BBD Assistant Editor: Joe Marino
Despite having an excellent running back tandem in Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, the Bills have question marks at the position beyond the 2014 season. Both Spiller and Jackson can become free agents at the end of the 2014 season. Jackson will be 34 years old at season’s end and Spiller might command more money than the Bills will have the appetite to pay for a running back on his second contract
That made the need to address the running back position a priority this offseason because in all likelihood, either Jackson and/or Spiller will not be on the team beyond this season.
After they utilized six of their 29 predraft visits on running backs, the Bills tried to trade back up into the second round of the draft to select Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde, according to Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com. After the San Francisco 49ers struck a deal to move up and take Hyde off the board, the Bills struck a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles to acquire Bryce Brown—a player Buffalo had been negotiating to land for a year-and-a-half, according to Tim Graham of The Buffalo News—in exchange for a conditional 2015 fourth-round draft pick.
Brown, Rivals.com‘s number one recruit in the nation coming out of high school, began his collegiate career at the University of Tennessee, where he was a backup running back for one season and accumulated 460 rushing yards and three touchdowns while averaging 4.6 yards per carry.
After one year at Tennessee, Brown transferred to Kansas State—where his brother Arthur Brown played linebacker—and had to sit out the 2010 season. Brown played in only two games during the 2011 season and rushed the ball just three times for 16 yards. He subsequently left school to enter the 2012 NFL draft.
Brown went on to have an impressive pro day. At 5’11” and 223 pounds, he ran a 4.48-second 40-yard dash, did 22 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press and leaped 34” in the vertical jump, according to NFLDraftScout.com. The Eagles selected Brown in the seventh round with the No. 229 overall pick.
A backup for two seasons with the Eagles, Brown has flashed the promising ability that made him so highly regarded out of high school. For his career, Brown has totaled 878 rushing yards on 190 carries—an average of 4.6 yards per attempt—with six touchdowns.
Brown had an impressive two-game stretch during his rookie season, in which he had 19 carries for 178 yards and two touchdowns against the Carolina Panthers, then followed that up with 169 rushing yards on 24 carries with two touchdowns against the Dallas Cowboys. Outside of those two games, however, Brown has never carried the ball more than nine times in any other contest.
It’s easy to see why the Bills were so intrigued and pursued Brown for so long. Listed at 6′ and 220 pounds, Brown combines the traits of both speed and power backs. Brown is a physical downhill runner who excels between the tackles but also has the speed and agility to produce on outside runs.
Brown has good burst to and through the hole with outstanding vision in the hole. He cuts off blocks extremely well and changes directions with ease. He is an excellent misdirection and cutback runner, plays on which he can take full advantage of his abilities to cut and accelerate.
In the open field, Brown eludes tacklers well and displays breakaway speed to pick up chunks of yardage. Brown displays patience to allow his blocks to set up, and shows the discipline to go with play designs to achieve consistent positive gains.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Brown averaged 3.3 yards gained after contact per carry in 2012, the fifth-best average in the league that season. That is a testament to his strong ability to fall forward and break tackles.
Brown has shown to have ball security issues. On just 115 carries in 2012, Brown fumbled four times. He did not fumble at all in 2013, but does not secure the football close to his body when running and can be careless carrying the ball.
On stretch runs, Brown can be indecisive when turning downfield and too often strings out plays without going north-south, leaving plays to result in no gain or a loss of yards.
Brown is no better than average as a pass blocker and receiver. Improvement and consistency in those areas would make him more valuable as a three-down threat.
How Bryce Brown Fits the Bills Offense
In Buffalo’s first season under head coach Doug Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, the Bills led the entire NFL in rushing attempts with 37 more rushes than the next closest team. That, combined with the Bills’ addition of four massive offensive linemen this offseason, makes it clear the Bills want to be a run-first offense.
With only 323 combined touches between college and the NFL, Brown gives the Bills a young, low-mileage option with an exciting skill set. That said, Brown has never proven to be a player that can be a feature back, and he still has a lot to prove.
Brown has little pressure to contribute this season, giving him a great opportunity to learn the playbook and develop his game. He gives the Bills quality depth and the potential for an expanded role in 2015 and beyond.