How does Fred Jackson fit into Bills plans?

Posted on April 29, 2010 by Chris Trapasso

Fred Jackson Buffalo Sports DailyEntering the 2009 season, Fred Jackson was well on his way to winning over the hearts of the Bills faithful. He made the team as an undrafted, former NFL Europe star in 2007 and his persistent toughness and unrelenting grit allowed him to flourish as Marshawn Lynch’s sidekick for two seasons.

Following opening games last year against the New England Patriots (140 total yards, 1 TD) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (163 rushing yards) when his repertoire of versatility was on full display, there was  growing sentiment throughout Western New York that Jackson could replace the suspended Lynch as the Bills’ starter.

To the surprise of many, once Lynch was inserted into the backfield following the two-game suspension to start 2009, his once intimidating presence had vanished. Lynch started to run more east-to-west rather than the smash mouth style fans had become accustomed to, and his never-go-down running style gave way to side-steps out of bounds. Lynch didn’t score his first touchdown of the year until facing the Carolina Panthers in week seven, a game where he totaled just 40 yards on the ground.

After that game Lynch would carry the ball more than 10 times just once; a win against Kansas City when he gained 84 yards rushing, by far his best output of the season. Lynch’s off- -field issues coupled with his new lethargic demeanor was leading the former  first-round pick directly to the dog house.

Meanwhile, the blue-collar Jackson kept his head down and focused on his craft. His numbers didn’t singlehandedly win games for fantasy owners, but as the most reliable option in the Bills’ bewildered offense Jackson received the lion’s share of the carries and slowly made Lynch an afterthought.

When Dick Jauron was fired after a humiliating loss to the Tennessee Titans in their first game back after the bye, interim head coach Perry Fewell made no mistake of who he wanted as the starting tailback - Jackson.

Upon reaching his goal of becoming a full-time starting running back in the NFL, Jackson didn’t squander his opportunity. The former Coe College star toted the rock 125 times over the last seven games and averaged 4.5 yards per carry. Jackson’s season culminated with a 212 yard effort, in the snow in Buffalo’s season finale victory over Indianapolis, putting him over 1,000 yards for the season.

Rumors and common sense led to wide-spread speculation that Lynch was on his way out in Buffalo and Jackson would finally become the every down back he had seemingly earned.

Unfortunately for Jackson those plans maybe have been shot down last week during the NFL draft.

Even with Lynch still in tow, the Buffalo Bills shocked many by selecting Clemson running back C.J. Spiller with the ninth overall pick of the draft.  Buddy Nix knew who he wanted, as evidenced by his team being on the clock for less than a minute before the Spiller pick.  And just like that Jackson’s workhorse 2010 load may have gone up in smoke.

To perhaps make matters worse from Jackson’s perspective, Lynch went undealt during and immediately after the draft, despite reports that both Seattle and Green Bay were interested in acquiring him.

This makes you wonder that after Jackson’s complete embodiment of football in Buffalo, why Spiller instead of a left tackle or quarterback?

Though Spiller is a beefier 195 pounds than it seems and occasionally can run through the trenches, he’s best when let loose to the outside.  Jackson himself can turn the corner, but Spiller’s agility reminds many of a created player in a Madden video game.

Jackson, 29, has plenty of tread left on his tires compared to other backs his age. However, the fresh legs of Spiller will allow Jackson to conserve energy for those critical game’s late stages — having two or three quality backs with differing specialties is becoming more prevalent in today’s NFL.

But what about Lynch? How does his presence affect Jackson?  Most, including myself considered it a foregone conclusion his days with the organization were numbered, particularly in the immediate days after Spiller was selected.  But Nix has said that Lynch is under contract and he plans on keeping him in Buffalo.  With the market for teams in need of running backs dwindled following the draft, it now seems plausible that Lynch remains on the roster.

Assuming (sorry, I still don’t buy it) Lynch stays out of trouble, reports to camp and doesn’t cause internal drama, the dilemma for first-year head coach Chan Gailey will focus on how he keeps Jackson involved in the offense and happy.

I envision Gailey getting very creative with Spiller—spreading him out wide, using him in the wildcat, returning kicks etc. Jackson could still be the team’s “feature back”. While some are comparing Spiller to Chris Johnson, I see a reincarnation of Reggie Bush.

But admittedly, Lynch does have the ability to throw a monkey wrench into Jackson’s feature back program.  Many still think that while Jackson is the harder worker of the two, Lynch is the more naturally talented back who can do more damage on the field.  Though I have my (strong) doubts, if Lynch happens to come to camp completely focused and shows the new staff that he’s the player the organization drafted 12th overall in 2007, it could once again push Jackson down the depth chart and out of a starting job.

I still anticipate Jackson to take the first carry against the Miami Dolphins on opening day. He could hover around the 12-17 carry per game mark, the average he’s received in the past and one he’s been comfortable with.

Then again, he could be supplanted by Lynch or Spiller, both or neither.  On a team that overall seems to lack interesting subplots, we already have a major one brewing.

How do you see Jackson fitting in?

(Photo Credits: Mike Thomas)

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2 Comments on How does Fred Jackson fit into Bills plans?

  1. Ian

    Here’s hopin’ we can get a decent QB/OT in trade for Lynch. Jackson’s a better veteran to help Spiller, and Lynch has more “value” in the eyes of other teams. It’s a shut case, dude…

  2. Matt

    You article is incorrect. Lynch was suspended for 3 games and not two.

    To Ian - Lynch has no value right now! If he had any, hopefully the Ills lame brain “management” would have traded him. Santonio Holmes, also a Thug, but a better player than Lynch, was only worth a 5th round pick. To think anyone will give up much more than that or a good OT/QB for the Ills Thug, is being a bit toooooo optimistic!

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