Shhh. The Buffalo Bills have a secret weapon on offense.
It’s not Lee Evans. It’s not Marshawn Lynch. It’s not even Terrell Owens. Heck, it’s a guy who doesn’t even start.
The Bills' secret weapon is running back Fred Jackson.
The obvious question is: How can a guy who will at best be No. 2 on the Bills depth chart at running back behind Lynch and possibly No. 3 behind newly signed Dominic Rhodes be that important to Buffalo’s offense?
That’s easy. Just ask Buffalo’s rival in the AFC East, the New England Patriots.
The Bills coaching staff views Jackson as a similar kind of player to the Patriots' Kevin Faulk.
Faulk has only started 24 games since 2001 and 18 of those starts came in 2003 and 2007, due mainly to injury situations.
However, Faulk has been one of the key components of New England’s successful offenses under Bill Belichick, despite being a backup during most of his career with the Patriots.
While Faulk has never been a guy to carry the ball 20 to 25 times a game, he’s been very effective on quick draws out of the shotgun formation, and is also one of the best pass catching backs in the NFL, making him extremely dangerous on third downs and helping the Patriots keep drives alive.
The Bills believe Jackson can do the same type of things for their offense this season.
Jackson is no stranger to exceeding expectations. An undrafted free agent out of tiny Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Jackson appeared in all 16 games for Buffalo last season and played very well both filling in for and spelling Lynch.
As Lynch’s backup, Jackson rushed for a respectful 571 yards on 130 carries and ended the season with a career-high, 136-yard performance against the Patriots.
While Jackson showed promise as a runner, he’ll probably never be more than a backup in that department. It’s as a receiver out of the backfield where the Bills think he can do the most damage, particularly on third downs where Jackson presents a mismatch for most safeties and linebackers in the NFL.
Jackson caught 37 passes for 317 yards in 2008, with 11 of those receptions going for first downs. Toss in the 22 catches Jackson recorded in his first season with the Bills, and that’s 59 receptions in two years for a backup running back.
If you listen to the talk coming out of Orchard Park this summer, Jackson should easily eclipse his career high in receptions this season as the Bills primary pass catcher coming out of the backfield.
With T.O. in town and all the speculation about getting the ball down the field more, there hasn’t been much talk about Jackson, but make no mistake about it, he’s going to have a big role in the Bills offense this fall. A very big role.
Players like Jackson and Faulk don’t get a lot of publicity because they aren’t flashy. They do the little things that help a team win things that may not show up on a stat sheet.
But ask Tom Brady how important Faulk is to the offense and you can’t get him to shut up about his veteran running back. That’s how much respect Brady has for what Faulk does and what he means to the Patriots offense.
So when the Bills have a third down situation this season, make sure you locate No. 22. You can bet opposing defenses will. If they don’t, Fred Jackson is going to make them pay all year long.
Pretty soon, everyone will know about the Bills' secret weapon.
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