Daily Focus: Karlos Williams or LeSean McCoy deserving of more snaps in Buffalo?

Gordon McGuinness analyzes the Bills' backfield situation and takes a look at Su'a Cravens' claim to be an USC all-time great.

| 3 months ago
(Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

(Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

Daily Focus: Karlos Williams or LeSean McCoy deserving of more snaps in Buffalo?


Editor’s note: Every day in “Daily Focus,” PFF analysts take the latest NFL news and translate what it really means for each team involved.

Will Karlos Williams or LeSean McCoy own a majority of the Bills’ RB snaps in 2016? He may have been the highest-graded running back on the roster last season, but Buffalo Bills second-year man Karlos Williams is hurting his chances of seeing more playing time by reportedly being out of shape. There is talk that Williams will open training camp on the sidelines doing conditioning work in order to get his weight down, and despite out-grading him a year ago, that’s the kind of thing that will keep him further away from stealing more carries from LeSean McCoy. If he can get his weight down, though, should Williams be the primary ball-carrier in Buffalo?

McCoy was fantastic in 2013 for the Philadelphia Eagles, averaging 5.0 yards per carry and forcing 58 missed tackles on 335 rushing attempts (postseason included). He finished that season with the second-highest overall grade among running backs, but leading the league in carries was a very heavy workload, especially for someone whose playing weight is listed at 198 pounds.

As we’ve seen happen in the past, McCoy couldn’t follow that up in 2014 and, whether or not it was caused by being tired from too many carries the year before, really struggled in his final season in Philadelphia. His yards per carry average dropped to 4.2, and he only forced 40 missed tackles on 314 carries that year. That led to a trade to the Buffalo Bills in the offseason, and while he graded positively in 2015, he still wasn’t close to his 2013 form.

He ranked 18th among running backs in terms of his overall grade last season, averaging 4.4 yards per carry and forcing 34 missed tackles on 203 carries. His missed-tackle total might have been lower than 2014, but he was making people miss at a higher rate, up from once every 7.9 carries in 2014, to once every 5.9 carries last season. It’s well noted that people are looking for McCoy to regain that 2013 form, but really, when you look at how he has performed over his career, that season is the outlier, rather than his base-level.

LeSean McCoy

Compare that to Karlos Williams’ first year in the league (smaller sample size, of course): Williams averaged 5.6 yards per carry to McCoy’s 4.4, forced a missed tackle once every 4.9 carries to McCoy’s 5.9, and had a slightly higher rushing grade than his teammate. Across the board, Williams was more productive on a per-snap basis that McCoy.

Of course, there are no guarantees that he can keep up that production on 200 or more carries, but looking at how they both performed last season, Williams has at least shown that he deserves the chance to be the team’s primary ball-carrier in Buffalo. More importantly for the Bills, they are in pretty good position, regardless, at this point.

McCoy might not be the player he was in 2013, but he was still solid and fairly productive last season. It’s not like we’re talking about sitting him on the bench and having him see 50 carries over the whole year. The Bills are in the position where they can split carries and keep both as fresh as possible, something which is essential given that Tyrod Taylor has just one outstanding season to his name so far, so there are some doubts about whether or not he can keep that up.

If it were up to me, the Bills would be splitting the workload evenly between both Williams and McCoy at this point, with Williams seeing more of the carries on early downs and McCoy seeing more work as a receiver out of the backfield and as a change-of-pace runner. At this point, it’s less about who is the better running back, and more about how the Bills best use two running backs with different skill-sets. If they get it right—and provided Williams can get his weight down—Buffalo could have one of the better running back tandems in the league again this coming season.

(PFF Fantasy Insight: These aren’t the only two running backs to monitor in Buffalo — Karlos Williams isn’t even guaranteed to be McCoy’s handcuff to start the year. Either way, the Bills earned honorable mention in our list of the top situations for fantasy running backs. As it stands, McCoy is currently the No. 12 running back in our staff consensus rankings, while Williams sits at No. 41.)

