The Buffalo Bills look poised to repeat as the NFL’s top rushing team in 2016. The Bills led the league last season with 2,432 yards on 509 attempts and 19 touchdowns. Recent signings have added depth to the running back position. The Bills have also made sure to secure the continuity of their offensive line this off-season. With the team going into its second year under offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s system, they are sure to become more comfortable and more cohesive as a unit.
Bills Poised to Retain Rushing Crown in 2016
Though LeSean McCoy has had some legal issues this off-season, it does not appear that he will face charges for his February altercation at Recess nightclub in Philadelphia. This is good news for the Bills, as McCoy is an integral part of disorientating defenses for the Bills offense. At age 27, McCoy still has three to four good years left to provide if he can stay healthy. Health was an issue last season for McCoy. A torn MCL and a hamstring injury sidelined him for a month. In the 12 games McCoy did play, he managed to rack up 895 yards on 203 attempts and three touchdowns.
McCoy is a great compliment to Bills rookie sensation Karlos Williams. Williams made noise last year for the team as a bruising, north-south style running back. At 6’1, 230 lbs, Williams is big enough to get the tough yards and fast enough to take it to the endzone if he hits the secondary. Williams proved this in 2015 by scoring seven touchdowns for the Bills. The only real concern with Williams is his durability; it took him a month to recover from serious concussion symptoms last season. Regarding his symptoms Williams said he was, “Having really bad headaches. Not being able to sleep. Not being able to eat. Kind of side effects I’ve had over the years from having concussions: just being very, very groggy.” Hopefully this will not turn into a long-term issue for the 23-year-old back.
Depth At Running Back
Buffalo added depth to its stable of ballcarriers this off-season by signing Daniel “Boom” Herron and last year’s breakout star, Mike Gillislee. Herron for the most part is an unproven back in the league. He was a sixth-round pick in 2012 by the Cincinnati Bengals. He finished his rookie campaign in Cincinnati before signing with the Indianapolis Colts in 2013. Herron played with the Colts until October of last year before spending a brief stint with the Bills from October 6th to November 25th. Outside of his 468 career yards on 112 attempts, he’s spent most of his time on practice squads. Despite his usage scarcity, Herron’s ball-security and catching ability will provide positive contributions and breathers for both McCoy and Williams.
Promoted to the 53-man roster on December 5th, Mike Gillislee made a name for himself by exploding for two 50-plus-yard touchdown runs in weeks 15 and 16 (both games resulting in Buffalo victories). Far from a finesse runner, Gillislee runs downhill looking to embrace contact. A great runner between the tackles, Gillislee will do well as a third-down or short-yardage back who has the ability to break away and run to the house. A key component for an NFL running back’s success is ball security, something that Gillislee needs to work on. Albeit his deficiencies, his contract extension on January 4th shows that he does have promise.
The Bills understood that retaining key offensive line members would be critical for continued rushing success. Consistency and experience is paramount along the front five positions. As a result, center Eric Wood will be returning along with re-signees Cordy Glenn and Richie Incognito to secure the left side. Tackle Seantrel Henderson was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at the end of last year, but he hopes to fully participate this season. If Henderson cannot go, the Bills have Jordan Mills in waiting. Mills has a legitimate chance to beat Henderson out right for the starting job during training camp. The competition will be beneficial towards fortifying the Bills line. The group will also feel more comfortable in their second year running Greg Roman’s system. This should improve communication and performance.
An Additional Threat
This will be the first season in 20 years that the Bills will be returning all 5 starters on the offensive line. This personnel fluidity and scheme should be a formula for further achievement. Now add the threat of quarterback Tyrod Taylor, just to scare defenses a bit more. Taylor had 568 yards on 104 rushing attempts last season, averaging 5.5 yards per carry. Taylor brings another deceiving element to an already-loaded Bills offense.
Taylor needs to stay healthy, though. Running often and taking abuse can leave him susceptible to injuries, and his presence under center is necessary for the offense to reach it full potential. There is no reason, baring impairments, that the Bills should not be able to defend their rushing title. Best-case scenario, it will help them clinch their first playoff berth in 16 seasons.