INDIANAPOLIS – The Buffalo Bills have a dizzying number of options available to them as they look to upgrade their running back roster for the 2020 season.
The NFL draft is loaded and deep with talent at running back.
“I do think there’s some guys, similar to what we’ve said about the number of receivers in the draft,” Bills General Manager Brandon Beane said this week at the NFL scouting combine. “I think there’s some guys who are big physical, run-first guys. I think there’s guys who have shown they have skills in the passing game. I think there will be a variety of guys who will find their way on different teams.”
“I think there's really good value at the running back position," Atlanta General Manager Thomas Dimitroff said. "You don't always have to yank that guy off the board in the top 16 picks. There are some great values in the draft. ... Not saying it's not a good addition to your team to go higher on someone, but there's some really good running backs out there."
The Bills need a No. 2 option to lead running back Devin Singletary, because the contract of 36-year-old Frank Gore is up. The Bills also could think about competition at the No. 3 running back spot. T.J. Yeldon is under contract for 2020, but he only appeared in six games last season and got just 17 carries.
The presumption is the Bills would like a big-back complement to Singletary who is more dynamic than Gore was in 2019.
Options are available in free agency, including Houston’s Carlos Hyde, Philadelphia’s Jordan Howard and Tampa Bay’s Peyton Barber. Hyde, 29, just rushed for 1,070 yards for the Texans. Howard, 25, had two 1,000-yard seasons in Chicago but was a backup for the Eagles last season. Barber, 25, has less impressive statistics and probably would be a minimum-salary signing.
But given the depth of the draft, the market for Hyde or Howard might be soft, too.
If the Bills want a physical back in the draft, Utah’s Zack Moss could be a third-round steal. Florida’s Lamical Perine or UCLA’s Joshua Kelly could be attractive in the middle rounds.
Moss, a Miami native who rushed for 4,752 yards and 42 TDs at Utah, has drawn comparisons with Gore.
“That’s definitely something I heard before, and he’s definitely someone I watched, coming from Miami,” Moss said Wednesday. “He’s a super-legend down there, so I watched a lot of Frank Gore tape when he was in Miami.”
Then there are game-breaking receiving back options. Louisiana State’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire would be hard for the Bills to pass up if he lasted to the third round, although that might be wishful thinking. He said Wednesday that he has met with the Bills.
LSU quarterback Joe Burrow called him the most talented player on the national champions’ roster.
Teams have asked that he also work out at wide receiver during the combine, according to NFL.com.
Memphis dual-threat athlete Antonio Gibson averaged 19.3 yards on 38 catches and 11.2 yards on 33 rushes. His highlight reel is mind-boggling, and he might last to the third round.
What style are the Bills targeting? Beane suggested it depends on who’s available at what cost.
“Running backs can get beat up in this league,” Beane said. “In a perfect world, you’d love to have complementary skill sets. Maybe Devin doesn’t have the home run speed. Maybe you’ve got a guy to complement him with home-run speed. Maybe he’s not quite the bruiser, although I think he can handle it. Maybe you add that around him.”
Beane said the evaluations of scouts in the pre-draft process will be important, as it was last year with Singletary.
“That’ll be where getting to guys’ pro days or working them out privately can be important,” Beane said. “Maybe a team didn’t use them as much in some way. It happened with Devin last year. They didn’t throw him the ball a lot. When we got our hands on him, we realized his hands are pretty good. And he did have an instinctual feel for it.”
Singletary had 29 receptions last season, more than the 25 combined he had in his final two years at Florida Atlantic.
Beane also stressed that Yeldon should not be discounted as the Bills reconstruct their running back room.
“Because he didn’t play special teams for us, that was the reason he wasn’t getting a jersey,” Beane said of the fact Yeldon was inactive 10 games. “It wasn’t because of the player. He’ll come back and compete with Devin and whatever else we add in there. I’m not going to pigeonhole myself and say we’ve got to have this kind of player because all of a sudden, I’ve let a good player go who could help us.”
“It’s important to put the value on what this player brings to the Bills, in the draft and free agency,” Beane said. “If that’s a good value, and they’re in agreement with where we are, maybe we sign them. If not, then same thing in the draft. Let’s make sure we have the right value. What round is he? Is he a first- and second-down back only? Is he a third-down back only? Or is he a three-down back?”