Bills training camp questions: Ty Johnson or Ray Davis as No. 2 tailback?


Staff member

This is the fifth question of 10 in a series previewing Buffalo Bills training camp. Today: Ty Johnson or Ray Davis as the No. 2 tailback?

The Buffalo Bills exited the 2023 offseason program confident in their running back depth … and justifiably so.

James Cook entered his second year ready to replace Devin Singletary as the starter and was supported by veterans Damien Harris, Nyheim Hines and Latavius Murray.
Plan A – four quality backs – didn’t make it to the starting gate of training camp after Hines’ jet ski accident ended his season with a knee injury. Released by the Bills, Hines is now with the Cleveland Browns.

And Plan B – three quality backs – didn’t make it past mid-October after Harris sustained a season-ending neck injury. Harris, 27, retired on March 25.

Bills running back Ty Johnson carried 30 times in the 2023 regular season, but 15 times in two playoff games. Harry Scull Jr., Buffalo News
Murray remains a free agent, leaving a question mark after Cook enters the Bills’ first camp practice on July 24: Will it be veteran Ty Johnson or rookie Ray Davis as Cook’s primary backup?

Johnson started last year on the practice squad, was activated on Oct. 20 and finished with 45 regular season/playoff carries and eight regular-season kick returns. In 72 career games, he has 238 rushes for 1,057 yards (4.4-yard average) and four touchdowns, and 93 catches for 730 yards and four touchdowns.

Davis was drafted in the fourth round (No. 128 overall) after a five-year career at Temple, Vanderbilt and Kentucky. He rushed 746 times for 3,626 yards (4.86-yard average) and 29 touchdowns.

Bills rookie running back Ray Davis had 746 rushing attempts, 3,626 yards and 29 touchdowns with Temple, Vanderbilt and Kentucky. Harry Scull Jr., Buffalo News

The lean entering camp is Johnson, because of his experience, as the favorite to be the second-team tailback. Both Johnson and Davis missed time during the offseason program because of undisclosed injuries.

In head coach Sean McDermott’s seven years, the Bills have mostly hit the mark in having a 1-2 tailback tandem. The backs (with regular-season rushing attempts):

2017: LeSean McCoy (287 carries) and Mike Tolbert (66 carries).
2018: McCoy (161) and Chris Ivory (115).
2019: Frank Gore Sr. (166) and Singletary (151). The Bills drafted Singletary in the third round. (Gore Jr. is now a rookie tailback on Buffalo).
2020: Singletary (156) and Zack Moss (112). The Bills drafted Moss in the third round.
2021: Singletary (188) and Moss (96).
2022: Singletary (177) and Cook (89). The Bills drafted Cook in the second round and traded Moss to Indianapolis during the season.
2023: Cook (237) and Murray (79). The Bills turned to Cook after Singletary signed with Houston in free agency.

The Bills were one of 12 teams to have one tailback with at least 200 carries, but no other back with at least 100.

Cook’s carry total was skewed last year after Hines was never available and Harris was lost in the sixth game. Cook was one of 23 tailbacks in the NFL with at least 200 carries, and he ranked 10th in attempts and fourth in yards (1,122).

It remains important to note how much of the running game goes through quarterback Josh Allen, who has been the Bills’ best option on short-yardage and goal-line situations. Last year, including the playoffs, he was 21 of 23 when needing 1 to 3 yards on third down, and nine of his rushing touchdowns were from 1 to 3 yards out.

Since Allen entered the league in 2018, his 657 regular-season carries are second-most among quarterbacks, behind only Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson (875), who entered the league the same season.

But in an ideal situation, the Bills' equal parts get Cook closer to 200 carries and lower the lean to use Allen as a designed runner.

The most equally-split tandem of tailbacks in the league last year were Atlanta (Bijan Robinson, 214; and Tyler Allgeier, 186), Chicago (Khalil Herbert, 132; and D’Onta Foreman, 109), Detroit (David Montgomery, 219; and Jahmyr Gibbs, 182), Green Bay (A.J. Dillon, 178; and Aaron Jones, 142), Indianapolis (Moss, 183; and Jonathan Taylor, 169, although Taylor missed four games with a holdout and three with injury) and New England (Ezekiel Elliott, 184; and Rhamondre Stevenson, 156).

If Cook maintains his production, the Bills are unlikely to have a 60%-40% split among the tailbacks, but the combination of tapering off Allen’s attempts and the emergence of Johnson or Davis would take some pounding off Cook.
Ray needs to earn it. Ty was a hard runner last season… he’s #2 . Ray didn’t participate in mini camp so sit down rookie. Wow us and earn #2… make a case for #1 while you are at it.