Buffalo Bills Training Camp Battles Part 2: With LeSean McCoy In, Who’s The Odd Man Out At RB?

With the 2015 NFL Draft over, we have a better vision of what the Buffalo Bills are looking to do on both offense and defense with Head Coach Rex Ryan brining an aggressive and exotic defensive scheme to complement new Offensive Coordinator, Greg Roman’s multiple and new-age offense that is a run-first, “beat ‘em down” brand of football.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be breaking down the biggest training camp battles, position-by-position. This second installment highlights the running back position, one that’s had a massive overhaul with the acquisition of LeSean McCoy to replace C.J. Spiller, as well as the selection of Florida State’s Karlos Williams.

The Locks

LeSean McCoy

There’s no question that LeSean McCoy is the clear-cut No. 1 back in Buffalo for the foreseeable future, after the team traded Kiko Alonso to the Eagles in exchange for the former three-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro running back.

In six seasons with the Eagles, McCoy has carried the ball 1,461 times for 6,792 yards, scoring 44 touchdowns at a rate of 4.6 yards-per-attempt. McCoy, who stands 5’11” and weighs 208 pounds is arguably the most elusive back in the league, possessing uncanny lateral agility, burst and speed.

McCoy isn’t the fastest running back—he posted an average 4.50 second 40-yard dash at his Pro Day—but his ability to make defenders miss with his ridiculous jump cuts allows him to be a consistently explosive player.

After McCoy, there appears to be a wide open competition between Fred Jackson, Boobie Dixon, Bryce Brown and Karlos Williams—one of whom likely won’t make the team.

Fred Jackson

Fred Jackson, who’s 34-years old has defied every obstacle he’s faced en route to a productive career with the Bills in which he’s rushed for 5,646 yards and 30 touchdowns during his eight years with the team. Jackson has been, and continues to be a valuable asset on the field in important situations—pass protection, check and release routes and has the ability to extend plays and move the chains—in addition to providing that same value off-the-field, as he’s a team captain that is well-respected and beloved by the community.

However, a Bills team coached by Rex Ryan and Greg Roman, who base their game theory off their rushing attack, it’s clear that they need better production out of a group that saw it’s production drop from the No. 2 rushing offense in 2013 all the way to 25th in 2014.

Due to his veteran leadership and ability to provide value as a situational back, it’s likely that Jackson spends the 2015 season, his final year under contract, with the Buffalo Bills.

The Bubble

Boobie Dixon vs Bryce Brown

This will be one of the more interesting camp battles to keep an eye on throughout training camp, as Doug Whaley would like to see return on two of his first investments as the official general manager of the Bills. In free agency, Whaley signed Dixon to a three-year deal worth $3.5 million, before trading the team’s fourth-round draft pick to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for Bryce Brown.

Dixon played just 225 offensive snaps in 2014, but carried the ball 105 times for 432 yards (his 4.1 yards-per-carry average led the team) and two touchdowns, while adding another eight catches for 49 yards. He proved invaluable on special teams as well, blocking three punts and making two tackles on coverage units.

Brown found himself in the doghouse under Doug Marrone for the majority of the season, appearing in just seven games and spending most weeks inactive. He played 118 offensive snaps, carrying the ball 36 times for 126 yards, a 3.5 yards-per-carry average, and added 176 yards on 16 receptions.

Brown is as physically gifted as any running back in the league—which is why he’s continued getting chances from college to the pro-level. But, in addition to the “fumbling’ label he’s acquired for himself, he’s an impatient runner that lacks vision. Having patience, knowing how to set up your blocks and hitting the correct gap is essential to the synergy of Roman’s offense.

The Project

Karlos Williams

In the fifth-round of the 2015 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills acquired their fifth rostered running back in Karlos Williams, of Florida State University. A converted safety, Williams is a big, physical, downhill runner with speed and power. As a rookie, he’ll have the benefit of truly learning the position under Running Backs Coach Anthony Lynn, as he watches how proven veterans like LeSean McCoy and Fred Jackson prepare and work.
His experience on defense and special teams will most certainly help his chances of making not only the Bills’ 53-Man Roster, but the 45-Man game-day roster as well. Williams will be having a “redshirt” year in 2015, but he has all the physical tools requisite of a quality NFL running back.