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Full disclosure, I'm a diehard Buffalo Bills fan. I'm sure fans of other teams may feel like putting Fred Jackson this high on the list is being biased, but I think Fred Jackson's production has warranted it.
Despite only playing in 10 games in 2011, Freddy ran for 934 yards and six touchdowns, along with 442 receiving yards. Stretch those numbers out to a 16-game season and he was on pace for 1,494 yards rushing, 10 touchdowns and 707 yards receiving. That is extremely impressive production.
He also led all NFL running backs in yards per carry, averaging 5.5 yards every time he carried the ball.
The knock on Fred Jackson, which is probably the reason that NFL Network left him off their list, is his age. He will be 31 during the upcoming season, which basically makes him a senior citizen for an NFL running back.
Working in Freddy's favor is the fact that his body hasn't gone through the same type of punishment that most 30-plus NFL running backs have suffered through.
He has only been in the NFL for five seasons. Although I've never been hit by a Division I NCAA or an NFL Linebacker, I'm pretty sure it hurts. I'm guessing those guys hit significantly harder than the football players that were tackling Fred when he was a member of Division III Coe College or the Sioux City Bandits of the Indoor Football League.
Even during Fred's time in the NFL, he's endured limited abuse. The 2011 season was the first year that he's played for the Buffalo Bills and didn't have to split carries with Marshawn Lynch. He's only carried the ball more than 200 times in two seasons, 2009 and 2010.
Like a fine wine, Fred has gotten better with age. Fred had never averaged more than 4.5 yards per carry (in a season with 100 or more carries) in the NFL until he reached 5.5 yards per carry in 2011. Also, despite playing in only 10 games in 2011, his 442 yards receiving was the most he's ever recorded.
The greatest threat to Mr. Jackson's production is the emergence of former No. 9 overall pick, C.J. Spiller. After Fred fractured his fibula, Spiller proved that he could be just as productive carrying the football, averaging 5.5 yards per carry.
However, Chan Gailey seems reluctant to give Spiller a full workload. Even with Fred Jackson out of the lineup, Spiller only received more than 13 carries once, Week 16 against Denver when he carried the ball 16 times. I think that Gailey will use Spiller more in 2012 than he has used him in the past, but I still expect Freddy to be the workhorse.
Also, now that the Bills are switching to a 4-3 defense under Dave Wannstedt, their defense is likely to be vastly improved. With Mario Williams up front playing alongside players like Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, Shawne Merriman and Mark Anderson, their defense is likely to give up less than the 27.1 points per game that caused them to be the 30th-ranked defense in the NFL.
If the Bills defense stops giving up so many points, the Bills offense is more likely to run the ball, hoping to grind out a win late in the game rather than having to air the ball out in an attempt to play catch up.
There should be plenty of carries to go around in the Buffalo backfield, and I expect Fred Jackson to have one or two more years of elite production before Father Time catches up with him.