PHOENIX -- Damien Harris probably wasn't the ideal running back that Fantasy managers wanted to see end up in Buffalo, but Sean McDermott is excited about his new addition. The coach expects Harris to provide an explosive punch to his backfield.
Harris signed a one-year, $1.77 million deal as a free agent to join the Bills, and after listening to McDermott at the NFL owners meetings this week, it wouldn't be a surprise if Harris is the No. 1 running back for Buffalo this season.
"The biggest thing is the speed element," McDermott said of Harris. "We felt like we needed a slightly bigger back, but not a 250-pound cloud of dust type of guy. So to find a player with some size, with some power, but also has the speed element to go along with it, I think that's hard to defend. Not only can you run inside, but you can get to the edge from time to time. An 8-yard run can go to 18 or 80. That element is dangerous and can put a little bit of fear into defensive coordinators."
Last year, the Bills had Devin Singletary as their lead running back, but he signed as a free agent with the Texans. Singletary led Buffalo with 177 carries for 819 yards and five touchdowns, along with 38 catches for 280 yards and one touchdown on 52 targets. He averaged 11.0 PPR points per game.
James Cook played in tandem with Singletary, and Fantasy managers hoped Cook would take over as the No. 1 running back for the Bills in 2023. That could still happen, but McDermott might prefer Harris and his 5-foot-11, 213-pound frame over Cook, who is 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds.
"I just love the combination of size, some power and speed," McDermott said. "Now, listen, he's got to stay healthy, because it's great to have all of that, but if you're not healthy, you're not helping us. So we're going to have to do our part to help him with that and help manage those areas, and he's going to have to do his part in that as well. But I think that was a good pickup for us. Obviously, sad to see Devin move on, and what a great young man he is. Super happy for his family. We'll see how it goes."
Harris opened last season as the lead running back in New England, and he had at least 12 PPR points and three touchdowns in his first four games. But he missed six games due to injury and was outplayed by Rhamondre Stevenson.
For the season, Harris had 106 carries for 462 yards and three touchdowns and 17 catches for 97 yards on 23 targets. He averaged 7.5 PPR points per game. However, in 2021, he had 202 carries for 929 yards and 15 touchdowns and 18 catches for 132 yards on 21 targets. He averaged 13.9 PPR points per game that year and played 15 games.
That's the running back McDermott hopes to see, and Fantasy managers would love that as well. But is Harris better than Cook?
As a rookie in 2022, Cook had 89 carries for 507 yards and two touchdowns, along with 21 catches for 180 yards and a touchdown on 32 targets. He averaged 6.5 PPR points per game.
Cook had three games with double digits in carries, and he scored 16 PPR points in two of them. He has the chance to be a quality Fantasy option if he can get the majority of work.
Fantasy Football Today Newsletter
Know What Your Friends Don't
Get tips, advice and news to win your league - all from the FFT podcast team.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox.
There was an error processing your subscription.
The training camp battle between Cook and Harris will be one to watch, and Nyheim Hines is also in the mix for work on passing downs. I'm hopeful Cook earns the majority of touches, but McDermott might have other plans with Harris.
Most likely, this backfield looks similar to what it did in 2022 when Singletary was no more than a flex option for Fantasy managers and Cook just a fill-in option in deeper formats. Josh Allen's rushing prowess limits the upside for the running backs in Buffalo, especially when it comes to touchdowns since Allen has 38 rushing scores in five seasons.
I'm planning to draft Cook first as of now, but the earliest I would select him is Round 6. Harris should come off the board a round or two later, and he could be the better value pick if he wins the job in training camp. And Hines is just a late-round flier in deep PPR leagues.
We'll get some answers in August once we see how the Bills use Cook, Harris and Hines in practice. We may also get a surprise if Buffalo takes a running back in the NFL Draft. This wasn't the ideal situation for Fantasy managers, but Harris should help Buffalo's run game if he can stay healthy. And that seemingly is what McDermott wanted with this signing.