Although the Buffalo Bills were able to earn a win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, the team lost it’s top two running backs in Fred Jackson (groin) and C.J. Spiller (collarbone), which opens the door for Bryce Brown to see playing time.
The Bills acquired Brown from the Philadelphia Eagles during the 2014 draft for a conditional fourth-round draft pick. Until now, the move has been a bit of a head-scratcher, as Brown has been a healthy scratch for each of the first seven games, but Doug Whaley looks pretty intelligent at the moment.
We’ve all seen Brown’s highlights on YouTube, but what can we expect from the raw, yet talented 23-year old?
Bryce Brown was the No. 1 recruit in the country coming out of high school in 2009, ranking higher than players like Trent Richardson, Sheldon Richardson, Matt Barkley, and Jarvis Jones, among others.
He attended Tennessee for one season, rushing for 460 yards and three touchdowns on 100 carries before transferring to Kansas State. After sitting for the 2010 season, Brown quit the team after two games in which he saw just three carries, in order to enter the draft. Prior to the 2012 NFL Draft, Brown measured in at 5’11” 223 pounds at his Pro Day, while running 4.48 40-yard dash, putting up 22 reps of 225 lbs and showed off a 34” vertical leap.
Despite questions surrounding Brown’s character that caused many teams to completely remove him from their draft boards, the Philadelphia Eagles selected him in the seventh round, in order to avoid the undrafted free agent process.
Sitting behind Lesean McCoy, who is a true every-down back, Brown saw just 190 carries in his two seasons with the Eagles, gaining 878 yards and six touchdowns at a 4.6-yards-per-carry clip. Brown had incredible performances in back-to-back contests against the Carolina Panthers (19 carries, 178 yards, 2 TD) and the Dallas Cowboys (24 carries, 169 yards, 2 TD), but outside of those games Brown has gained just 531 yards on 147 carries (3.6 yards-per-carry) with two touchdowns.
Bryce Brown has prototypical size and speed for an every-down running back as he’s got a compact frame that can handle punishment when running between the tackles. He’s got great speed, but his best asset is his ability to see a hole, cut, and burst through it for a big gain. Brown is incredibly elusive and shifty for his size and can make defenders miss, or run through them.
When he gets into a rhythm, like the games against Dallas and Carolina, he’s decisive enough to pick up chunks of yardage between the tackles, while possessing the speed to run laterally. I’ve seen quite a few people label Brown a “speed back,” but he’s strong enough to fight for the extra yard and fall forward upon contact.
Many analysts will point to fumbling as Brown’s biggest area of concern, but that’s to be expected from a player that’s only had 293 carries in the last 5 years.
To me, Brown’s biggest issue is that he tends to bounce stretch runs too far outside and too often. This trait was clear against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, one week after his dominant performance against the Cowboys.
Brown’s inexperience at the collegiate and professional level will result in some maddening decisions, as the 23-year old is still adjusting to the game. However, Brown is an uber-talented athlete that has the potential to score from anywhere on the field and his play in the two starts exemplifies that. These weren’t games where he had 20 one-yard rushes and a 90-yarder to skew his statistics. Brown was able to gain at least five yards on 24-of-43 carries, while picking up over 10 on 11 occasions.
While there’s no doubting that Bryce Brown is the most physically-gifted running back on the Bills’ depth chart, it’s likely that Boobie Dixon will see the majority of carries in the immediate future, due to his experience, downhill style of running and his ability to pass protect. Brown is a dynamic player, but he’ll have to prove that he can not only hold onto the ball, but operate within the design of the offense.
As exciting as Brown can be as a pure runner, the Bills’ offensive line is nowhere near the caliber of what he had in Philadelphia. So, while he’s a talented player with loads of potential, it’s important to maintain realistic expectations for a young and inexperienced running back that’s never been in a situation like this before.