Bills: State of the RB Position

Could the Bills add a running back in free agency or the 2015 NFL draft? It's certainly a possibility, despite having three backs under contract for the 2015 season.

On paper, the Buffalo Bills running game looked to be a great strength entering the 2014 season. That wasn’t the case during the season, as the running game struggled throughout the year. The offensive line certainly deserves their fair share of blame for this, but the backs struggled to create for themselves. Between their four backs, Buffalo never had one rush for over 100 yards in a game. Heading into 2015, how does the running back position look? Here’s a glimpse at the team’s backs and my verdict on the running back position.

Fred Jackson

2014 Snapshot: 141 carries, 525 yards (3.7 YPC), 2 TD, 66 receptions, 501 yards, 1 receiving TD

Jackson is the heart and soul of Buffalo’s offense and he’s still the team’s best overall back. This season, Jackson set a career high for himself in receptions with 66 and he finished with 1,026 yards rushing/receiving. He also created the most missed tackles among all of the team’s backs.

While Jackson still produced over 1,000 yards rushing/receiving, it was a down year for him on the ground. Jackson’s 3.7 yard per carry average was the lowest of his career and he looked like he lost a step. Jackson also struggled to block in pass protection. Pro Football Focus (PFF) rated him last among all of Buffalo’s backs as a blocker. This could simply be father time catching up to Jackson. Later this month, Jackson will turn 34 years old. Jackson’s down season may not be all his fault. As previously mentioned, the offensive line this season struggled to open running lanes for any of the backs and they allowed plenty of pressure to come into the backfield.

 As someone who has watched Jackson throughout his career, I’d never count him out to produce on the field. That said, his durability can be questioned. In the last four seasons, Jackson has played in a total of 50 games. Jackson’s contract runs out after the 2015 season, so this year could be his last with the team.

Anthony Dixon

2014 Snapshot: 105 carries, 432 yards (4.1 YPC), 2 TD, 8 receptions for 49 yards

The running back who prefers to be known as “Boobie” had a decent year with the Bills. With the 49ers, Dixon had 148 carries in four years. This season, Dixon set a career high for himself with 105 carries. When he carried the ball, Dixon was able to pick up tough yards behind a shaky line. His 4.1 yard per carry average was the highest among all backs on the team and PFF graded him as Buffalo’s best blocking back.

The biggest knock on Dixon is that he’s a one-dimensional back. Dixon isn’t much of a receiver. In fact, the eight receptions he caught this season were a career high for the back.

Dixon is very familiar with Greg Roman and he’s actually a decent fit for Buffalo’s ground-and-pound attack. While Dixon isn’t a No. 1 back, he’ll get the opportunity to carry the ball a few times per game. The back is under contract with Buffalo through 2016 and will turn 28 in September.

Bryce Brown

2014 Snapshot: 36 carries, 126 yards (3.5 YPC), 16 receptions for 176 yards

When the Bills traded a fourth round pick for Bryce Brown, many people were left scratching their heads. Buffalo already had Jackson, Dixon and C.J. Spiller on their roster and it seemed like adding a fourth running back was questionable, unless the team planned on trading away Spiller.  

So far, the trade doesn’t look good for the Bills. Brown was only active for seven games this season and he struggled running the ball. The biggest knock against Brown is that carries the ball away from his body loosely. Brown had a costly fumble against the Kansas City Chiefs as he was running into the end zone. That touchdown probably would have won the game for the team.

The biggest positive for Brown is his ability to catch and run with the ball. He looked very capable in this role. If Buffalo does not add another back, Brown will get a fair shake to be the team’s No. 2 back. That said, his roster spot isn’t guaranteed in 2015. His current contract runs out after the season.

C.J. Spiller

2014 Snapshot: 78 carries, 300 yards (3.8 YPC), 19 receptions for 125 yards, 1 receiving TD

Spiller only played in nine games this season after suffering a collarbone injury. When he was on the field, he struggled to find lanes and tried to make something out of nothing too often. This is the biggest knock on Spiller after being in the league for five seasons. Spiller tries to hit a proverbial homerun every time he touches the ball, rather than taking what is available to him. He also hasn’t shown the ability to block pass rushers consistently. Spiller is an explosive player, but he hasn’t been a good fit since Chan Gailey, offensive coordinator of the Jets, left the team.

There’s a good chance that Spiller will not be on Buffalo’s roster in 2015. He has a player option to void the last year of his rookie contract and he may be better off signing elsewhere. Spiller will have suitors on the free agent market if he opts out, but he’d be wise to take a one-year deal with a team that could utilize his skill-set.

Verdict: Buffalo currently has three backs under contract for 2015, but this doesn’t mean that they won’t add another running back or fullback in free agency or the draft. There are some players who could be good potential fits for Greg Roman’s offense. Tomorrow, Buffalo Football Report will look at some running back and fullback options for the Bills in free agency and the draft.

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