We are only about a month into the Bills off-season but it seems a lot longer because most of us have been talking “off-season” for several months. A rebuilding year tends to shift the focus earlier than usual. The focus this year is on offense.
After heavily investing to get their quarterback in 2018, the Bills main priority now is investing in protection and talent to compliment their young and talented quarterback.
The first glaring priority is the offensive line, a revolving door in more ways than one in 2018. The Bills tried many different roster combinations to get a look at their roster, especially towards the end of the season. By the time the 2019 season kicks off, we could see four out of five new starters up front.
Wide receiver is another high priority to address on offense. There were some signs of encouragement with the emergence of Robert Foster, and Zay Jones growing more comfortable in his second NFL season. There are still some vast improvements which need to be made if the Bills want to take a step forward in 2019.
After a disappointing season, the Bills will also need to take some time to evaluate the running back room going forward. After years of being the most productive part of their offense, the running game never got going in 2018. LeSean McCoy had his worst season as a pro, recording only 514 rushing yards, and only 3.2 yards per carry.
So far, all signs point to McCoy remaining on the roster in 2019, reiterated several times by comments from General Manager Brandon Beane. However, nothing is guaranteed on a franchise going through heavy changes.
Questions were asked about the running back situation all season. Has McCoy lost a step? Since he turns 31 this off-season, has he hit that running back wall? Most of the ineffectiveness can be attributed to the poor play by the offensive line, but many questions remain.
McCoy has a certain running style that is hard to change at this stage of his career. He moves laterally and uses his elusiveness to find space to move through before advancing. Once McCoy gets into open space, he’s still tough to take down. In 2018 he just wasn’t able to get into space, which resulted in many carries ending at or behind the line of scrimmage.
At this stage of his career, getting McCoy into space early may be the most beneficial for his production. That means getting him more involved in the passing game, more specifically on screens where he can still use that elusiveness in one on one match-ups in open field. Taking five carries away from his rushing attempts and moving those targets to the passing game could prolong his career, along with giving Josh Allen a higher percentage of pass completions per game.
The biggest question in relation to McCoy remaining on the roster is financially related. McCoy is due to make $9 million in 2019. While the Bills are in a good position in regards to salary cap, there’s still a chance they don’t see the production matching the cost. For now, we’ll move forward assuming McCoy in on the roster in 2019. With that in mind, the Bills still need to evaluate the running back room and who can contribute by splitting carries.
Chris Ivory is still under contract for 2019, but also turns 31 in the off-season. Even if both McCoy and Ivory remain on the roster next season, the Bills still need to address the future at running back. Early draft evaluations are underway and are suggesting a decent running back class entering the draft.
That class includes a pair of running backs from Alabama (Josh Jacobs and Damien Harris) that could have ties to Brian Daboll. We’ll get more into those evaluations as we get closer to the draft, but I’d expect the Bills to add a running back somewhere in the middle rounds.
Two other running backs are currently on the roster, Marcus Murphy and Keith Ford. Both showed some flashes of being contributors in 2018, but how long they remain on the roster will most likely be determined in the off-season and during training camp.
Murphy is a north-south runner with some power to get through holes and some speed to accelerate to the second level of a defense. Ford got his opportunity later in the season and looked more like a power back who could contribute in short yardage situations.
This off-season will likely focus on overhauling the offense, with the majority of attention being on the offensive line and wide receiver. Re-establishing the running game will also be a priority to the development of Josh Allen and potentially bring a dangerous play-action passing game.
This will be a crucial off-season for the Bills. Armed with assets and expectations, it’s time to take that step forward that has eluded this franchise for decades.
Editor’s babble: As always, thanks to Erik Smeal for his insight and contributions to our blog. You can find Erik on Twitter @Buffwagon819.