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Posted: Monday, 14 April 2014 11:46AM

Bills Draft Outlook: Running Back



(WGR 550) -- When some fans of the Buffalo Bills hear about potential interest in drafting a running back, plenty of eyes will be rolling into the back of their owners’ heads.

It’s not quite as stark as the Detroit Lions’ general proclivity for selecting wide receivers during the Matt Millen era, but the Bills have tried their hand at drafting a running back in the first round three times in the past 11 years.

While the Bills taking a running back in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft is very, very unlikely to happen, might they view the position as more of a need than some others? It’s an interesting idea to ponder.

What they have
Starters: Fred Jackson, C.J. Spiller
Reserves: Anthony Dixon, Ronnie Wingo, Anthony Allen

What they need
- The Bills have been set at running back for the past few years, but it’s getting dangerously close to addressing the position with a relatively long-term concept in mind. As the years have passed, running backs have become increasingly devalued. Turning over the position once every two-to-four years is now commonplace.

Considering the wear-and-tear of the battering ram type of position that it is, along with studies that show running backs decline after the age of 27, Buffalo might be thinking long and hard about adding a new player to the position. The mainstays have been Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, and both bring their own separate elements to being a plus-player in the NFL. The Bills also signed Anthony Dixon, who may fill in as more of the fullback, occasional ball carrier and special teams role than anything.

The depth seems good, so why splurge for a running back in 2014? It’s simple. Spiller is only due a base salary of $2,196,663 in 2015 and has a player option to void that year and become an unrestricted free agent. He turns 27 in August, which is statistically the peak age for running backs in the NFL, so it’s fair to think that the electric running back could be in line for a much bigger season than he had in 2013. 

By that logic, a strong option for Spiller would be to pass on that one-year pact and to try to negotiate a long-term deal with Buffalo or elsewhere. Fred Jackson’s contract expires following the end of the 2014 season as well, and he’ll be 34 by the time the 2015 campaign comes around. 

One or both could be back, or the Bills could follow the league-wide trend and elect to get younger at the position. There are always anomalies, Fred Jackson among them, but the biggest drop-off from one age to the next at running back is from 27 to 28. Adding a running back at some point in early May should be heavily considered.

Some will argue against the notion of adding a running back this year. Considering the uncertainty of both age and contract situations, however, it would be savvy of the Bills to select a young runner to start developing for a couple of different reasons.

For starters, if the Bills walk away from one of Spiller or Jackson, they have the complementary running back to pair with the other, and he already has a year of experience in the offense. GM Doug Whaley has said publicly that it’s a two running back league. 

In the worst case scenario, if both Spiller and Jackson are playing elsewhere in 2015, you have a holdover at the position and then they can try to find a running partner for him in the 2015 offseason. If both Spiller and Jackson return in 2015, then you have outstanding depth at an injury-plagued position.

How will they do it?
- The Bills and Whaley have stated publicly that a running back would have to be of the Adrian Peterson variety to consider taking one in the first round. To this point in April, they’ve been tiering their pre-draft visitors to be ready to select one in the third round and beyond. With the lack of importance on the position, picking a running back in the first two rounds — considering how early they’re selecting — would not be a wise move. If a player they like at running back is available, the talent on their roster gives them the flexibility to select that player in the middle rounds and beyond. At the very least, expect Buffalo to add a priority undrafted free agent as soon as the final round wraps up.

Players connected to the Bills (will be updated):
Carlos Hyde, Ohio State (Pre-Draft Visit)
Jeremy Hill, LSU (Pre-Draft Visit)
Lache Seastrunk, Baylor (Pre-Draft Visit)
Terrance Cobb, The Cumberlands (Pre-Draft Visit)

Previous ‘Bills Draft Outlook’ Editions
Wide Receiver
Defensive End

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

All photos courtesy of AP
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