Three Running Back Fits for the Buffalo Bills

02/28/2018
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 The Bills need to add a backup running back with a similar skillset to LeSean McCoy

One of the Buffalo Bills’ needs this offseason that MUST be addressed is the backup running back position. LeSean McCoy is still one of the premier backs in the NFL, but by the start of the season he will be 30 years old. Shady was weapon number one in 2017, having carried it 306 times, which was the most for him since 2014. His 1,138 yards were the 4th-most in the league and that was with some questionable scheme changes and predictable play calling.

As a pass catcher, McCoy was targeted 72 times, the 8th-most amongst running backs, catching 58 for 476 yards and two touchdowns. The staff obviously leaned on him, and consequently, he ate! But when he came out of the game the Bills’ offense immediately lost its identity. McCoy’s primary backup was Mike Tolbert, who is on the north side of 30, a 240+ lb pound back who registered 66 attempts for 247 yards and one touchdown.

New play caller Brian Daboll will look to bring back the Bills’ offensive identity.

In 2012, Daboll was the offensive coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs, a team that went 2-14 and lacked talent at every position except for one. The Chiefs had stud running back Jamaal Charles, backup tank Peyton Hillis, and Shaun Draughn even garnered some quality carries. The running backs were definitely featured, and that started with Charles. Charles touched the ball a total of 32o times, which included 285 rushing attempts for 1,509 yards.

Considering the evolution of Daboll as a play designer and play caller, I expect the organization to add some more dynamic weapons behind McCoy.

With that said, our scouts have pinpointed three running backs that fit the scheme and can offer other traits that could help the Bills improve upon their 29th-ranked offense of 2017.

 

Kalen Ballage – Arizona State – 6’2″ 227 pounds

Sep 30, 2017; Stanford, CA, USA; Stanford Cardinal fullback Houston Heimuli (34) attempts to defend against Arizona State Sun Devils running back Kalen Ballage (7) during the fourth quarter at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

 

Given the diversity of Daboll’s offense, Ballage would bring a tremendous amount of value, especially if he is drafted in the day three range, as projected. He played four years at ASU and was never really the lead back. In total, he carried it 450 times for 1,594 yards and 27 touchdowns. He’s an upright runner who doesn’t have top tier feet, but, given his size, his feet are pretty good. Ballage is best when the offense is stretching defenses horizontally, creating space for him to get to top speed and allowing him to make defenders miss. His issue is indecisiveness, as he struggles at times to read pulling linemen in gap blocking schemes. As he approaches the entry point on those runs, he will wait too long to make his cut. His feet will fire in place instead of getting north and south, which will minimize his gains. With that said, he does run with good lean and seems to always fall forward once he makes that cut. But his biggest value may be in the passing game, especially to the Bills. When McCoy came out last season, Tolbert was not a threat in the passing game (even though they still threw to him). As mentioned, Ballage looks comfortable in space, can run most of the route tree, and can make guys miss. There aren’t many backs with his size and skillset. He may not be a top five running back in this class, but he sure is a weapon and one that Daboll could have fun scheming for.

 

Lavon Coleman – Washington – 5’11” 223

Nov 10, 2017; Stanford, CA, USA; Washington Huskies running back Lavon Coleman (22) dives for the end zone over Stanford Cardinal safety Justin Reid (8) during an NCAA football game at Stanford Stadium. Stanford defeated Washington 30-22. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Coleman would be a nice Bills target for day 3 of the draft. He’s not real elusive or fast. One-speed, north/south, but at times he tries to create. Per Pro Football Focus, Coleman registered the 8th-highest elusive rating, which included an average of 2.99 yards after contact per attempt. He has shown that he can catch passes, especially the red zone, where he registered four receptions for 35 yards and two touchdowns. I get a poor man’s Corey Clement vibe with him, and I liked Clement a lot last year.

 

Sony Michel – Georgia – 5′ 11″ 220 pounds

Jan 8, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs running back Sony Michel (1) against the Alabama Crimson Tide during the CFP National Championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

 

Michel is a shifty back that can turn speed into power. The senior running back has the vision to set up blocks and knows how to finish. His good acceleration is an asset in the screen and passing game. If there is anyone in this draft that has a similar running style to LeSean McCoy, it’s Michel. He would set the Bills up really well at the position for the future, and I project him late round 1 into the 2nd round.

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