This is the second of a 10-part series that examines how well the Buffalo Bills have addressed each position during the offseason. Today’s installment looks at running back.
It was easy to pinpoint the Bills' greatest strength after last season. All you had to do was look at their perch atop the NFL rushing statistics.
The Bills delivered exactly what Rex Ryan was seeking in the first year of the ground-and-pound approach that he brought with him from the New York Jets.
Consistently effective running is the Bills' offensive identity. And they clearly devoted a large part of their offseason to making sure that remains the case in 2016 -- especially when it currently stands as the best thing they do on either side of the ball.
The Bills made sure they kept together the offensive line that opened the holes that helped lead to the 2,432 yards they gained in 2014. They also took steps, in the draft and free agency, to enhance their backfield depth.
Here's the breakdown at running back:
Returning: LeSean McCoy, Karlos Williams, Mike Gillislee, Jerome Felton.
Newcomers: Jonathan Williams, fifth-round draft pick, Arkansas; Glenn Gronkowski, undrafted free agent, Kansas State.
Better, worse or the same?: This one's easy. Better, and quite possibly by a lot.
That's saying something when you consider last season's production, but there's ample evidence that the Bills have both great potential to improve with the pieces already in place and get a boost from one or two of the newcomers.
If McCoy and Karlos Williams can stay healthy (they missed a combined nine games last season), and depending on whether McCoy faces any discipline for his role in last February's nightclub brawl in Philadelphia, there's virtually no reason for the Bills' rushing attack to be anything less than dominant.
McCoy ran for 895 yards, averaging 4.4 yards per carry, and three touchdowns on the way to becoming the team's lone Pro Bowler. That was in 12 games. Give him a full, 16-game season -- and one that he enters without any nagging issues, such as the sore hamstring that slowed him at the start of 2014 -- and there's reason to believe he'll surpass 1,000 yards by a wide margin.
Karlos Williams was an explosive runner out of the box as a rookie. With better health (he missed five games), greater familiarity with the offense, and increased chemistry with his blockers, it stands to reason that he'll be an even more productive complement to McCoy.
Then, there's the other Williams, Jonathan. This guy is a bit of a mystery because he missed all of his final college season after undergoing foot surgery. But he showed definite signs earlier in his Razorback career that he can run with considerable authority. Picture a late-game sledgehammer wearing down opposing defenses and running out the clock.
A backfield combination that features McCoy's ankle-breaking elusiveness and speed, Karlos Williams' explosiveness and acceleration, and Jonathan Williams' raw power is going to be tough to defend.
Toss in the hefty investment to retain left tackle Cordy Glenn and left guard Richie Incognito, and you have the ingredients of what gives the Bills their best (only?) chance of staying competitive even if Tyrod Taylor doesn't have another 568-yard rushing season and shows less efficiency as a passer.
You also have the ingredients of what gives the Bills their best (only?) chance of weathering any potential fallout from the two worst offseason developments so far: surgeries to repair Shaq Lawson's shoulder and Sammy Watkins' foot.
This presumes, of course, that right guard John Miller shows improvement in his second NFL season and the Bills can find at least a mostly competent right tackle from among Seantrel Henderson, Jordan Mills, and Cyrus Kouandjio.
Adding a solid blocking tight end, Jim Dray, in free agency should also help the rushing cause.
Here's more food for thought: Greg Roman lived up to his reputation for putting together a highly creative run-blocking scheme in his first season as offensive coordinator. With more of a feel for his players' strengths and weaknesses, he'll likely introduce additional wrinkles this year.
Next: Wide receiver.