Buffalo Bills offseason preview 2021: Running backs

Just because the Buffalo Bills have figure out their passing game doesn’t mean their offense should fully rely on it.

The Position: Running Back
On the Roster: Devin Singletary, Zack Moss
Free Agents: T.J. Yeldon, Taiwan Jones
Reserve/Future: Antonio Williams, Christian Wade

The Buffalo Bills have solved their long-lingering passing problems through Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs, and other aerial talents. That doesn’t mean they should solely rely on such talents to win games.

It was rare to find disappointments on the Bills’ roster, particularly on the offensive front, but the run game’s decline. The team seemed to be set for the future with day two gem Devin Singletary (775 rushing yards, fourth-best amongst rookies despite missing four games) entering his sophomore season and using another third-round choice on Zack Moss last spring. Moss replaced the Florham Park-bound Frank Gore, who united with Singletary to create the eighth-best rushing attack in football in 2019.

But despite some brief flashes of brilliance…Moss had two touchdowns in a November win over New England…their run tally was mostly anchored by Allen. As a whole, the Bills dropped to 20th in rushing yards per game…right behind the Saquon Barkley-free New York Giants. No Bills rusher reached triple digits in yardage last season. The mistrust in the run game was apparent in the playoffs. During the Divisional victory over Baltimore, one that Moss missed with an injury sustained in the Wild Card tilt with Indianapolis, Buffalo running backs earned only nine carries, with Allen forced to carry the load with 46 touches (37 passes, 9 carries).

“We’re gonna do what we think we need to do to win, whether it’s run it or pass it,” offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said of his unit, per Sal Maiorana of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. “You try to do both of them well. How that sorts itself out and how the game’s going or the direction we want to take it, that’ll all be played out.”

Free Agents-to-be

T.J. Yeldon

Yeldon, struggling to live up to the promise he displayed during his first years in Jacksonville, has spent the last two seasons playing sparingly with the Bills. He did take some more snaps once Moss was lost for the postseason.

Taiwan Jones

Working through his second stint with the Bills, Jones is far more well known for his work on special teams, notably recovering a Mecole Hardman fumble during the AFC title game.

Will They Draft?

There’s probably no use in drafting a running back so early on, especially with needs on the pass rush far more pressing. Considering their top two current options are consecutive third-round picks, it’s hard to see them picking another rusher on day two. Options in the third round and beyond could include Chuba Hubbard. The Oklahoma State star’s relatively small size and struggles with blocking could well push him to day three, but small school options in the draft’s latter stages could include Trey Ragas (Louisiana-Lafayette) and Spencer Brown (FCS Northern Iowa).

Veteran Possibilities 

Mike Davis, Carolina

Singletary and Moss can be labeled as bruising, smashmouth options. Their young, workhorse ethic can be complimented and honed with an experienced speedster like Davis, who is well known for running a 4.38 in the 40-yard-dash, a highlight that will probably be played often with no combine this season.

Marlon Mack, Indianapolis

If the Bills want to go the three-headed monster route at running back, Mack would work well with a similar skillset to the incumbent Moss and Singletary. He’ll likely be searching for a new home after Jonathan Taylor’s breakout and is come off a torn Achilles. If the Bills can ink him to an affordable short-term deal, it could be worth giving him a chance to earn the permanent rushing job.

Nick Bellore, Seattle

The fullback is a dying art in today’s NFL, but the idea of Allen working with a fullback could be most intriguing. A man of many talents, the linebacker-turned-fullback Bellore earned his first Pro Bowl nomination through some strong blocking and performance on special teams. Bellore ranked third in the NFL last season with 14 tackles on kickoffs and punts.

Outlook

Overall, the Bills appear to be satisfied with their rushing corps despite their struggles. General manager Brandon Beane exonerated Singletary and Moss during his season-ending statements.

“I think it’s unfair to look at the running backs to point blame on the running game,” Beane said, per Matt Bove of WKBW-Buffalo. “Running the football is very complex. It’s the offensive line, it’s the tight ends, it’s the receivers. If one guy doesn’t make his block, the play is probably dead.”

If they’re willing to let both Yeldon and Jones walk, and neither of them is going to top the offseason priority list, they could go after a veteran rushing name. But it’s more likely that Beane will try to replenish the blocking corps before he tinkers with the Singletary-Moss duology.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

 

Buffalo Bills: Halftime takeaways from the AFC title game

The Buffalo Bills’ early endeavors in the AFC title game featured a rediscovered rushing game and a little bit of championship luck.

