dynamic in the run game. Signing Harris shouldn’t stop Buffalo from selecting Charbonnet in the third, as value is off the charts for a potential three-down volume back!” – @Chris_Chous.
“Kentucky’s Chris Rodriguez is an old school, downhill, short yardage power running back. What you see is what you get. The redshirt senior lacks explosion but is a pain to bring down and is a plus pass protector. He would be a solid addition to any running back committee,” – @SportsRoc2.