He's never been a Pro Bowler. He's never rushed for 1,000 yards in a season. In fact, he's never even been a starter.
Drafted in the fourth round of the 2001 draft out of the University of Nebraska, Buckhalter was expected to split time with then-starter Duce Staley.
As a rookie, Buckhalter ran for 52 yards and caught four passes for 50 yards in his NFL debut, helping the Eagles defeat the Seattle Seahawks, 27-3. The following week against Dallas, Buckhalter rushed for 99 yards and a score, filling in admirably after starter Duce Staley went down with an injury.
He had perhaps the best game of his life the next week, rushing for an Eagles single-game rookie record 134 yards.
For the season, Buckhalter played superbly, rushing for an Eagles rookie record 586 yards. His average of 4.5 yards-per-carry and two touchdowns helped the Eagles win the NFC East and advance to the conference championship game.
In that game against the St. Louis Rams, Buckhalter ran for 50 yards on just six carries. His 31-yarder helped the Eagles score their first touchdown of the game.
With Staley coming off a down season (604 rushing yards, only 3.6 yards-per-carry), Buckhalter was expected to be the team's starter in '02. However, a torn ACL in the team's very first minicamp in April '02 ended his season before it began.
A lot of running backs would have been done their career. Some of the all-time greats—Gale Sayers, Bo Jackson—had had their career cut short by injuries. But Buckhalter rehabbed and managed to make it back to the team in 2003.
That season was arguably the finest of Buckhalter's career.
As part of the Eagles' three-headed running back attack (Staley, Buckhalter, Westbrook), Buckhalter led the team in carries (126) and rushing touchdowns (8). After starting just 2-3, the Eagles went on an eight-game winning streak and finished the season 12-4, once again advancing to the NFC Championship Game.
When the Eagles allowed the aging Staley to depart, Buckhalter was once again expected to be the team's starter for the '04 season. And that's when disaster struck. Again.
On a two-yard gain against Baltimore in preseason, Buckhalter ruptured his patella tendon. And just like that, he was done for the season.
While the Eagles spent the 2004 season winning 13 of their first 14 games on their way to the Super Bowl, Buckhalter spent the time rehabbing and preparing for 2005.
And an unprecedented third time, disaster struck.
Just a week before the start of the 2005 season, Buckhalter ruptured his patella tendon, his third major knee injury in four seasons. He spent the entire season rehabbing his injury.
Many players would have given up, or at least considered retirement. But not Buckhalter. He worked hard and got himself all ready for the '06 season.
In his first game back since the NFC Championship Game following the 2003 season, Buckhalter rushed for 50 yards on just eight carries in helping the Eagles defeat the Houston Texans on Opening Day, 2006.
It was Buckhalter's first NFL action in 32 months.
For the season, Buckhalter played a backup role to the team's new star back, Brian Westbrook. Buckhalter rushed for 345 yards and two touchdowns, averaging a solid 4.2 yards-per-carry.
In '07 and '08, Buckhalter stayed healthy both years. Once again, he served as Westbrook's backup, rushing for 313 and 369 yards in each of those seasons.
His numbers haven't been spectacular due to his limited opportunities, but Buckhalter is one of the most underrated backup running backs in the NFL.
His career numbers are just over a full season for a workhorse running back—476 carries, 2,155 rushing yards, 4.5 yards-per-carry, and 18 touchdowns.
That 4.5 yards-per-carry puts Buckhalter at 72nd on the all-time list.
And take into consideration that Buckhalter is the only guy on that list who has been solely a backup running back for his career. In addition, 19 of the 72 players were quarterbacks.
In Buckhalter's first two career NFL games, he lost key fumbles while running with the ball. He didn't lose a fumble again for his next 18 games. He's strong and fast, and a better pass catcher out of the backfield than most people realize.
Buckhalter has battled back his entire career. He's endured three major season-ending knee injuries.
And he's returned from all of them.
He's learned to take what he gets. Buckhalter realizes that in any given game, he could get no touches or 25 touches, so it's important to make the most of his opportunities. And he's done just that. Buckhalter has had to fill in for an injured Staley or Westbrook as the team's starter on seven separate occasions during his career.
During those seven games that Buckhalter has filled in, he has never had a bad game. He has had games where he didn't touch the ball a whole lot (Week 4 in 2006), but he has averaged over 4.0 yards-per-carry in every single game he has started.
In fact, in those seven games, Buckhalter has averaged 90 rushing yards and 125 total yards-per-start.
In comparison, over the last three seasons as the team's primary back, Westbrook has averaged 79 rushing yards and 122 total yards-per-start.
Now I am in no way suggesting Buckhalter is a better player than Westbrook—because he's not—but I am pointing out how valuable it is to have a quality backup running back like Buckhalter, especially when the starter is injury-prone.
Even though he's not used frequently when Westbrook is healthy, don't underestimate Buckhalter's role as a team player. How many guys can you think of who have been on the same team for eight years—without ever being a starter?
I went back and looked it up. Buckhalter is the only active running back to have done so, just beating out Ladell Betts of the Redskins.
And don't underestimate the importance of Buckhalter as the team's backup running back. In Buckhalter's career, his Eagles are 18-3 when he scores a touchdown. They're 15-4 when he gets as many as 10 touches in a game. Those are pretty impressive statistics.
I would love it if Buckhalter could be given the opportunity to start. I would love to see what he could do. I wouldn't be surprised if he could put up 1,300 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns as a full-time back.
For now though, I'm thrilled to have him on the team as Westbrook's backup.
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