At halftime of the AFC Championship Game, the Kansas City Chiefs lead the Buffalo Bills 21-12.

ESM has three takeaways from an exciting first half of football…

-Chief Concern

If the Bills have had a consistent struggle, it’s been their defense’s issues covering opposing tight ends. Kansas City, of course, is armed with the ultimate weapon in that regard in Travis Kelce, and they’re taking full advantage of that flaw in the early going. They did so in the first 2020 meeting when Kelce had two touchdowns back in October, and now he’s running absolutely wild to the tune of 92 yards on nine receptions. Buffalo needs to strengthen their defense in the middle if they’re going to muster a comeback in the second half. Buffalo, to their credit, is taking advantage of their own tight end’s talents, as Knox has not only scored the Bills’ only touchdown but his other two receptions picked up crucial first downs (including one on a fourth down that kept Buffalo’s opening drive alive).

-Bold Rush

Devin Singletary appeared to be the odd man out in the Bills offense during their Divisional tilt last weekend, as it took nearly two full quarters for him to get a carry against the Ravens despite the loss of rookie Zack Moss in the Wild Card stage. But the Bills got him far more involved in the early going at Arrowhead, even granting him carries on two of the first three plays. Singletary also picked up a reception in the first half, though another drop could loom large later on if Buffalo fails to score again. Buffalo is 11-3, including playoffs, in games where Singletary has at least 14 touches. He’s not the only Bills rusher getting involved on a larger basis. T.J. Yeldon earned his first receptions since October 13 against Tennessee, including two huge first down touches through both the air and ground on the drive that narrowed the gap. Additionally, Taiwan Jones has had a strong game as a punt gunner, recovering Mecole Hardman’s muff at the three-yard-line (setting up Knox’s score) and doing another Corey Bojorquez punt inside the opponents’ 20.

-Cole Pursuit

Cole Beasley has proven himself to be a man of many talents this season. He has posted career-best receiving numbers and has even been shown to have a hankering for throwing. But if the Bills come back and win a nailbiter, remember Beasley’s big defensive play at the end of their first drive (shortly before Tyler Bass’ foot opened scoring). An errant Josh Allen pass seemed destined for the arms of Juan Thornhill, but Beasley was able to wrestle the ball away from the defender to preserve an incomplete pass and allow a good drive to earn a little reward.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

Buffalo Bills RB T.J. Yeldon tests positive for COVID-19

The Buffalo Bills reserve rusher has not played since October. They are still scheduled to battle New England on Monday.

The Buffalo Bills announced on Sunday that running back T.J. Yeldon has tested positive for COVID-19. The veteran will not travel or partake in the Bills’ Monday night showdown in New England (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN/ABC).

Yeldon, 27, is in the midst of his second season with the Bills and has played sparingly behind Devin Singletary and rookie Zack Moss. His last regular season action came on October 13 during Week 5 action in Tennessee. The Alabama alum earned 52 yards on seven carries and a 22-yard touchdown reception in Buffalo’s 42-16 loss. It was Yeldon’s first score of any kind since October 2018, when he was a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars. He has also dealt with a back injury this season.

Over two seasons in Orchard Park, Yeldon has earned 133 yards on the ground, his best output being the aforementioned get-together with the Titans.

Further Buffalo concerns could lie with who had close contact with Yeldon, namely his fellow rushers Singletary, Moss, and Taiwan Jones. No announcements or reports of contact tracing have emerged as of press time. It’s unlikely that the Monday night game would be rescheduled, especially with both Week 17 and the playoffs swiftly approaching.

As they prepare for their final road game of the regular season, Buffalo (11-3) has seen their scheduled affected by the ongoing health crisis on several occasions. The aforementioned visit to Nashville was staged on a Tuesday night (the NFL’s first such game since 2010), forcing their regularly schedule Thursday night contest against Kansas City to be moved to a Monday.

Though the Bills no longer have a chance at the top seed in the AFC (that opportunity erased by Kansas City’s Sunday win over Atlanta), they’re engaged in a battle with Pittsbrugh, Tennessee, and Indianapolis for the second seed. Such a seeding would allow them to potentially host a divisional playoff game and avoid the defending champion Chiefs until the AFC title game.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags