For the past two years, the Buffalo Bills have had the #1 rushing attack in the NFL. Running back LeSean McCoy has made the immediate impact that was expected when he was traded to the Bills from Philadelphia. The Bills also had a solid backup behind McCoy in Mike Gillislee, who became a standout option late in the 2015 season.
Since 2015, the combination of these two backs rushed for 3,006 yards and 27 touchdowns. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor has also been a big key to the running game, too, as he has rushed for 1,148 yards and 10 touchdowns in his two years with the Bills. Buffalo may not have the best team overall, but they sure did have the best running game, and as a defense, it must have been scary to go up against.
When the Bills went after fullbacks Mike Tolbert and Patrick DiMarco, it looked as if Buffalo was going to yet again have the top running game for a third straight year. Having a young and productive McCoy who can run for miles and a solid backup in Gillislee running behind these two beast of fullbacks looks unfair towards other teams. Not to mention, having a mobile quarterback that uses his legs just adds insult to injury.
This whole plan crumbled when AFC East rival New England Patriots offered a contract to Mike Gillislee in free agency. Gillislee was a restricted free agent and the Pats offered him a two year/$6.4 million dollar contract. The Bills declined to match the Pats offered, making him a New England Patriot. This hurts Buffalo because they lose a piece of their offense that was valuable, especially in the red zone.
The Patriots did the same kind of routine last year when they snagged wide receiver Chris Hogan from the Bills as a restricted free agent. Hogan is now one of the top receivers in New England. The sad part is that Hogan wasn’t as productive in Buffalo like Gillislee was.
Gillislee wasn’t the main back in Buffalo, but he sure played a big role. When McCoy went out for a play or two, or if he didn’t play at all, the Bills could rely on Gillislee. Most of the time, he produced well and helped out the Bills in every possible way, whether it was in the running game, passing game or being another blocker for Tyrod Taylor. While McCoy was the leader in the running attack, Gillislee provided that extra mile that helped the Bills in crucial situations.
The biggest thing that will hurt the most is letting him walk to a rival. Gillislee goes to the already strong Patriots, who not only won the Super Bowl this past season, but arguably was the winner of the offseason. They get a running back who runs north and south and fights for extra yards at any cost.
Even though people say that the Bills losing Stephon Gilmore to the Patriots was the biggest loss, it was actually Gillislee. Gilmore had only a few good games throughout last season. Gillislee, on the other hand, had more productivity and was a work horse for the offense.
I don’t think losing Gillislee will hurt the rushing game as badly, but there will be a dent in it by the end of the season. Even behind both Tolbert and DiMarco, McCoy will have extra pressure on him, which he is capable of handling, but life for him will be tougher. Gillislee was able to make the game easier for the Bills with his running ability.
Even if McCoy leads the NFL in rushing by the end of the season, it’s very unlikely they will lead the NFL in rushing yards. I’m not saying it’s impossible for them to make it three years in a row as the top rushing offense, but it will certainly take a bigger toll on the offense.