Buffalo Bills Full Position Breakdown and Depth Chart Analysis at Running Back
The Bills signed former 49er Anthony Dixon in free agency in March and traded for the Eagles' Bryce Brown during draft weekend; now, the Bills have four capable backs to help keep the league's second-ranked rushing attack rolling along.
No one in the NFL ran the ball more than the Bills last season, so it's safe to assume that trend will continue in 2014. Bringing in Dixon and Brown makes it clear that the Bills want to avoid running Spiller and Jackson into the ground.
So let's break down the Bills' newfound depth at running back. We'll work backward from the end of the depth chart to the top options. Since Jackson and Spiller are both given a starter's role, we will consider them co-starters in this breakdown.
4th String: Anthony Dixon
Anthony Dixon is one of the newcomers in the Bills backfield, and his physique gives the impression that he will be a contributor in short-yardage and goal-line situations.
Dixon signed on as a free agent after spending his first four seasons in San Francisco. He's been remarkably durable, playing in every game during his time with the Niners. Part of that durability was probably because Dixon saw limited touches; he only had 148 carries in his four years out west.
But Dixon doesn't lack confidence, and he's ready to show what he can do in Buffalo. He told John Murphy (of BuffaloBills.com and The John Murphy Show) that he thinks he is "one of the best in the league" and that he can prove it "with the opportunity."
Considering how much the Bills like to pound the rock, Dixon will likely have his chance. The Bills had the most rushing attempts in the league last year, and that was with Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller handling the majority of the load.
Jackson is 33 and Spiller is coming off a nagging ankle injury, so Dixon will be used to lighten the load on the top two backs.
Dixon is open to helping the team wherever he is needed. And he's got the motivation to keep improving, staying after a few OTAs to put in additional work. That work should pay off, and Dixon could find himself on some fantasy teams if he makes an early splash.
3rd String: Bryce Brown
Bryce Brown is the other new arrival to Buffalo, and he will likely hold down the duty of primary backup to Spiller and Jackson.
Brown spent the first two years of his career in Philadelphia, but he didn't get much run because LeSean McCoy was performing so well. Brown saw only 190 carries in two years in Philly, but he made the most of them, running for 878 yards—good for 4.6 yards per carry.
Brown told The John Murphy Show that his "main goal is to come on here and work hard." Brown also praised Spiller and Jackson, saying "Since I've been here day one they've taken me under their wing and shown me how things are done here and helping me out with the plays."
It's hard to say how big of a role Brown will have, but his production in Philadelphia on limited carries is encouraging. He and Dixon have been getting the bulk of the work in OTAs, so he's had plenty of opportunity to show what he can do.
We know the Bills are going to continue to concentrate on the run. If Brown's early body of work is any indication, he will be able to contribute to a potentially dominant Bills rushing attack.
Co-Starter: Fred Jackson
Fred Jackson is the elder statesman of the Bills backfield, and he's on his way to becoming an all-timer in Buffalo.
The 33-year-old is coming off one of the best seasons of his career. He got the third-most carries he has ever gotten and had nine touchdowns and 54 first downs, both career highs. During the season, Jackson also joined O.J. Simpson and Thurman Thomas as the only Bills running backs with 5,000 career rush yards.
Jackson's strong season and status as one of the team's veteran leaders landed him at No. 2 on Bleacher Report's Bills preseason power rankings. It also cements his role as a co-starter along with Spiller, who will be the primary option this season for the Bills.
Jackson has motivation to have a strong season, as he is in the final year of his contract. The running back market isn't what it used to be, but the Bills would be crazy to let Jackson get away after this season. He may not be the best player on the field anymore, but his leadership and dedication to the team should allow him to finish his career as a Bill.
Between his advancing age with the new running back blood in town, Jackson might see fewer carries this season. But he will still have a prominent role, and don't expect anything like his age or broken ribs to slow him down.
Co-Starter: C.J. Spiller
C.J. Spiller was slowed down by an ankle sprain in 2013, but he still returns as the Bills' top back in 2014.
Like Jackson, Spiller is eligible to become a free agent after the season. Still on his rookie contract, Spiller will be motivated to perform well to earn a well-paying second contract.
Working in Spiller's favor is that he is back to full health. Spiller told Marc Sessler of NFL.com that "this is the best I've felt since 2012." That's good news for Bills fans, since 2012 was the year Spiller went for 1,244 yards and 6.0 yards per carry.
With his health returned, Spiller should be able to return to that 2012 form. Also, offensive coordinator Nate Hackett has a year under his belt figuring out how to best use Spiller. Getting Spiller the ball in space and allowing him to use his speed and quickness to make defenders miss gives the Bills offense the best chance to succeed.
With more options in the backfield, the Bills won't have to worry about giving Spiller the ball "until he throws up" (per Buffalo News). Nonetheless, Spiller is determined to be a dominant force for Buffalo.
He talked to Jay Skurski of the Buffalo News about his mindset, saying, "I’ve kind of got that fire burning inside to really get back out there on the field and really start playing again. I’m going to be ready to go this year. Hopefully I can get back to that 2012 form."
If Spiller does indeed resemble the Spiller from 2012, his contract situation will work itself out.