The Buffalo Bills will enter the 2021 NFL Draft without any immediate worries. After finishing last season 13-3 only to lose to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship game (24-38), the 2021 NFL Draft is here to provide them with depth. With seven picks in the draft, adding depth is what they should do.
But do they need to draft a running back?
2020 RUN GAME
While the 2020 run game wasn’t a disaster, it wasn’t great either. The team ranked 24th in rushing yards per game (104.2), 21st in average yards per rush (4.2), and 19th in rushing touchdowns per game (0.9).
Of course, some of the meh results can be attributed to an offensive line ranked 29th in the league in their run blocking win rate. And then some of the results have to be placed on the legs of the running backs themselves.
NFL 2020 third-round selection Zach Moss experienced an ‘okay’ season? In 13 games, he averaged 4.3 yards per carry. Moss had 114 rushing attempts for 481 yards and four rushing touchdowns. He did add one receiving touchdown on 18 targets to the stat sheet.
His counterpart, Devin Singletary, was on the receiving end of 52 targets for 269 receiving yards and zero receiving touchdowns. He did account for a 4.4 rushing average on 156 carries. But that resulted in only two rushing touchdowns.
While both backs were ‘capable’ during the 2020 season, it is clear that the Bills’ running game lacks explosiveness and speed. Both of which can be had in this year’s draft. Do they dare?
There are two ways the Bills can go about acquiring a running back for the offense.
GOING EARLY IN THE 2021 NFL DRAFT FOR A RUNNING BACK
The Bills could use the 30th selection in the first round or the 61st selection in the second round to acquire more speed and explosiveness in their run game.
TRAVIS ETIENNE, CLEMSON
According to profootballnetwork.com, Etienne has speed, explosiveness, and NFL caliber receiving ability. He weighed heavier than his playing weight at his pro-day but still finished the 40-yard dash in 4.4. He completed his senior year at Clemson, leading the ACC in rushing yards.
His ideal role is a featured back that can attack the edges and contribute as a receiver out of the backfield. His stats speak to his versatility and explosiveness. He led the ACC in rushing yards (4952); he also added 70 rushing touchdowns, he was also on the receiving end of 102 receptions for 1155 receiving yards and eight receiving touchdowns.
There is also the running back from Alabama that can be considered in the first two rounds:
NAJEE HARRIS, ALABAMA
Harris also returned to play his senior year, a year in which he had 26 rushing touchdowns and 1466 yards. He also added four receiving touchdowns and 425 receiving yards on 43 receptions. Per ProFootballFocus.com, Harris ranked second in the nation in missed tackles, third in yards after contact, and seventh in carries of 15-plus yards (this is in the SEC).
The DraftNetwork defines Harris as a “blend of power, determination, and versatility as both a between-the-tackles runner and a perimeter rushing threat…Another key attribute on his resume is his ability to finish drives with touchdowns.”
Either running back would add to the Bills’ running offense immediately. But there are other options.
GOING LATER IN THE 2021 NFL DRAFT FOR A RUNNING BACK
There is a player who may drop to the third-round and be a steal for the Bills.
KENNY GAINWELL, MEMPHIS
Gainwell opted out for the 2020 season after losing three family members to Covid.
He only has one solid year of tape, but it was a very good year. Tony Pauline’s draft analysis of Gainwell states, “Explosive and creative ball carrier who is also a solid pass catcher. Quick, creative, and plays with balance. Has a burst through the hole, immediately gets to top speed, and has enough speed to turn the corner.”
In Gainwell’s 2019 season, he averaged 6.3 yards per carry on 231 attempts. He finished with 13 touchdowns and 1459 yards. He added 610 receiving yards on 51 receptions and three receiving touchdowns.
The NFL Draft Bible says he is “Extremely explosive in tight spaces. Gainwell is a blur once he breaks past the second level.”
BUFFALO BILLS 2021 RUN GAME
The Bills have drafted a running back in the third round in the last two years (Singletary 2019, Moss 2020).
This year’s draft is being praised for its depth in the wide receiver position. This is an excellent chance for quality running backs to fall. So maybe the Bills focus on a cornerback and the edge position in the first two rounds. There will still be quality for their seemingly annual third-round running back acquisition.