OPINION: 2022 State of the Bills: Running back

Devin Singletary was terrific over the last several weeks

As the Buffalo Bills and NFL move towards free agency and the draft, my position-by-position State of the Bills offseason series continues with a look at the running backs:

Under contract:

- Devin Singletary
- Zack Moss
- Reggie Gilliam (FB)

Pending Free Agents:

- Matt Breida (UFA)
- Taiwan Jones (UFA)

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State of the position:

As we headed into last season, I kept referring to the Bills' running back situation as “running back by game plan.” It appeared the team was going to use all of the backs at their disposal, but we just didn’t know how or when.

As it turned out, they certainly used a committee approach for most of the season. However, by the end of the year, it was clearly Singletary‘s backfield, and for a good reason.

Singletary was outstanding over the last quarter of the season. From Weeks 15-18, he finished sixth in the NFL among all running backs in total yards from scrimmage (rushing plus receiving) with 396, just three yards shy of finishing in the top-three over that span. He also was tied for the league lead with all players, regardless of position, with six total touchdowns and five rushing touchdowns over that time.

It’s pretty certain that Singletary will go into training camp this upcoming summer as the lead back. But with a new offensive coordinator, it’s unclear exactly what that looks like again.

Moss had a very disappointing 2022 season. He spelled Singletary early on, but never showed enough consistency to be relied on for a bigger workload. He was inactive for three of the final seven regular season games and active, but did not play in the AFC Divisional Round matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Moss is a physical runner, but lacks the speed and elusiveness the Bills need a little more of from the position. Now going into his third season, and still on a cheap third round rookie deal, he should still have every opportunity to earn a spot again. However, there’s certainly no guarantee he’s on the roster come September.

One of the great mysteries of last season was why Breida did not get involved in the offense more often. He was signed to a one-year deal and looked to be the guy they could turn to for some speed out of the backfield and mismatches in the passing game. But that never materialized.

In fact, Breida was inactive six games in a row starting in Week 3, then he was in-and-out of the lineup the rest of the year, playing only 6.8% of the offensive snaps overall and finishing with less than 200 total yards from scrimmage for the season.

Breida will probably be looking for a better opportunity to see the field this coming year and sign elsewhere. However, maybe new offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey views his role differently than Brian Daboll did, and he and the Bills decide to run it back again.

Jones doesn’t see the field as a running back, but he has been a warrior for them on special teams. The organization loves him and his role as a gunner and core special teams player. However, he’s now battled through injuries for two-straight years, and as tough as he’s been to do that, at soon-to-be 34-years-old, they probably need to get younger and healthier at the position.

That said, I would never count Jones out for another one-year contract and training camp spot, nor the Bills' affection for him.

Reggie Gilliam is listed as a fullback, but also plays a tight end/H-back role. He proved to be very valuable down the stretch both as a lead blocker for Singletary and bringing a bit of a wrinkle to the offense. He’s also a very important special teams player, lining up for close to 73% of the special teams snaps, second-most on the team.

Not only should he be a contributor again next year in both areas, but I could even see his role growing a bit in the offense.

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At this time last season, we were having a lot of debates about the Bills adding a running back in the first round of the NFL Draft. Travis Etienne was especially talked about due to his speed and versatility.

The Bills still need more speed and versatility, but running back that early in the draft should pretty much be off the table after what we saw this year from Singletary, and how the offense will most likely continue to operate under Dorsey.

Given the uncertainty behind Singletary, there is still a need to add here. That could come in the middle rounds of the draft, just as Beane used third round draft choices in back-to-back years to grab Singletary and Moss, or quite possibly in free agency.

The Bills' philosophy under this regime has generally not been to pay big money to running backs (Singletary and Moss are still on rookie deals), so it would have to be the right kind of money for a player who can fit into a backup and specialty role, but also able to take the reins for a few games, if needed.

Follow me on Twitter: @SalSports

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