Why mess with success? That is an apparent stance when looking at the Buffalo Bills’ offense now that the NFL Draft is over. The Bills are the odds-on favorite to win the AFC, partially based on a pass-first offense. Running backs who carry the ball seem to be a clear afterthought.
Buffalo doubled down on its offensive philosophy in the offseason. They added two more wide receivers, one in free agency and another in the NFL Draft. They did draft a running back, but he figures to be more of a pass-catching specialist than a pure runner. The Bills are going to run it back again, relying heavily on the arms and legs of Josh Allen. Why not?
The Buffalo Bills Take A Unique Approach At RB
The Receiving Crew Is Improved And Remains A Core Strength
The Bills ranked fifth in the AFC in passing yards last season. Devin Singletary led the team with 870 rushing yards. The Bills were 23rd in the league in run/pass ratio. There was some outside speculation that the Bills might acquire or draft a true featured back to fit a final piece of the perceived puzzle into one of the league’s best offenses. But that didn’t happen.
Buffalo has lost to Kansas City in the last two postseason matchups. But the Chiefs may have been weakened, while the Bills appear to be even stronger on offense, even without adding a more consistent ball carrier. Kansas City lost Tyreek Hill, while the Bills still have Stefon Diggs, and Gabriel Davis may rise to prominence in 2022.
The Bills also added veteran chain-mover Jamison Crowder, who gets a major QB upgrade as he moves from the Jets to the Bills. Crowder will be a fine complement to Diggs and Davis, who ate both significant downfield threats. Crowder is a yardage-after-the-catch threat who can work well with Allen on shorter and underneath routes.
Fifth-round pick Khalil Shakir and nifty, versatile fan favorite Isaiah McKenzie round out what appears to be a very deep receiving crew for Allen. It looks like the Bills are more capable of beating defenses in more ways in 2022. So there wasn’t a need to go the traditional route at running back when the team may become even more potent in its proven approach on offense.
The Bills Running Backs: Not Your Regular Group Of Playmakers
Listed at five-foot-seven, 203 pounds, Singletary is never going to be a regular featured back even though he will deliver occasional quality rushing outings and can finish off some drives with rushing scores. His workload increased late in the regular season last year, but he had 26 carries in two playoff games, which should be more of his expected workload.
The Bills drafted James Cook in the second round. He has been compared to both Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman by some draftniks. While Freeman did shine as a featured back for a while with Atlanta, Cook is more of a receiving demon who gives Allen yet another threat in the passing game. He will be a real weapon on flat, swing, and screen passes. Cook can be an effective runner, too, but he may make his biggest mark with the Bills as a pass-catcher.
Veteran Duke Johnson is in the RB mix, too, and he has an accomplished history as a receiving back. Zack Moss disappointed again last season, and he may not have a significant role in the group unless injuries strike. It might not be long before Cook breezes past Moss on the depth chart.
We expect a time share between Singletary and Cook this season. That should be how it shakes out, even if Cook starts slowly. Singletary will likely be in line for ten to fourteen carries a game, with Cook getting some rushes here and there while being the primary receiver out of the backfield. As the Patriots often did with James White, the quarterback can throw to the RB as an extension of the running game. Instead of handing the ball off, Allen can get the ball into the RB’s hands with a high percentage pass and let him do the work in space. Cook won’t have to consistently create his running room.
Before the offseason and NFL Draft, there was a popular narrative from some that the Bills could only become more powerful on offense by adding a ball carrier who would operate as a featured runner. The Bills eschewed that approach, yet they still appeared to improve on offense after further examination. This could be the deepest playmaking group that Allen has worked with so far in his career.
The old cliché says, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The Bills’ offense was not broken, so why should they have “fixed it” by changing the approach? Buffalo tires out the opposition with its constant, fast-paced onslaught on offense. Slowing things down with more of a running game would be an unnecessary shift in the game plan.
Running backs are not used in the traditional sense in Buffalo, and that is just fine. They are essential, though, and now with the arrival of Cook, the position may be more involved in the offense than before. It will be part of the most explosive and maybe the most diverse passing game in the league.