Alaina GetzenbergESPN7 minutes of reading
BUFFALO, NY — Damien Harris came to the Buffalo Bills with no expectations. After spending his first four seasons with the New England Patriots, the running back was looking for a fresh start and signed a one-year deal in free agency.
Harris said he is now “thriving” and is looking to carry that over into training camp and the regular season.
“I didn’t necessarily end my time in New England the way I wanted to, just being honest and frank, and you know, I have no shame behind that,” Harris said. “It wasn’t, my last year wasn’t my best year, so I’m looking to come back, rebuild myself, rebrand myself.”
Harris, 26, said it has been his best offseason since being drafted in the third round of the 2019 draft by the Patriots. He will play a role in a revamped running back room with pressure on second-year running back James Cook to take a step forward as a potential lead back.
Harris, who averaged 4.4 yards per carry carry last season, is just one of several offensive playmakers the Bills added this offseason — a group that also includes wide receivers Trent Sherfield and Deonte Harty and first-round tight end Dalton Kincaid.
While the Bills had the second-best scoring offense (28.4 points per game) in the league last year in coordinator Ken Dorsey’s first season, its success dipped in the second half — dropping from 54.37 (second) in offensive EPA from Weeks 1-8 to 38.31 (eighth) from Weeks 9-18 — due to a myriad of factors, including quarterback Josh Allen’s elbow injury. The new players were brought in to address some of the offense’s deficiencies. Let’s take a look at each group.
Returns: Cook, Nyheim Hines, Reggie Gilliam (back)
Additions: Harris, Latavius Murray, Jordan Mims (R)
In addition to Harris, the Bills brought in Murray this offseason and signed Mims, an undrafted free agent, to compete for a roster spot. Hines is back after being underutilized (11 touches in nine regular-season games) following a trade at the deadline last year that sent 2020 third-round pick Zack Moss to the Indianapolis Colts. Hines’ ability to play on special teams will be a factor in his chances of making the roster.
Devin Singletary, who led the Bills in rushing each of his four seasons with the team, found a new home with the Houston Texans in free agency, opening the door for Cook to take over the lead role. The second round in 2022 had 110 touches in his rookie year, but The Bills’ traditionally pass-heavy offense will rely on a mix of backs aimed at giving opposing defenses more to think about.
Murray and Harris could compete in training camp for options in short-yardage situations. In 2022, the Bills were eighth in yards per carry. rush in third-and-short situations (4.7). Adding a back with size in Murray (6-foot-3, 230 pounds) and with proven experience in Harris — who needs to show he can stay healthy after missing six games in 2022 with a thigh injury — should help with that .
“I think [Harris and Murray] give them a physical nature with still the ability to make big plays with their speed and I’m excited to see them,” Dorsey said.
Some of Harris’ best performances have come against the Bills, rushing for over 100 yards in three of his five career games against them. But in 2022, the starting job in New England went to Rhamondre Stevenson, and Harris played just 22% of the offensive snaps compared to 66% for Stevenson.
Signing a short-term deal to play in another offense is an option for Harris.
“I really played at a really high level in this league and I just want to continue to do that,” Harris said.
Harris’ best season was in 2021, when he rushed for 929 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Returns: Stefon Diggs, Gabe Davis, Khalil Shakir, KeeSean Johnson, Isaiah Coulter
Additions: Sherfield, Harty, Jalen Wayne (R), Justin Shorter (R), Dezmon Patmon, Marcell Ateman, Tyrell Shavers (R), Bryan Thompson (R)
There are currently 13 wide receivers on the Bills’ roster, so there will be a long series of cuts. Seven made the list last season. How the position shakes out will be something to see during training camp.
Sherfield, who is on his fourth team in four years, took advantage of the increased opportunities when Diggs was not present for voluntary OTAs and did not participate in team drills during mandatory minicamp.
“Trent Sherfield, getting a lot of Z reps and learning this offense. I’ve loved what I’ve seen from Trent so far, the guy works extremely hard,” Allen said during OTAs in May. “He’s one of the hardest working guys on the team. Doesn’t complain about anything. He’s rolling right now.”
Yards after the catch was an area Allen and the Bills have focused on for improvement in 2022 — the team finished 29th in YAC per . reception (4.5) last season. Sherfield and Harty should help there; Harty has a career yards after catch percentage of 53.2% and has shown his quickness as a returner in the past.
That speed could help open up the rest of the offense. Diggs’ production dipped in the second half of the 2022 season – through the first nine games, he had 72 receptions on 98 targets for 985 yards and seven touchdowns. In the nine games that followed, including the playoffs, Diggs caught 47 receptions on 74 carries and four touchdowns.
“[Harty’s] a vertical threat and if you have a legitimate vertical threat that can help open things up, for Gabe, Stef or Khalil, any of the other guys that play receiver,” general manager Brandon Beane said in March. So I think he’s just going to be another piece that Dorsey can use however he wants, like I said, as an outside or an inside.
Returns: Dawson Knox, Quintin Morris
Additions: Dalton Kincaid (H), Nick Guggemos, Joel Wilson (H)
Knox, Kincaid and Morris will earn roster spots unless something unexpected happens. Kincaid, who the Bills traded up in the first round to select, is the flashy new target to watch for how he can open up the offense.
Dorsey said during OTAs that they are still learning about Kincaid and how he will be used. But one expectation is that Kincaid will be used as a sort of slot tight end to improve production in the middle of the field. The Bills led the league in 2022 drop percentage (7.1%) and finished 15th in yards per carry. reception in the square (11.8). One of the selling points on Kincaid was his “elite hands,” according to Beane.
“[Kincaid] already have a good overview of what the defense is doing. Great hands, great route running ability, really, really polished coming out of college,” Knox said. “… It will be great to get him in the field, run the ball a little bit, so if we’re both out there at the same time, create some mismatches and get one of them on a linebacker. So I think the more 12 man, the more multi-tight end sets you can run, the more versatility you’re going to have in the offense.”