Patience, dedication, understanding and a little bit of luck all were factors in solidifying the Buffalo Bills' running back room this year, turning a position group that ended the 2020 season under a cloud of doubt into a strength heading into the season opener.
General manager Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott get credit for the patience. They could have overreacted to the struggles of Devin Singletary last year and decided to use more premium NFL Draft capital on another back, namely Travis Etienne, or spent heavily in free agency. They did neither.
The Bills were linked by many draft experts to Etienne, the Clemson star. But they never felt compelled to move up from their starting position of No. 30 in the first round to make sure they could get him and stayed true to their board after he was taken by Jacksonville at No. 25 and didn't take the next best running back available.
This is where luck perhaps played a role. Had Etienne fell to the Bills, would they have taken him over defensive end Greg Rousseau? We'll probably never know the answer because it makes no sense for Beane to tell us exactly how their board lined up.
What we do know is that Etienne suffered a preseason foot injury and has landed on the injured reserve list. He'll miss the entire 2021 season.
Meanwhile, Singletary was reaping the rewards of an intense offseason program designed to make him stronger, more explosive and just generally more reliable. Being more attentive was a part of that too. He needed to improve his pass protection.
Singletary emerged as Buffalo's top back in the preseason.
And not just Buffalo's, the entire NFL's, at least as far as his running grade was concerned, by Pro Foortball Focus.
Zack Moss, who had begun to get most of the carries by the end of his rookie season in 2020 until landing on injured reserve during the playoffs, struggled with another injury early in the preseason but is back and ready to rotate with Singletary along with newcomer Matt Breida. one of the league's fastest men.
The Bills were able to sign him for less than $1 million this season.
He fit right in from the start as a back with more experience than Singletary and Moss combined while still in his athletic prime at age 26. He is unconcerned with playing time.
"You can’t worry about stats, can’t worry about yards, can’t worry about who’s starting,” Breida said. “I feel like when your opportunity comes, you just have to be ready. We’re only as strong as our weakest link. You can’t be selfish. This team is not selfish."
The Bills want to be able to run the ball effectively despite not running often. That's always been a tough task in this league, but they believe they have the backs and the offensive line to do it.