Bills Training Camp Storylines: Who emerges as No. 1 RB?

07/01/2021
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Despite finishing the 2020 NFL season with a 13-3 record, the Buffalo Bills have several major question marks that they hope to answer during training camp. Here at Cover 1, we’ll be taking a look at the top storylines to follow throughout the summer at Bills’ training camp as the team looks to dethrone the Kansas City Chiefs and earn a Super Bowl nod in 2021.

In this series, we’ll dive into the biggest position battles, under-the-radar players, and narratives surrounding key players, while taking a look at the numbers game that general manager Brandon Beane will need to play as he trims the roster down to a final 53-man depth chart.

First, we’ll explore one of the biggest question marks on offense – the running game. Last season, Buffalo fielded the NFL’s 20th ranked rushing attack, averaging just 107.7 yards-per-game on the ground. While the Bills leaned on the electric Josh Allen to carry the team to the AFC Championship, the inconsistent run game held the offense back when it mattered most.

Many argued that the team needed to add a dynamic ball-carrier in the draft, but Beane expressed confidence in Devin Singletary and Zack Moss, choosing only to add veteran Matt Breida to the position group.

Both Singletary and Moss will be fighting to earn the No. 1 job, but at the moment, neither has done enough to prove that they’re capable of being a feature back in the NFL. As a rookie in 2019, Singletary showed promise, gaining 775 yards and two scores on the ground while averaging 5.1 yards-per-carry. He caught 29 passes for 164 receiving yards and two scores. But in 2020, he averaged just 4.4 yards-per-carry, racking up 687 yards on 156 carries with 38 catches for 269 receiving yards.

During the offseason, Singletary focused on transforming his body and it’s clear that he worked extremely hard to improve himself. Despite only gaining two pounds, he visibly added significant muscle mass and the former Florida Atlantic star believes he’s faster and more explosive than ever. While his physical transformation is definitely eye-opening, it’s important to temper expectations, as this time of year is the prime “best shape of my life” time for players around the league.

Nonetheless, Singletary is elusive and can be used in a multitude of ways on offense. He’s 5-foot-7, 205-pounds and while he doesn’t possess great speed, he’s shifty and quick with the ability to make defenders miss. His counterpart, Zack Moss, boasts a completely different skill set than Singletary’s. He’s big, compact and powerful, standing 5-foot-10, 226-pounds. He’s a downhill, physical power back that has enough wiggle to challenge second-level defenders.

Selected in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft, Moss had flashes as a rookie but his production wasn’t what many expected from the player that fantasy football experts touted as one of the biggest sleepers of the year. Moss rushed for 481 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 4.3 yards-per-carry. He missed three games due to a turf toe injury early in the year which definitely contributed to his lack of overall production. During Buffalo’s Wild Card victory over the Indianapolis Colts, he suffered an ankle injury that required surgery and prevented him from enjoying a full offseason of training. In games with both Moss and Singletary at full strength, Moss saw 52.9-percent of the team’s snaps to Singletary’s 47.2. In those games, Moss saw 20 more carries and four touchdowns while Singletary had one.

Many will argue that the Bills don’t need a “No. 1 running back,” instead utilizing a “running back by committee” approach – which is true. The runners boast styles that complement each other nicely, with Moss being the between-the-tackles bruiser and Singletary being the outside, make-you-miss guy. But somebody needs to step up and prove that they can be relied upon to positively impact the offense for a consistent period of time. Moss flashed that ability towards the end of the season, particularly in his two-touchdown performance against the New England Patriots and the against the Pittsburgh Steelers in which he carried the ball six times on a fourth quarter drive to ice the game.

Singletary, on the other hand, possesses skills that are desired in today’s pass-happy league. He’s a solid receiver out of the backfield and can pick up decent chunks of yards in space. But his lack of speed and explosiveness limits him from being a big-play threat.

Going off usage from last season, it would appear that Moss has a leg up over Singletary, especially due to his ability as a pass protector. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Moss was the only running back in the NFL with more than 50 pass-blocking snaps to not allow a single quarterback pressure. Singletary allowed three hurries in 73 pass-blocking snaps.

Singletary’s efforts to get more explosive and work on his speed in the offseason could potentially give him an initial advantage over his Moss, who was forced to spend the offseason rehabilitating his ankle rather than training. Improving the run game won’t cause the Bills to shy away from their bread and butter, which is the passing game, but they need to get consistent production on the ground when they call on their running backs if they hope to take that next step and secure a Super Bowl victory.

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Bills Training Camp: The battle for No. 3

After Moss and Singletary, the battle for the No. 3 job comes down to Antonio Williams vs. Matt Breida. Williams is a hot name among the fanbase at the moment. Signed as an undrafted free agent out of North Carolina following the 2020 NFL draft, Williams ended the regular season with a breakout game in Buffalo’s Week 17 victory over the Miami Dolphins, carrying the ball 12 times for 63 rushing yards and two touchdowns, adding one reception for 20 yards. The 5-foot-11, 215-pounder didn’t play at all on special teams last year, which could potentially hurt his chances at making the roster. But his play in a game in which the opponent was fighting for a playoff berth was definitely eye-opening enough to warrant a closer look at a real chance to make the team during training camp and preseason.

Breida is more likely to land on the 53-man roster given his experience and speed that’s unique to the offense. He’s entering his fifth year in the NFL after spending three seasons with the San Francisco 49ers and last year with the Miami Dolphins. A dynamic athlete that’s one of the fastest running backs in the NFL, Breida stands 5-foot-10, 190-pounds while boasting a 4.38 40-yard dash, a 42-inch vertical jump, an 11-foot-2 broad jump with 23 reps of 225-pounds on the bench press. He certainly has the athletic profile to be that playmaker Buffalo desires at the running back position.

Breida was a change-of-pace back in his three seasons with the 49ers, where he tallied 1,902 yards and six touchdowns on 381 carries (5.0 yards-per-carry), adding 67 receptions for 561 yards and four touchdowns out of the backfield. Last year, Breida failed to make any meaningful impact with the Dolphins, rushing for just 284 yards on 59 carries (4.3 yards-per-carry). While he definitely isn’t expected to compete for a starting job, Breida’s explosiveness and speed make him an intriguing player that offensive coordinator Brian Daboll will have fun designing plays for should he return to the level of play from a few seasons ago.

Christian Wade rounds out the position group, and while his story is definitely one that makes him easy to root for, it’s hard to see the former rugby star earning a spot on the 53-man-roster. The preseason darling has shown potential and athletic ability, but he just hasn’t had any live, in-game experience running the ball within a scheme on Sundays. Things could obviously change between now and August, but it’s probably safe to say that Wade will once again miss out on a roster spot.

Stay tuned to Cover 1 as we’ll keep you covered on everything you need to know about Bills Training Camp this summer.

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