Buffalo Bills running backs stepping out from the shade

Oct 16, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy (25) runs with the ball and breaks a tackle by San Francisco 49ers free safety Eric Reid (35) during the second half at New Era Field. Buffalo beat San Francisco 45-16. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 16, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy (25) runs with the ball and breaks a tackle by San Francisco 49ers free safety Eric Reid (35) during the second half at New Era Field. Buffalo beat San Francisco 45-16. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports /

The Buffalo Bills are back to back rushing champs in the NFL. They return their entire offensive line and LeSean McCoy. So, is there anything to worry about?

The answer is, yes. LeSean ‘Shady’ McCoy may be the best running back in the NFL — and probably the most exciting running back to watch play since Barry Sanders.

However, he is a running back, and all running backs need a legit #2 to give him some limited rest. Or worse, fill in for a game or two if injury happens. In Buffalo, who are these guys behind Shady?

LeSean McCoy is on a quest for 10,000 rushing yards, his social media is themed “#10K” this offseason. In his career he has 8,934 rushing yards and 60 touchdowns. Add in his receiving numbers, and you get another 2,930 yards and 13 touchdowns.

After McCoy, the Bills feature a group of running backs named Jonathon Williams, Joe Banyard, Jordan Johnson and Cedric O’Neil. That group combines in their careers to have 189 rushing yards and 1 touchdown.

The Buffalo Bills signed Mike Tolbert, who has started in the NFL, but is on the tail end of his career. If you count him, he adds 2,400 rushing yards and 33 rushing touchdowns which makes the depth look better. The issue is he was signed as a fullback. At most he will be the short yardage running back IF he makes the roster.

The Bills have been on the brink of the playoffs for several years, and it seems that one injury, one penalty, etc., has derailed a season that could have been special. Looking at this current roster, we are all just assuming the running game picks up where it left off.

Looking at the depth at running back, I am seeing a very big problem that hopefully doesn’t show up during the season.

When you look at the wide receiver group, we always say the passing game would look remarkably better if Sammy Watkins could stay healthy. We have been in good shape as a running team, that Shady has been healthy. If that stays, the Bills will be fine.

If not, what will happen?

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Behind Shady, the battle for the #2 running back spot will be up for grabs all training camp. This battle will make the pre-season games a bit more exciting, as these guys will be trying to impress during all quarters. The #3 running back spot will be determined by Mike Tolbert. If he makes the roster, he can flex as a fullback or a running back, and the Bills need not carry 3 solo running backs.

Based on McDermott’s attraction to player versatility, this seems like it has a good chance to happen.

The early front-runner should be Jonathan Williams, who is in his 2nd year with the Buffalo Bills. He was drafted late last year, due mostly to the fact he was coming off a year-long injury that took away his senior year at Arkansas. Two years later, he should enter camp the healthiest he has ever been. Should he pick up the zone blocking scheme, he could prove to be a draft steal.

Williams had highlight reel plays at Arkansas, and clearly has the most talent of the group behind McCoy. Unfortunately, talent might not matter in the Bills rushing attack, because of the scheme.

The worry for Williams, may be the bright-side to the limited experience and stats behind McCoy, and that is Rick Dennison. The new offensive coordinator may be a long time quarterback coach, but he is employing a very run friendly offense.

The zone-blocking scheme was notorious of making just about any Denver Broncos running back a 1,000 yard rusher. Those players would sign big deals elsewhere, only to not duplicate that success, and the next Denver running back would get another 1,000 yards.

The names of running backs with success in this offense you have heard of.  Players like Arian Foster, Terrell Davis, Clinton Portis, Devonte Freeman, and CJ Anderson. How about the other guys who have had success? Players like Mike Anderson, Tatum Bell, Ben Tate, Justin Forsett and Alfred Morris. Those players we know from their good seasons in this scheme, but they never replicated that success elsewhere, in new running systems.

The zone-blocking scheme has been around long enough to prove that it works. The system can make a random running back into a household name. This gives Bills fans hope that should the worst happen to McCoy, one of the current Bills can step into his place. With this scheme, the team can find success in short periods of time if Shady isn’t ready to play.

I still need to see it though, and until camp, Bills fans should be worried.

If nobody picks up the scheme in training camp, there will be options from roster cuts across the league. Just one example is Spotrac’s analysis of possible roster cuts, which includes Alfred Morris, Alfred Blue, and Matt Jones who have had success with this scheme. Any one of those 3 could be a significant upgrade at backup running back, if needed.

The Buffalo Bills will be in the hunt for a playoff spot, and are banking on success in their running game. They feature one of the best running backs of our generation in Shady McCoy. The Bills won’t take him for granted, but still need to be prepared for the worst to make the playoffs.

Next: Jordan Mills having one heck of an offseason

How do you view the Buffalo Bills‘ running back depth chart? Leave your thoughts below!