Between FA and the Draft, will the Bills take two running backs? If they do, what prototypical qualities will they have?
The Bills sit 17th in rushing as of this writing with a pedestrian 3.9 yards per carry. It’s actually worse than that, because that includes Josh Allen’s rushing average of 5.3, which raised the team average in every game but one (Green Bay). Allen’s best days were 7.62 against Jacksonville and 6.5 against Baltimore. He has 4 rushing touchdowns going into Miami.
The leader in Yards Per Carry for RBs on the team is Chris Ivory (6-0, 222, 4.48), at 3.5 ypc.
(Shady’s was 3.3 ypc at this writing). Ivory was a perfect signing for Brandon Beane. Chris Ivory’s not slowing down; in his last 4 games, his rushing average has been 5.06 ypc, 5.67 ypc, 5.14 ypc, and 4.67 ypc against some imposing defenses. He’s a human battering ram who ranks #2 in missed tackles forced over his career. However, he’s 31 in March. The Bills might use some draft capital to secure his heir.
Who fits the “Thunder Back” moniker in this year’s draft?
Bills scouts have watched the games of several RBs, including all three backs appearing on PFF College’s 2018 “Missed Tackles Forced” shortlist: True senior Nico Evans (Wyoming, 5-9, 211), Trey Sermon (Oklahoma, 6-0, 200, 4.57, not draft-eligible), and junior Zack Moss (Utah, 5-10, 213, 4.5). They’ve also taken a gander at Benny Snell (5-11, 223, 4.56), a junior.
Of these, Moss is the most experienced receiver out of the backfield, something we’ve seen more of from Chris Ivory of late (10 catches in the last 3 games), where Ivory’s averaged 13.3 ypr. Moss, scouted in the Utah-Arizona game, is DraftTek’s top-ranked player from that contest. He’s a good cutback runner and play-action blocker.
Sermon might be worth the wait until next year. He reminds me of a tall Marshawn Lynch with his relentlessness. Watch the first play here to see what I mean. Sermon’s second-ranked in PFF’s Missed Tackles Forced, a Chris Ivory specialty. Oklahoma is the #1 offense in adjusted yards per rush at 6.98 ypc, largely because of Sermon, although Bobby Evans and Ben Powers at Guard don’t hurt. Sermon delivers a sermon with not one, but two downfield blocks on this play.
Evans, a teammate of Josh Allen’s at Wyoming, averaged 9.4 ypc with him last season. The fifth-year senior had 190 Yards and 2 TDs in the game the Bills scouts watched, putting together runs like these and these with patience, leg drive, and balance. His final year was his personal best, with a 204 /1,325 (6.5 ypc) 8 TD stat line.
Snell is the top producer among returning backs in the SEC, and is the second RB to have gained 1,000 yards and had 12 TDs in each of 3 seasons. Perhaps you have heard of the other one: Herschel Walker. Here he is against Georgia’s stalwart defense, getting tough inside yards, then blocking, then showing his leg drive and nose for the end zone, proving he belongs in the NFL conversation.
I would add Alabama’s Najee Harris (6-1, 227, 4.54) and Josh Jacobs (5-9, 216, 4.49) to this list if they decide to jump early for the NFL. Both of these backs approximate Chris Ivory’s size and physical running style that McBeane likes. Tavien Feaster (5-11, 220, 4.34), should he declare, has Ivory’s same build with extra burst. That size-speed ratio is hard to beat. Feaster’s a combo plate of size, speed, burst, and missed tackles galore.
Would the Bills move on from team captain LeSean McCoy? To be sure, McCoy could use better O-Line play to make wider slits for him to run through to be better than his 3.3 ypc season average (<4 yards per carry in 6 of his 10 games this year). Marcus Murphy, (2015 RD7, Saints) could step up. He has a 5.4 career average, and some prototypical Shady moves. We’ve yet to see much of Keith Ford, but I don’t see that he has Shady’s vision or jukes. Let’s look for those qualities in this year’s draft.
LeSean’s stature is more compact than Ivory’s. Shady’s 5-10 3/8, 204, with 4.5 speed. What makes him unique is an unparalleled jump-cut move, quick braking/acceleration/change of direction, slipperiness, and very nice receiving ability.
The Bills have scouted some RBs with similar styles and stature to Shady.
The first group is made up of elite underclassmen who aren’t eligible to declare for 2019, and would require waiting a minimum of a year. These include super sophomores D’Andre Swift (Georgia, 5-9, 215, 4.48), J.K. Dobbins (Ohio St, 5-9, 208, 4.49), Cam Akers (Florida St, 5-10, 213, 4.41), and Travis Etienne (Clemson, 5-10, 200, 4.39). The Bills have watched Georgia and Ohio State more than once this year.
