What to expect from the Buffalo Bills running back room in 2023

New England Patriots v Buffalo Bills
New England Patriots v Buffalo Bills / Timothy T Ludwig/GettyImages

After Devin Singletary signed with the Houston Texans this offseason, the rightful heir for the Buffalo Bills running back throne is James Cook — but will the team's quiet acquisitions make things interesting in the backfield?

While Cook was effective with his limited opportunities last season — averaging 5.7 yards per carry on 89 rushing attempts — the second-year running back will shoulder big expectations heading into his sophomore season. In an attempt to support the young running back, the Bills signed Damien Harris and Latavius Murray to one-year deals.

The biggest discrepancy between Singletary and Cook was their red-zone utilization. During the 2022 season, Singletary had 35 carries within the 20-yard line and Cook only had 13.

So who will fill the void left by Singletary?

When it comes to red-zone efficiency, Harris was dominant during the 2021 season — scoring 12 rushing touchdowns on 45 carries inside the opponent's 20-yard line. While Harris was injured for most of last season, his production dropped, but it's fair to assume the Bills will rely on him bouncing back to form in short yardage and goal-line situations.

At 213 pounds, Harris is one of the strongest running backs in the National Football League.

Murray, on the other hand, will most likely serve as a veteran partner to Harris. His 230-pound frame puts him in the same category as Harris, but at 33 years old, Murray is past his prime and cannot stomach a starting workload.

In comes Cook.

Despite having a limited role in the Bills offense last season, Cook showed flashes of great potential. Not only did Cook average nearly six yards per carry, but he broke off a number of impressive runs down the stretch.

During his rookie season, Cook showed a knack for making defenders miss at the second and third level of the defense. His most promising run came in week five against the Pittsburgh Steelers when he made all-pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick look human on a 24-yard scamper to the endzone.

With an improved offensive line and increased number of carries, Cook should be given every opportunity to become the Bills first 1000-yard rusher since LeSean McCoy broke that threshold in 2017.

But how should fans expect these running backs to work in unison next season?

With Cook's combination of breakaway speed and ball-carrier vision, but smaller frame at 190 pounds, expect him to receive the bulk of his carries on first and second down. In terms of short-yardage and goal-line situations, you can expect the combination of Harris and Murray to take the responsibility of lowering a shoulder — or two.

And with running back Nyheim Hines back in Buffalo after restructuring his contract this offseason, the return game will be handled after Hines returned two kickoffs for touchdowns during the Bills final regular season game against the New England Patriots. While it appeared as if the Bills traded for Hines in an attempt to catch footballs from quarterback Josh Allen, it was Cook that received an additional target share down the stretch.

Allen targeted Cook multiple times in four of the Bills last six regular season games, with Cook averaging 8.6 yards per reception on 21 catches during the entire 2022 season.

All things considered, 'Bills Mafia' should expect Cook to have a breakout season. If the offensive line does improve after the signing of left guard Connor McGovern and the drafting of right guard Cyrus O'Torrence, and if Cook is utilized correctly, the second-year running back has the potential to break the 1000-yard curse in Buffalo and finally take some owness off Allen.

So if there's one piece of advice for 'Bills Mafia' and Bills offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey, it's let James Cook.

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