To see LeSean McCoy take a handoff, dance for space and make defenders miss is to watch a master craftsman in action.
But when the NFL’s best rushing attack needs a first down, it calls on someone even better in short-yardage situations: Mike Gillislee.
More than half of Gillislee’s 64 carries this season have gone for first downs or touchdowns. He's a perfect 13 for 13 when called on to get 2 yards or less. His average of 5.9 yards per carry would lead the league if he had enough attempts to qualify.
The third-year running back out of Florida has become a valuable commodity in Buffalo after being cut by Miami and released from Arizona’s practice squad.
Sunday against the Raiders, the Bills faced third and 1 on four occasions. The Bills run 70 percent of the time on third and 1. Opponents know what’s coming. But Gillislee took three of those carries and gained 4 yards, 5 yards, and scored a 2-yard touchdown.
Gillislee is No. 1 in the league at converting on third and 1, picking up first downs on all seven of his attempts in situations when defenders are ready for him. Washington’s Matt Jones and New Orleans’ John Kuhn are next at 6 for 6 while the New York Jets’ Matt Forte is 5 for 5.
“I’ve been like that my whole life,” Gillislee said Wednesday. “It’s just 1 yard. I just put that in my head. It’s 1 yard. I cannot be stopped. I change my whole mentality and I just get the first down.”
Television broadcasters have gushed over Gillislee’s classic one-cut running style, which he said he modeled after Arian Foster.
“I’m the type of back, when I see something, I just hit it,” he said. “I don’t want any negative yards. I want positive yards. So I think the fastest way you can get that is by getting north and south. So I just put my foot in the ground and get what I can get.”
Asked about running for two-point conversions, which are 2 yards away, Gillislee didn’t wait for the question to end.
“I’m going to get it,” he interjected. “I feel like I can’t be – if it’s anything we have to get, 1 or 2 yards, I just feel like I have to. I just change my whole mentality and run even harder.”
Gillislee has certainly benefitted from running behind the Bills’ offensive line, which has paved the way the for league’s leading rushing attack the last two seasons, in terms of both yards per game and yards per attempt. But his numbers are awfully impressive.
Gillislee also ranks 34th in the league with 375 rushing yards – more than the leading rushers on the Lions, Packers, Jaguars and Vikings. His teammates call him “Touchdown Mike” for the obvious reason, scoring three times in five games (from 50, 60 and 19 yards out) after joining the active roster last season and scoring seven touchdowns so far this year.
Not bad for a guy who will be a restricted free agent next month.
“My contract, I’m just trying to win games here and focus on that and help this team out the best way I can and hopefully come back,” Gillislee said.
Story topics: Mike Gillislee