The Bills enjoyed a strong rookie season from Devin Singletary, their third-round selection in 2019. Singletary, racking up 775 rushing yards on 151 carries, tied with Titans’ Derrick Henry for the highest average per carry (5.1) among running backs with at least 150 attempts.
Singletary initially played backup to Frank Gore and acclimated to the NFL game. He touched the ball sparingly early in the season but took over as Buffalo’s lead back in Week 5. Despite only 180 touches in his rookie season, Singletary finished with 969 yards from scrimmage.
While Gore faded as the season progressed, his role in the backfield remained important and Bills’ coach Sean McDermott is a proponent of a dual-backfield approach.
“It’s not good to have one back carry the ball every time,” McDermott said after Buffalo’s playoff loss to Houston. “You like to have two backs that work together.”
Since Brian Daboll took over as the Bills’ offensive coordinator under McDermott in 2018, subscription to that philosophy is evidenced by the backfield splits. Last season, Singletary and Gore logged nearly an identical amount of touches; Gore had 179 to Singletary’s 180. In 2018, LeSean McCoy had 195 touches while Chris Ivory touched the ball 128 times despite missing three games.
In 2019, Singletary ran the ball against eight-plus defenders in the box an NFL-low 5.3% of the time. Only five players were even under 10%. Gore faced at least eight defenders in the box on 37.35% of his attempts, the third-highest mark in the NFL.
Those favorable opportunities for Singletary led to him gaining at least 15 yards on a whopping 9.2% of his carries. Despite only 151 carries, Singletary was fourth among running backs in the NFL in rushes of 15 yards or more with every back ahead of him on the list logging at least 242 rushing attempts.
With wide receivers Stefon Diggs, John Brown and Cole Beasley in Buffalo’s offense, 11-personnel packages will be heavily featured moving forward. It will make it difficult for defenses to have an eighth defender in the box and enabling Singletary to see the looks where he can prosper.
Entering the 2020 draft, Bills general manager Brandon Beane already assembled a roster with very little holes to fill but one that stood out was finding a complementary runner to pair with Singletary. Buffalo still has T.J. Yeldon on the roster, but finding a more inspiring option for the presumed workload that was scheduled to go Yeldon’s way was a clear opportunity for Beane to find an upgrade for those touches. His mission was accomplished by investing Buffalo’s third-round pick on Utah running back Zack Moss.
Moss’ selection is not an indictment of Singletary in any way. Buffalo should be ecstatic with the potential he showcased during his prolific rookie season. The pick was about having a formidable option as his backfield mate given Buffalo’s split backfield approach. Singletary should continue in the role he grew into as a rookie while Moss steps in for Gore, who is now a member of the Jets.
The tandem of Singletary and Moss combines to deliver an ideal blend of complementary skill sets. Singletary thrives on outside zones rushes, using his vision, creativity and elusiveness to anticipate and attack creases. He does well to hide behind blockers and find daylight. His contact balance shines and he’s a slippery guy to bring down. Moss is a more physical, downhill runner that attacks holes with square pads and leverage while daring defenders to get in his way.
Singletary and Moss bring excellent vision and contact balance with the ability to execute in pass protection and catch the football. While they are stylistically different runners, there are similarities while both are capable options on passing downs.
The element that is missing from Buffalo’s backfield is speed. Neither Moss or Singletary are very explosive with the type of long speed to hit home runs. While the Bills’ receiving corps has plenty of speed, the same cannot be said for the running back room.
The absence of speed in the backfield requires Daboll to frequently use jet motion for defenses to respect Buffalo’s threat to the perimeter. While that motion does lead to some creative options for the offense, neither Moss or Singletary are going to win the majority of foot races when pressing off-tackle.
While the split backfield concept fits Buffalo’s objectives, Moss and Singletary can both benefit from it. Both entered the NFL with a considerable amount of touches in college and the shared workload will keep them fresh and help in elongating their careers. Singletary entered the NFL in 2019 after 765 touches in college while Moss had 778 touches at Utah. While the NFL season is longer than college’s, Singletary and Moss are likely to see fewer touches per season which means reduced wear and tear on their frames.
The new direction of the Bills’ backfield is exciting, but the age and salary cap implications of Buffalo’s top-two backs are dreamy. While Buffalo is loaded with young talent, those rookie contracts will expire rapidly and create challenging salary cap dynamics for Beane to manage. By taking the smart, economic approach to the running back position, Buffalo’s top two rushers are in their early 20s while playing under rookie contracts for the next three seasons. Given Moss and Singletary were both third-round picks, their combined cap figure will range from $2-3 million dollars through the 2022 season. Given the recent history in the NFL of committing large quantities of salary cap space to running backs and how those deals have routinely resulted in poor decisions, Beane’s management of this part of the Bills’ roster is very mindful of those mistakes.
There’s a lot to feel good about with the direction Buffalo is heading and how Beane has assembled the running back tandem is a big reason why.