ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Running back Devin Singletary's progression through training camp and the preseason was a key factor in the Buffalo Bills' decision to part ways with incumbent starter LeSean McCoy before the season. The rookie's early returns in his first two games (127 rushing yards on 10 carries) seemed to support that decision, but the question was whether Singletary could sustain a high level of efficiency when given a larger workload.
The answer, in short: yes, he can.
Bills coach Sean McDermott has been reluctant to anoint the former FAU product as the team's feature back, but Singletary's workload makes it clear he's the guy. Singletary has played at least 70% of the Bills' offensive snaps in each game since Week 11, and in that span he ranks sixth in the NFL in rushing yards and fourth in carries. His 5.13 yards per carry this season rank fifth best in the league among qualified runners and third best among running backs.
"Well, it's just another step, really, for Devin. When you saw the increased workload, it's another young player developing," McDermott said.
Buffalo will enter the postseason as the AFC's No. 5 seed with Singletary in a starring role. The length of Buffalo's playoff run will be decided in part by how effectively he can carry the running game.
Singletary is arguably Buffalo's most important offensive player aside from quarterback Josh Allen. The New England Patriots, known for taking away their opponent's best weapon, held Singletary to his worst game of the season in terms of yards per carry (46 yards on 15 carries) in Week 16. As a result, the Bills struggled to move the ball in a 24-17 loss.
Barring a 225-yard outburst in what should be an abbreviated workload against the New York Jets in Week 17 (1 p.m. ET, CBS), Singletary won't reach 1,000 rushing yards in his rookie season. But his 64.6 yards per game average spread across 16 games this season would have given him 1,003 yards -- prompting questions of what could have been had he not missed three games with a hamstring injury early in the season.
McDermott and the Bills have made it a priority to bring in veterans their young players can learn from, and for Singletary, that veteran leadership has come from the NFL's third-leading career rusher, Frank Gore. He has taken a less-prominent role on the field over the past two months. Off the field, however, Gore's affinity for the rookie is inarguable.
"He's like a little brother to me, man. Ever since he got drafted, I've had him in my hip pocket," Gore said. "He listens to everything I say. He's a great kid. He has a chance to be big in this league. ... I'm going to stay on the phone with him every day, even when I'm done. He's very humble -- he reminds me of myself."
The Bills will be playing on a bigger stage when the playoffs open, but Singletary's confidence hasn't wavered since Week 1, when he debuted with 98 total yards (70 rushing, 28 receiving) on nine touches.
After a 17-touch, 101-yard performance against Dallas in Week 13, he said: "I kind of already had the rhythm. But as my opportunities go, I've just got to stay ready. That's all it is."