What can Su’a Cravens offer the Redskins? Washington’s second-round pick, versatile defender Su’a Cravens, made headlines yesterday by saying that he believes he is one of the best players to ever come out of USC. That might be a stretch, given some of the talent to come out of the school over the years, but Cravens did grade very well in his final two seasons at USC, impressing both against the run and in coverage in a hybrid role. There still seems to be uncertainty as to whether or not he’ll play linebacker or strong safety, but in today’s NFL, he definitely has a role.

Think of the way the Cardinals use Deone Bucannon and the Rams use Mark Barron. Both were actually drafted as safeties, but have transitioned into roles as full-time linebackers. It would make sense to see Cravens start as a situational defender, coming in as a linebacker in nickel and dime scenarios. He added 11 sacks over the past two seasons, too, and could be used as a situational blitzer. Grading as well as he did against the run and in coverage, though, Cravens has the potential to develop into a very good defensive player in the NFL, but don’t be surprised to see some struggles early on as he begins to carve out his role.

He’s raw, but Braxton Miller can help the Texans’ offense: The Houston Texans went after playmakers on offense early in the draft, selecting Notre Dame’s Will Fuller in the first round before grabbing former Ohio State quarterback and wide receiver Braxton Miller in the third. Miller is incredibly raw, running just 182 routes as a receiver in 2015 for the Buckeyes, and needs a lot of work as a route-runner. When looking at his college tape, too often you find him taking an extra step or two before making his cut, something that will be eaten alive by the majority of NFL cornerbacks.

Despite the rawness, Miller can make an immediate impact for the Texans in 2016. He forced eight missed tackles on 26 receptions, and another eight on 43 rushing attempts last year, and is the type of player who can cause opposing defenses endless problems in space. He’s also going to get some looks as a returner, and had a 39-yard kickoff return in the Senior Bowl. Houston fans shouldn’t be expecting anything as ridiculous as a 1,000-yard season from Miller as a rookie, but he absolutely has the ability to create big plays on both offense and special teams, possibly providing a spark or two in his first pro season.

| Analyst, Lead Special Teams Analyst

Gordon has worked at PFF since 2011, and now heads up the company’s special teams analysis processes. His work in-season focuses on college football, while he is also heavily involved in PFF’s NFL draft coverage.

  • AJ

    Someone should have probably stopped you from posting this about the Karlos Williams LeSean McCoy thing considering the fact that Karlos Williams can’t even get on the practice field right now because of his “awesome” dad bod. That’s right, he is so out of shape right now they won’t even let him practice but you are trying to pull for him to get lead carries over LeSean McCoy? You really should have done just a little bit of research before writing that report. it’s going to be physically impossible for him to get lead carries when they won’t even let him practice

    • Shauntell

      He states all of this “provided Williams can get his weight down”.
      Karlos still has 2 months to get back in shape until the start of the season and if it takes him longer than that, then so be it.
      The fact is that Karlos at his best is probably the Bills’ best RB, so he should see the field once he’s ready.
      Obviously this weight issue is not doing him any favors, but ultimately talent should put him ahead of Jonathan Williams and at the same level as McCoy in the RB pecking order.

      • AJ

        Hahahaha wow, he amended his article quick. When I commented on that 20 minutes ago the link to the other article wasn’t there

        • Paul warned me

          And a day later, KW gets slapped with a 4 game suspension. Wonder if Gordon played the lottery this week too? I hope not. lol. May want to take that whole part of the article out now.

      • AJ

        Actually he added that entire first paragraph

  • crosseyedlemon

    The Bills have a pretty solid OL with Glenn and Incognito in place so I don’t think the run game will suffer much regardless of who gets the bulk of the work load.

  • Darnell

    “Williams has at least shown that he deserves the chance to be the team’s primary ball-carrier in Buffalo”

    If you’re a pro athlete and don’t stay in shape you aren’t deserving of anything until your earn it.

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    • crosseyedlemon

      I miss Hall of Famer Art Donovan who use to joke that the only training regiment he had during the off season was knocking back a few cold ones.