Where Does Bryce Brown Fit in Buffalo?

Already sporting a two-pronged rushing attack, the Bills added Bryce Brown to the mix. Can he make an immediate impact?

Unless you’re like most of us here at numberFire, you probably aren’t spending your free time looking at 2013 advanced NFL metrics in June - or at all, for that matter. Don’t worry; we're fully aware of our insanity and pledge to continue doing the heavy lifting for you.

In case you do share our affinity for non-stop, year-round football information, you may already know that the Buffalo Bills ranked third in 2013 in total offensive plays, while leading the NFL in rushing attempts. Bills' head coach Doug Marrone loves to run the ball, and run it often.

By choosing to feature the running game last year, Marrone utilized the most talented and experienced offensive position on his roster. C.J. Spiller, who is perhaps the most athletic running back in the league when healthy, was joined by Fred Jackson, who despite being 32 years old, played far beyond expectations.

The Bills finished as the third most run-heavy team in 2013 with a pass-to-run ratio of 1.04 (1.0 being a 50/50 split), behind only the Seahawks and 49ers. But despite their clear commitment to the run, the Bills were average from a rushing efficiency standpoint. They scored a 2.69 Adjusted Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) total (adjusted for strength of schedule), which ranked 16th in the league. To help catapult that total to the top 10 in 2014, however, the Bills added running back Bryce Brown. Can he help make this run-first team an efficient one as well?

In his first two seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, Brown played sparingly behind LeSean McCoy, and never carved out a significant role in the offense. Besides being behind an All-Pro on the depth chart, detractors point to Brown’s fumbling issues as a reason he never caught on in Philly.

According to, however, Brown has fumbled once every 52.75 touches in his career. In comparison, Spiller has fumbled once every 52.01 touches. Sure, the sample size is much smaller for Brown, but for a guy with a perceived fumbling problem, he doesn’t turn the ball over at a much higher rate than his new teammate has.

Taking a look at Brown’s carries, however, doesn't provide as much optimism.

YearCarriesRushing NEPRushing NEP/Carry

In 2012, Brown’s -16.76 Rushing NEP ranked him 17th out of 21 running backs that had between 100 and 200 carries. His -.15 Rushing NEP per carry ranked 18th out of the same 21 qualifying backs.

While neither of these numbers are very inspiring, it’s interesting to note that Brown’s efficiency was still slightly better than his new teammate Fred Jackson, who ranked 20th in both Rushing NEP and NEP per rush among the same group of players.

In 2013, Brown had less carries, but was more efficient with the workload he received compared to his 2012 campaign. He ranked 10th in both Rushing NEP and Rushing NEP per carry out of the 20 runners with between 50 and 100 carries.

Now in Buffalo, a team that also likes to run the ball a lot – a la Chip Kelly’s Eagles - could Brown’s improvement continue?

Unfortunately for Brown, it may be difficult to break through immediately. If the way the Bills have handled both Spiller and Jackson’s workloads in the past is any indication of their plan for 2014, Brown may struggle to get meaningful snaps barring an injury.

By examining Spiller and Jackson’s NEP metrics over the past two seasons (years where both running backs struggled with injuries), utilizing a running-back-by-committee approach may be a wise move for the Bills to make.

YearCarriesRushing NEPRushing NEP/Carry

Spiller’s 2012 season was nothing short of remarkable. Although he was largely overshadowed by < a href="/nfl/players/adrian-peterson">Adrian Peterson's crazy comeback season, Spiller had the best Rushing NEP per rush of all running backs with at least 200 carries at 0.12, better than Peterson’s mark of 0.10. Spiller accumulated his 25.45 Rushing NEP mark on just 207 carries, a truly astounding statistic.

In 2013, Spiller battled an ankle injury for almost the entire season, which was reflected in his NEP numbers. His -12.74 Rushing NEP ranked him 15th out of 22 running backs with at least 200 carries, and he ranked 15th among this group on a per touch basis.

No one has ever questioned Spiller’s on-field talent. However, his ability to handle a large workload and stay healthy for an entire season is still in doubt. Reports surfacing during OTA’s point Spiller being totally healthy, but as with everything that's said in June, it's good to take with a grain of salt.

Fred Jackson’s last two seasons show a similar trend, much like Spiller’s.

YearCarriesRushing NEPRushing NEP/Carry

In 2012, while Spiller was lighting up the NFL, Jackson missed six games due to injury. His Rushing NEP numbers reflect this, much the same way Spiller’s numbers did in 2013. Jackson’s -20.24 Rushing NEP ranked 20th out of 21 qualifying runners.

In 2013, Jackson rebounded in the absence of the oft-injured Spiller and had a very productive season. Jackson’s 13.90 Rushing NEP ranked fifth among running backs with at least 200 carries (better than Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte and Marshawn Lynch).

While Spiller and Jackson have both shown the ability to be productive running backs, neither has been able to stay healthy for an entire season - let alone become a running back capable of handling 300-plus touches. Also of note is that both Spiller and Jackson are scheduled to be under contract with the Bills after this season – tough decisions are certainly on the way.

Although Brown hasn’t been terrific according to our metrics to this point in his career, he's good enough to at least spell Spiller and Jackson in 2014 with the possibility of an expanded role if he exceeds expectations.

Ultimately, I believe the Bills acquired Brown in the hopes that he plays well enough to take over Fred Jackson’s role in the Bills backfield, in the event that Jackson isn’t re-signed following this season. If Brown plays well and gets the part, it won’t be that bad of a gig – there should certainly be plenty of carries to go around.