Buffalo Bills 53-man roster prediction: Running backs and fullback
By Avery Duncan
Who will the Buffalo Bills take into 2019 as their running backs (and fullback), and how many will there be on the roster?
Through the 2019 off-season, the Buffalo Bills have added five running backs to the roster. Likely in part to avoid another season in-which their quarterback leads the team in rushing. Including in their shaping of the position is Frank Gore, T.J. Yeldon, Senorise Perry, Christian Wade, and Devin Singletary — but not all will make the 53-man roster.
By the time the regular season rolls around, expect to see a running back/fullback depth chart similar to the one below.
(1) LeSean McCoy (2) Frank Gore (3) Devin Singletary (4) T.J. Yeldon (5) Patrick DiMarco (FB)
This projected depth chart is the safest bet for who the team will trot out to carry the rock. LeSean McCoy, as he’s been since 2015, should be the starter. Though, admittingly, McCoy struggled last season, as he tallied just 752 scrimmage yards on an average of 3.9 yards per touch — both the lowest numbers of his career.
Without context, McCoy looks the part of a quickly regressing back. But a large part of that is due to a subpar offensive line, an offense that lacked high-quality skill-position players, and injuries by way of McCoy himself. However, he may have lost a step — the 31-year-old, who relies so heavily on instincts and agility, didn’t look quite like himself, as his speed and quickness weren’t up to his usual high standard.
Nonetheless, McCoy showed flashes of his former from time-to-time last season; but they were limited in number. He had just one 100+ yard rushing game. But, there is hope to see more of that next year. The offensive line is better, upgrades amongst the skill position group took place, and Josh Allen’s running ability will spread defenses out. Not to mention, there is an abundance of quality backups to help him.
The first quality backup, Frank Gore, is the epitome of that previously stated notion. The former Miami Hurricane is a rare breed at running back. At 36 years old, many figured Gore to be out of the league by now. But he’s still treading along the path and doing a pretty good job at it. In 2018, playing in a committee in Miami, he led the Dolphins in rushing yards with 722 on a 4.2 average per carry.
In Gore’s last four seasons, he’s averaged nearly 235 rushes, 919 yards, and a little over three touchdowns a campaign. Despite his age, he can still handle a high workload. So much so, that, in his 35-year-old season, Pro Football Focus rated him as the 11th best back in the NFL with an 81.4 grade. As of now, Gore should be a Hall of Famer, as he’s fourth all-time in rushing yards with 14,788.
The Bills’ third-round pick this year, Devin Singletary is slated to be third on the depth chart. As a massively successful back in college — 4,260 yards and 66 touchdowns on an average of 5.9 YPC — the FAU product shot up draft boards, despite being 5-foot-7 and 203-pounds with a 4.66-second 40-time to his name.
Singletary has the upside to be a bell-cow back down the line. As a ball-carrier, his vision and patience behind the line of scrimmage can get him out of tough situations. To help him do so, he possesses an array of elusive moves and quick feet to get him out of a pickle. Despite a lack of size, he’s physical at the point of contact.
But, Singletary has a ways to go to be the Bills’ bell-cow. Although his footwork is quick, it will need to be more refined to negate for his lack of size and speed. As for receiving, he has the hands to be useful, but he ran limiting routes at FAU at a low rate. Nonetheless, he carries a fair bit of intrigue as a rookie.
The last running back on the roster should be T.J. Yeldon, as the Bills signed him to a two-year, $3.2 million deal in free agency. His role on the team should be that of a third-down back; Yeldon’s an excellent blocker in the backfield and has the skill to be uber-effective as a receiver.
Since entering the league in 2015, Yeldon has seen a fair amount of his work as a pass-catcher. On the Jacksonville Jaguars, he averaged a reasonably high 4.57 targets a game and turned that into a career total of 171 receptions for 1,302 yards and six touchdowns. That production screams third-down back; but, he also has the potential to be the Bills’ primary back.
Despite possessing a stout 6-foot-1, 223-pound frame, the Jaguars didn’t utilize Yeldon much as a runner. Outside of his 740 rushing yards and two touchdowns as a rookie, he’s tallied just 1,132 rushing yards and four touchdowns in the league. Even if he stays as ‘just’ a third-down back, the Bills appear to have an excellent contract on the books.
Lastly comes the fullback position, which may or not be utilized by the Bills in 2019. The NFL has phased out the “other” back in recent years, as teams are going towards lighter offensive linemen and bigger tight ends to handle the same workload as a fullback. But, Patrick DiMarco earns the nod to stay on the roster, as he’s one of the best in the league of a now-ancient position.
DiMarco is a do-it-all fullback that plays as a receiver, runner, blocker, or special-teamer. In 2018, he played the same role and accumulated 71 scrimmage yards — not a particularly awe-inspiring stat line. The offense has phased him out as of late — as he played 15.86% of offensive snaps last year — but his versatility across the board is a coveted asset. In 2018 he saw a fairly hefty 233 snaps on special teams.
The result of the busy off-season is a back corps with far more potential than in years past. Veterans McCoy and Gore will lead the ship, while Yeldon may provide production on third-downs, but by 2020, the lead-back may be neither of the three, as Singletary could earn that very nod.