The Buffalo Bills were a two running back team for the last four years under Brian Daboll. It started in Josh Allen’s first year with a backfield of LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory, to Devin Singletary and Frank Gore, to two seasons of Devin Singletary and Zack Moss (with a sprinkle of Matt Breida.) So why would they change this formula that has brought them success offensively? Why would they need another running back when Josh Allen’s legs are as feared as any running backs?
The answer starts with reading the tea leaves. The Bills have invested three day-two picks into the backfield over the past four drafts, including drafting James Cook in the back end of the second round in 2022. Buffalo has invested substantial resources to create a diverse and effective backfield. What does each player bring? How do they fit the Ken Dorsey offensive scheme? How does Ken Dorsey utilize each of them without taking the ball out of Josh Allen’s hand or jeopardizing the passing game?
What Each Running Back Brings
Let’s start with Devin Singletary.
Despite Zack Moss’s best attempts, he was unable to unseat Devin Singletary as the team’s top running back the last two seasons. Singletary finished 13th in yards per attempt among running backs in 2021. Perhaps more importantly, he ranked No. 4 in yards per attempt on inside zone runs among running backs with 10 or more inside zones runs. In previous stops, these runs have been staples for offensive line coach/running game coordinator Aaron Kromer. Devin Singletary also may be the most elusive of the three main running backs that the Bills will feature, finishing third among ball-carriers in missed tackles and breaking the seventh-most tackles in the NFL.
What about Zack Moss?
After getting hurt in the divisional round in 2020, Moss struggled to meet many of the expectations for him coming out of Utah. But it is important to remember what we did see in his rookie year. If healed from his ankle injury, Zack Moss could be Buffalo’s best pass blocker in the backfield. Per ProFootballFocus, Moss earned a pass blocking grade over 80 four times his rookie season and over 73 on eight occasions. Moss also has the potential to regain his form as a powerful short yardage back. In 2020, 23-percent of his carries were run to the gap to the left of the center, where he averaged 4.8 yards per carry.
— Pro Football Network (@PFN365) August 13, 2022
Finally, let’s not forget about the rookie, James Cook. The Georgia product is the shiny new toy in the Bills’ running back room. Cook brings a functional game speed not seen from Buffalo’s backfield since Sean McDermott, and Brandon Beane came to town. Cook’s speed allows him to be both a patient runner, allowing plays to develop in front of him before making a move upfield and beating defenders to the edge. Cook is a proficient pass catcher and can line up comfortably in multiple spots. Cook shared a crowded backfield in Georgia, catching 17 passes for 119 yards, but lined up in the slot 18 times. Cook has the potential to be the Bills’ best pass catching running back as a rookie.
What makes this year different?
I will state the obvious first. The Bills have a new play caller, which means the offense will, in at least a minor way, deviate from what we have seen in the last three seasons. A theme in the offseason for Buffalo has been flexibility. Brandon Beane has put together a set of pass catchers that allows any number of formations to be run effectively by dictating defensive personnel. For example, if the Bills come out with Dawson Knox and O.J. Howard, who do you use to cover a tight end with both being mismatches for a typical linebacker?
In the same way, having three unique running backs can also stress a defense.Who mans up on a James Cook route of the backfield? Are you willing to keep lite box and allow Zack Moss to run through your defense? And despite using the prior 600 words to tell you each running back is different, there is just enough overlap in skill sets that Ken Dorsey doesn’t feel the presence of one of the other serves as a tell for the defense. For example, Ken Dorsey complimented James Cook’s blitz pick up during his August 23rd media availability. Zack Moss, who I described as a power back earlier, had one of the more impressive highlights of the preseason on a cutback run in week one of the preseason against the Colts. Ken Dorsey says he does not feel “hamstrung” by any of the backs because of their multiple skill sets.
So is this the year we see a Patriots-esq committee out of the Bills backfield? Time will tell. But one thing is undeniable. The 2022 Buffalo Bills have perhaps their most exciting running back room of the last four or five years. They can transform Buffalo’s offense into an even more dynamic, fast, and unpredictable offense.