A second group is comprised of juniors that could declare for the upcoming draft. All three have been scouted by the Bills. ‘Bama’s backs Damien Harris (5-11, 214, 4.55) and Josh Jacobs (5-9, 216, 4.49) lead this parade. Daboll is familiar with them, and scouts have been to three games thus far (although there’s lots to see).
Harris has done his job on the ground, with a career 444 carries for 2,913 yards (6.6 ypc) and 21 TDs, and in the air, with 47 catches, 380 yards (8.1 avg), and 2 TDs. His bounce-it-out style and wiggle is more reminiscent of Shady.
Jacobs gets extra time as the kick returner. He has the highest vertical jump on the team, and is a very good receiver and blocker. He bench-presses 405 pounds and squats 500. Here he is in a game the Bills scouted vs Tennessee. You see his no-nonsense, North-and-South runs with power. His 5.8 career rushing average was earned straight ahead –not many jukes compared to Harris.
A third group is made up of Shady-like RBs who have been scouted, but would not likely replace him right away. These are good later-round options if the Bills keep McCoy or acquire a bell-cow back with their Free-Agency dough.
Patrick Carr (Houston, 5-10, 205, 4.40) transferred from Colorado. He has a 5.7 ypc rushing and 5.6 ypc receiving stat line. He makes the list because he showed up big in the two Houston games Bills scouts went to (and Ed Oliver didn’t play in), including a career-high 139 yards and two TD vs Tulsa.
Rodney Anderson (Oklahoma, 6-1, 218, 4.59) will enter the draft after a knee injury cut his 2018 season short (See: Thurman Thomas, Willis MacGahee). Anderson’s teammate backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine left for the NFL after 2016, and Anderson was next man up. He rushed for 1,161 yards and 13 TDs in 2017, an average of 6.2 ypc. While he’s no LeSean, he has some North-South Karlos Williams in him which you see here. Only playing 17 games over 3 years (only one complete season of starts) will drop him for McBeane; while Anderson was cleared of a phony rape charge 11 months ago it might just hit too close to the RB room.
A.J. Turner of South Carolina (5-10, 184, 4.5) was scouted once, as well. The SC O-Line gets a lot of the credit for springing this change-of-pace back, but there’s some speed there to help him get to the edge and make him a go-to, especially in a play-action or up-tempo scheme that Daboll might aim for down the line. Turner’s added contributions as a kickoff returner and his tackles on special teams will play a role in his favorable evaluation. Heads-up plays like this won’t hurt, either.
Here are four scouted players who will declare for the 2019 NFL Draft and could be a bell-cow back, in my opinion:
Miles Sanders (Penn St, 5-11, 215, 4.42) could be a compromise between Ivory and McCoy. He’s versatile, as he has done special teams, and a rookie RB needs to do that. A Pittsburgh native, Sanders has a legitimate jump-cut move, and can bounce it out effectively. He went over 6.0 ypc in half of his 12 games this year as the successor to second-overall pick Saquon Barkley.
Dexter Williams (Notre Dame, 5-11, 215, 4.55) is also a bona fide bell cow back. His 8.9 ypc average against AP-ranked teams is the best among my Top 40 RBs. He’s emerging as a receiver out of the backfield, as well. Averaging 9.2 yards a carry on 39 attempts for 360 yards in 2017, Williams has been productive. While I must give credit to an impressive Notre Dame OL, I see no reason why the Bills should pass on another Williams. He was scouted against Pitt.
Myles Gaskin (5-10, 191, 4.50) is the active leader among FBS players in career rushing yards (5,131), notching at least 1,000 yards in all 4 seasons and out-rushing recent leaders Kareem Hunt and Melvin Gordon. He returned to Washington after a 2018 Draft projection he received was not optimistic. His outstanding work ethic, high character, vision, instincts, lateral agility, and game experience will garner some better projections, especially with the Bills. My knock on Gaskin is his skinny-thin legs. Wings will fix anything.
Finally, Travis Homer (Miami, 5-10, 195, 4.52) has running and receiving abilities that rival any of the above candidates. His career 6.1 ypc rush average also stands up well in this draft. He’s a tacklebreaker who will find his way onto the field.
Editor’s babble: Never thought I’d live to see the day when Wyoming became a hotbed of prospects for the Buffalo Bills. Huzzah. Thanks as always to Dean Kindig and his terrific “Astro Notes” and other contributions to our blog. You can find Dean on Twitter @TCBILLS_Astro.