Running back an underrated draft need for Bills - The Buffalo News

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Running back an underrated draft need for Bills

With perhaps the league's best 1-2 punch at running back, it wouldn't seem the position would be high on the Buffalo Bills' list of offseason needs.

But it should be.

As The News' Tim Graham reported earlier today from Indianapolis, site of the NFL Scouting Combine, Bills coach Doug Marrone is looking for a running attack that can impose its will on an opponent. The Bills were one of only five teams to run the ball more than they threw it in 2013. In fact, their 546 rushing attempts were the most in the league. The team had nearly a 50-50 split in run-pass ratio last year, at 51.12 percent runs and 48.88 percent pass plays.

Graham mentions the possibility of adding an offensive lineman in the draft as one way to help the rushing attack. Another would be to consider a running back at some point in May's draft. While that player may not become a big part of the offensive attack in 2014, he could factor into the team's plans in the not-too-distant feature.

Veteran running back Fred Jackson, the team's workhorse in 2013, is entering the final year of his contract. Jackson turns 33 today. He's the heart and soul of the Bills, and wants to finish his career with the team. He should absolutely get one- or two-year deals until his playing days are done, ala Tim Wakefield's old arrangement with the Boston Red Sox.

The bigger issue for the Bills is the contract status of former first-round pick C.J. Spiller, who took just 34 percent of the team's offensive snaps in 2013 (Jackson played 57 percent of snaps). Spiller has undeniable home-run ability, but his durability was an issue last year. Spiller is also entering the final year of his contract, and is scheduled to count just under $6 million against the Bills' salary cap in 2014.

Obviously, the upcoming season will play a huge part in whether the team determines Spiller is worthy of a long-term contract extension, but they should prepare for his possible departure.

Third running back Ronnie Wingo played all of four offensive snaps last season. His most noteworthy moment with the Bills so far has been being fined by the team for coming back late from the bye week, so adding competition for Wingo would be wise.

While the Bills shouldn't go all Bills and draft a running back in the first round for the fourth time in the past 12 years, they should consider a middle-round selection.

"If you look back at the draft 40 years ago, running backs were the most valuable commodity there was," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said this week on a conference call. "And today, with all the spread offenses and teams throwing the football 60, 70, 80 percent of the time, there's been a completely different emphasis in how you draft offensively.

"I do think the good news in this draft and in the last few is that if you can get into the second, third, fourth round, and find different flavors of running backs. You'll see some teams that will draft two or three running backs in one or two drafts, just so you can have a big back and a third-down, change-of-pace guy and I think that's where the league has gone and I think that's where it's going to continue to go."

There are two good examples of mid- to late-round picks paying off last season for teams. The St. Louis Rams drafted Zac Stacy out of Vanderbilt in the fifth round. He eventually became the teams's starter and finished with 973 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. The Arizona Cardinals used a sixth-round pick on Clemson's Andre Ellington, who had 652 yards -- averaging 5.5 yards per carry -- and three touchdowns.

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