State of the Bills: Running Back

January 13, 2020 - 6:24 pm

My State of the Bills series continues with a look at the running back position headed into the 2020 offseason:

Under contract:

  • Devin Singletary
  • T.J. Yeldon
  • Christian Wade
  • Patrick DiMarco (fullback)

Pending Free Agents:

  • Frank Gore
  • Senorise Perry

If it wasn't for an injury in week two which kept him out three games, Singletary would have most likely been in the Rookie of the Year conversation at the end of the season. As it was, he put up some terrific numbers in his first year as a pro, averaging 5.1 yards per carry, good for most in the entire NFL for any back with at least 150 carries, and 5th overall amongst all players. He also became the team's featured back as the season went on, due to his impressive performances and Frank Gore's ineffectiveness. There's no reason Singletary won't be the clear-cut number one back on the team headed into next season, and at only 22 years old and three years still remaining on his rookie contract, the future looks bright for both the player and position for the Bills. However, you need more than one running back in the NFL to have a fully formed offense, and the question will now become, "who joins Singleterry in the Bills backfield as the complimentary piece next season?"

The 36-year-old Gore said on locker cleanout day that he's undecided about his NFL future. The reality is, even if he wants to keep playing, it probably won't be in Buffalo. He just didn't give the team enough on the field as the season went on and it's hard to see him, at his age, be any more productive than the 599 yards and 3.6 yards per carry he gained this season. Who knows? Maybe the organization gives him a chance to compete for a spot in training camp, like they did LeSean McCoy last year, just to make sure there's not something left they can use, but it's hard for me to see that happening right now. Gore was, however, extremely valuable in the leadership role he played in the running back room and example he showed Singletary and the rest of the group. Head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane always want at least one veteran leader in every position room, so they'll have to figure out where that comes from, assuming Gore is not around.

Yeldon has been in the league five seasons but I'm not sure if he qualifies as that veteran and leader quite yet, especially considering he rarely played last year, active for only six games. There's a strong argument to be made he should have been playing more given his ability to catch out of the backfield and match-up problems he creates. But now the organization and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll can can take a little while to figure out if he can be of better use.

Perry is really just a special-teams player who shouldn't factor into any decisions this off-season at running back, but might again when it comes time for roster cuts and numbers at positions next September. He's also a pending free agent and there are a lot of guys every offseason who provide exactly what he did. I wouldn't be surprised if he was re-signed or the team moved on and found someone just like him, as far as his special teams role, either at running back or another position.

Christian Wade was re-signed to a future/reserve contract, and he is in the exact same situation next year as he was this past season. As part of the International Pathways Program, he is again exempt from the practice squad if he does not make the final roster. The Bills chose to go that route this year, which made him ineligible to be activated at all. I expect the exact same thing to happen next year....and a lot of Bills fans shouting that he should have made the final roster.

As far as DiMarco, the Bills have shown no interest in not having a true fullback on their roster under this coaching staff, so I expect that position to be back. They may sign a free agent or bring in an undrafted college player to compete for that spot with DiMarco. Also, considering he's a valued core special teams player, and Beane said in his end-of-year press conference that the team needs to get better on special teams, it's hard to see them moving away from him and creating even more uncertainty within that unit.

Taking a look at the big picture and what needs to be done, I think the team may be in the market for another veteran back via free agency. Not someone as old as Gore, but a player who's been in the league and has produced at a modest enough level to know they can handle things if something were to happen to Singletary, but also be a part of the weekly game plan. Drafting another back in the draft, Lake Singletary was last year in the third round, is possible, but assuming Gore is not back, I doubt they'd want to make the room even younger and less experienced than what it already will be.

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