Bills find balance in backfield with McCoy and Williams

John Breitenbach explains how the two-headed rushing attack of LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams has helped the Bills this season.

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Bills find balance in backfield with McCoy and Williams


Buffalo’s offensive backfield generated some plays with Fred Jackson and Anthony Dixon a year ago, but Rex Ryan’s arrival prompted a move in another direction. LeSean McCoy was brought in via trade to provide the big plays, while Karlos Williams was drafted in the fifth round to add some power.

Both players have performed well, if unspectacularly, this season.

Trading for McCoy was a risk at the time. He was coming off his worst season as a pro, where he graded out as our worst running back in the entire league. In 2014, he had three fumbles, broke just 40 tackles from over 300 attempts, and averaged just 2.1 yards after contact. Desire for the big play led to a number of tackles behind the line of scrimmage, frustrating Chip Kelly so much that he was willing to depart with the Eagles all-time leading rusher. McCoy has performed much better this year, though, recording 22 broken tackles from just 132 rushes and 2.3 yards after contact per attempt; he’s also yet to fumble. He now has an 80.2 overall grade, good enough to rank in the top 10.

Partnering him, Karlos Williams has impressed despite limited playing time (176 snaps). Overall, he has a 78.0 grade, which leaves him ranked 18th at the position. No player above him has fewer than 235 snaps, however, illustrating his production on a per-rep basis. Overall, his 5.8 yards per carry average is fourth-best in the league, and he has 12 broken tackles from 64 attempts to go with five touchdowns. Williams is also averaging 2.8 yards after contact per attempt, which is just outside the top 10 in the NFL. It would have been easy to overlook Williams in the draft—he played second fiddle to Dalvin Cook at Florida State—but his performances there (+8.1 grade in 2014), coupled with the flashes in the NFL, suggest Williams has a bright future ahead.

Overall, Buffalo’s revamped backfield appears more balanced than it did a year ago. The package, which includes both McCoy and Williams, offers a unique threat to defenses. The speed-power combination the duo provide helps explain the Bills’ offensive improvement, not to mention the threat of Tyrod Taylor scrambling. If the Bills are to claim an AFC Wild Card spot, their ground game—and revamped backfield—will play a major part.

| Analyst

John joined the PFF team in 2008, providing focused analysis on the NFL draft, team-building strategies, and positional value.