Bills Offseason Grades: Running Backs
The Buffalo Bills boasted the league’s #1 ranked rushing attack this season, but it didn’t go exactly as we would’ve thought at the beginning of the year. Everyone expected LeSean McCoy to be the bell cow, but unknown back up running backs, Karlos Williams and Mike Gillislee, also had a large part in the rushing game. Tyrod Taylor also served as virtually a running back on some designed runs and read options.
The Buffalo Bills made it a sticking point on offense to run the ball, never abandoning the ground game. Greg Roman used a lot of creative rushing plays to get players in space in his zone blocking offense. It was obvious the Bills wanted to establish the running game, keeping a balanced offense with 509 running plays compared to 465 passing attempts, the complete stats can be found here.
The best running team in football led the league in yards per game, with 152, yards per attempt with 4.8, yards total with 2432, and touchdowns with 19. Another positive stat for Buffalo was only losing two fumbles the entire season, tied for fifth in the league. The impressive stats were in large part to running back by committee, including Tyrod Taylor.
LeSean McCoy finished his first season in Buffalo with a pro bowl selection, though his year was up and down. The season started with tons of hype for McCoy after coming over in a trade from the Eagles, but it did not start smooth. McCoy was troubled by a nagging hamstring injury throughout training camp that last all the way until week six against Miami.
Shady McCoy really hit his stride in the middle of the season and was capable of dominating games. He went for over 100 all-purpose yards in six straight games down the stretch for the Bills, before missing most of the last two weeks due to an injury. McCoy’s best game of the season came in a huge Thursday night match up with the Jets where he rushed for 112 yards, and caught five passes for 47 yards. The troubling stat for McCoy this season was that he only found the end zone five times.
Overall McCoy was electric when healthy, but he wasn’t healthy often enough for the Bills. With a healthy LeSean McCoy the Bills are very scary on offense, and we saw a few flashes of that this season. Shady looked fast and did it all when given the chance, he has a great hands and did a solid job blocking when asked to. He makes defenders miss with ease and once he finds a crease his burst is incredible. McCoy is a serious weapon who had a great season when on the field at full strength.
Arguably the biggest surprise of the season was rookie 5th round pick Karlos Williams, who burst onto the scene for the Bills scoring a touchdown in each of his first six games. Williams also missed games with an injury, he missed almost all of October with a concussion. Karlos went over 100 yards twice and kept the running game going when McCoy was injured.
Rushing for over 500 yards and scoring nine times is great production for a rookie running back. Williams will continue to be a great change of pace back for the Bills for years to come, maybe even developing into the starter when Buffalo moves on from Shady. Williams is a big, strong back who made one cut and lowered his shoulders for extra yards. We also saw some speed from Karlos this season on some longer runs when he broke into the second level. Overall Williams had a great season and should continue to improve.
Mike Gillislee was not even on the roster to start the season, but he had an impact late due to injuries to McCoy and Williams. Gillislee broke some big runs with his speed and really impressed when given the chance. Gillislee will be fighting for a roster spot with Anthony Dixon next season, personally I would like to see both players make the team and contribute. They could both be outstanding special teams players as well as running backs.
The Buffalo Bills running backs carried this team on offense, opening up the deep ball for Tyrod Taylor by consistently making teams worry about the run. Everyone from this group should be back this year and healthy, which will be a key if they want to repeat the success. When healthy, this is one of the best backfields in the NFL. The only reason the grade is not higher is because of the injuries, though that is no one’s fault.