The Buffalo Bills enter 2021 with high expectations after breaking out with a 13-3 record last season. The offense exploded for 501 points thanks to quarterback Josh Allen's emergence as a star playmaker.
The offseason was supposed to be a tough one for the upstart franchise to endure. The franchise's highly coveted offensive coordinator Brian Daboll shockingly didn't snag one of the open head-coaching gigs while key free agents Matt Milano and Daryl Williams were retained.
The two areas for potential upgrades on offense included wide receiver and running back. The Bills addressed the receiver spot by inking veteran Emmanuel Sanders to replace John Brown and the incumbent slot receiver Cole Beasley was also retained despite a larger salary.
However, the running back position didn't receive a facelift. The young duo of Zack Moss and Devin Singletary failed to impress last year and the Bills were highly interested in Najee Harris and Travis Etienne according to sources I talked to, but the team was unable to trade up to land either in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Missing a star back isn't a death knell in the NFL. Few recent Super Bowl champions have employed a premier rusher, but having a good starter or strong rotation can be plenty if the rest of the unit is efficient.
The Bills will again ask Allen to carry the offense. Allen's contributions on the ground ease the pain of trotting out two mediocre backs. The dual-threat QB tallied 421 yards and eight scores on 102 carries last season.
As the starter last season, Singletary led the team with 687 rushing yards and two scores. He added 269 yards receiving. Few starting backs who played in all 16 games produced as little.
Moss, as the backup, added 481 yards and four scores on the ground. He was almost a non-factor on passing downs with 95 yards and one score on 14 receptions.
The offensive line struggled to create rushing lanes as injuries cost starting blockers time on the field. However, a more dynamic presence would've found more meat on the bone.
Fantasy football managers were disappointed with the lack of real impact. Singletary barely outproduced Moss as they averaged 6.6 points and 6.7 points per-game, respectively. There were backups with a higher average than these two starters.
The blocking is one aspect to blame, and so is their collective lack of athletic upside. But their usage was an issue that'll haunt 2021 fantasy football GMs.
The Bills ranked third in neutral situation pass rate in 2020, meaning they're defiant in their attempts to establish the run. This likely won't change as the offense revolves around Allen. Daboll knows his strength is not in the tailback position, but rather the receivers and his superstar passer.
Allen's own tendencies hurt the backs, too. He threw at backs just 12% of attempts due to play design and his aggressive nature. He still doesn't read defenses quickly, so he'd rather run himself or force a ball instead of dumping it off to a back.
The red zone play-calling is also to their disadvantage. Allen led the team in carries inside the five-yard line. His bruising running style and ability to add a number in the Bills' favor made him one of the most dangerous red-zone threats in the league.
Daboll told the Buffalo News he'll ride the hot hand between the two backs. Moss outpaced Singletary in snaps as the season progressed. It could be a sign of the staff seeing more value in his consistency over Singletary's style.
Because of Moss' size and usage of power between the tackles, he projects as a possible replacement for Singletary near the goal line, too. Singletary is more likely to continue as the third-down back, though, as he's developed into a quality pass blocker and more reliable receiver. He's a shiftier presence in the open field as well.
The dilemma is clear and unlikely to be resolved by one back becoming a sudden star. The Bills should cut down on Allen's designed runs to keep him upright and protect their prized possession. The only other option is to potentially trade for Melvin Gordon or David Johnson. They could also kick the tires on Le'Veon Bell.
None of those options are especially inspiring right now. Fantasy football managers should look at Moss' potential ability to vulture touchdowns as more valuable than Singletary's slashing style, though.
Until either proves their weekly worth, I view both as a RB4 option on a healthy roster.
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