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Figuring Out the Buffalo Bills Backfield

After trading for Stefon Diggs at the start of the offseason, the Buffalo Bills had to sit out Day One of the 2020 NFL Draft, but when they got in on the fun on Friday night, they selected two highly-touted college prospects: Iowa DE A.J. Epenesa and Utah RB Zack Moss. For fantasy purposes, Moss is the relevant one of the two names.

Despite the NFL trending towards more open-air attacks and four-wide receiver passing offenses, the Bills were able to adopt some similar spread principles while still running the ball 465 times in 2019, good for sixth in the NFL. That equates to around 29 carries per game.

Josh Allen averaged 6.8 per game and about one carry per game went to wide receivers on trick plays, which left about 21.3 carries per game to be split up among the running backs. With the same coaching personnel returning, it's fair to assume that a similar distribution will occur, so with Frank Gore now out of the picture and Zack Moss in the fold, what will those 21 carries look like for this new-look Bills running back room?

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Is Devin Singletary the Lead Back?

Make no mistake about it, the Bills rushing attack still begins with second-year pro Devin Singletary. The Florida Atlantic product was impressive in his first taste of professional football, totaling 151 rushes for 775 yards and two touchdowns on the ground while adding 29 catches for 194 yards and two touchdowns through the air. All of this was despite missing four games and leaving one game early with a hamstring injury.

When he was on the field, Singletary showed elite elusiveness in the open field, which was part of his calling card coming out of college. The 5'7" running back had a 12.6% broken tackle rate and finished tied for 14th in the NFL with 20 broken tackles, despite being the only player in the top 22 on the list to play in 12 games or fewer. In fact, Singletary ranked 5th in the entire NFL in attempts per broken tackle with 7.6.

His elusive nature led to 5.1 yards per carry and 6.7 yards per reception, which is why he will remain the focal point of the Bills backfield. However, he certainly will not be a bell-cow. On the season, Singletary accounted for 49.7% of the Bills total snaps at running back but only 32.5% of the team's total rushes.

Now, much of that had to do with Singletary being a rookie and also nursing a hamstring injury early in the season, but it's still fair to assume that the new top dog's rushing share will likely be capped at 45% of the team's total rushes, especially with Allen in the mix. The Bills simply showed no desire to run their small back too often and risk injury.

Still, 45% of the team's total rushes can be useful in fantasy when you pair that with his 8.5% of team targets, an average of 3.4 a game. The Bills want to run the ball and control the clock, which enabled them to remain in most games during the 2019 season. However, in four of the games where they fell behind, Singletary saw an uptick in usage in the passing game - eight targets against Baltimore and six each against Cleveland, Philadelphia, and the Jets in week one.

As mentioned, with Josh Allen healthy and the Bills remaining focused on getting Singletary some rest to ensure he stays healthy and keeps his elusive burst, the upside for carries is limited. However, 40-45% of carries on one of the run-heaviest teams in the NFL could still be 185-205 carries, provided Singletary stays on the field. If he maintains his performance from last year, you're looking at a 1,000-yard rusher who could have about 60+ targets in the passing game (that's only four per game).

FANTASY POTENTIAL: Given the talent that Singletary showed last year, I'm not ready to write off the Moss addition as being a death knell for his fantasy season. For reference, Leonard Fournette finished last year as the ninth-ranked running back in half-PPR formats. He finished with 1,152 rushing yards, 522 receiving yards on 76 catches, and three total touchdowns. It would not surprise me at all if Singletary put up similar numbers, if not better.


What Will We Get from Zack Moss?

Despite my belief in Devin Singletary as a viable fantasy asset, I don't think that means he renders Zack Moss fantasy-irrelevant. Last year, despite Singletary's impressive performance, aging veteran Frank Gore had 166 carries for 599 yards and two touchdowns. He averaged only 3.6 yards per carry, but Gore still 35.7% of the team's total rushes because they wanted to lighten Singletary's workload. If an ineffective Gore can see that much work, why can't we assume that for a talented rookie?

The Utah product rushed for 1,416 yards while also catching 28 passes for 388 yards and notching 17 total touchdowns in 2019. He set six all-time records at Utah, including career rushing yards - 4,167 yards - and career rushing touchdowns - 38 TDs. He's a talented and versatile back.

When you dig into closer, you see that he shines in much the same way Singletary does: breaking tackles. PFF marked Moss with the third-highest broken tackles per attempt average in the six years they've tracked college football metrics. The Draft Network said that trying to tackle Moss is "like trying to knock over a weeble-wobble." He may lack high-end speed (although his 40-time at the NFL Combine was marred by a tweaked hamstring), but he has juice in the open field and is "wicked loose for a big man."

All of which is to say that he has the skill-set to be a factor with the carries that he will get, which could be about seven or eight per game if the Bills' usage holds from last year.

However, where Moss will likely see the most fantasy value is in his goal-line role. Last year, Frank Gore saw 21.5% of the team's red zone snaps and 36.6% of their red zone rushing attempts. He was similarly ineffective with those. He had 18 carries from inside the 10-yard line and only an 11.1% conversation rate.

Devin Singletary had a 33.3% conversion rate, yet still only had three rushes and five touches inside the 10-yard line. The Bills simply aren't going to run their 5'7"-200 pound back into the teeth of a defense from 1o-yards out.

However, Zack Moss is built for that at 5'10" 235 pounds. He has repeatedly stated in interviews that he runs with the intention of hurting defenders, and The Draft Network notes that his "tremendous hitting power allows for broken tackles in tight spaces, as well as pile-driving ability in short-yardage situations." Something the Bills severely lacked last year, which was painfully evident watching Frank Gore stumbled over himself for one-yard losses.

FANTASY POTENTIAL:  So, as a baseline, Moss should see 7-9 rushes a game and the majority of red-zone work for a team that will run frequently and likely be in a position to score more than average. If we just take Frank Gore's role from last year, and assume health from Devin Singletary, Moss could see 125 rushes with around 20 rushes inside the 10-yard line. If we give him even modest success that's 500 yards rushing and four touchdowns on the season, as a floor.

Given Moss' value in the receiving game and ability to hold up as a team's feature back, there is a good chance that he would be able to replicate Singletary's value if the second-year back were to be injured for any period of time again. So, while Moss may not be as exciting for some in fantasy drafts as Jonathan Taylor, J.K. Dobbins, or Cam Akers, he's in a similar, if not better, position for immediate usefulness, with a strong chance at RB2 value if anything should happen to Singletary.


Don't Forget T.J. Yeldon

T.J. Yeldon remains on the Buffalo roster and remains a non-factor barring injury. Even with Singletary missing four games last year and Frank Gore being the only other option, Yeldon totaled 17 rushes for 63 yards and 13 catches for 124 yards. He played 14% of team snaps, which was less than fullback Patrick DiMarco's 15.9 percent, and was often inactive because he's not a factor on special teams.

FANTASY POTENTIAL: Yeldon was working on special teams last year, so if he has improved in that regard and can be active on game days as a special teams player and #3 running back, then there is the chance he can steal a few carries, but he sill not be involved in the rushing offense if both Singletary and Moss are healthy.

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