Running back has been a very productive position for the Buffalo Bills in recent years, if not a very stable one. In the past decade, the Bills have had four different backs rush for 1,000 yards in a year (Travis Henry, Willis McGahee, Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson). Only one of those backs (Jackson) remains with the team.
Because of all this turnover, Buffalo has used three first-round draft picks on running backs during that time span. Hopefully, the need to draft a running back that high has been eliminated for the foreseeable future.
The Bills have two promising backs in C.J. Spiller and Johnny White, as well as the solid, dependable veteran in Jackson. Running back is a position of strength on the Bills roster.
I remember back in 2007, when me and my dad went to a preseason game, two players really stuck out to us: Trent Edwards (oops) and Fred Jackson.
Jackson has turned out to be exactly the player we imagined him to be. He is a shifty runner who always seems to gain positive yards. This is quite a feat considering the state of the offensive line in recent years.
Also commendable are his contributions in the passing game. He is a willing blocker and a very capable receiver out of the backfield.
Despite only being in the NFL for five years, Jackson is getting up there in age. He's already reached the age of 30, where running backs typically see a decline of production. It's probably only a matter of time before Jackson reaches that stage.
In the meantime, he should continue to be a very good starter for the Buffalo Bills.
The Bills offense had many bright spots last year, but C.J. Spiller was not one of them.
I'm not sure whether to put that blame on the coaching staff for not taking full advantage of his skill set or to put it on Spiller for just not being good enough to see a lot of playing time. The most likely answer is that it was a combination of the two.
Spiller's speed and elusiveness need to be better utilized. Somehow, some way Chan Gailey needs to get the ball into his hands out in the open field. That is where Spiller is most dangerous, out in space with room to run. Throw some more screen passes or even line him up in the slot. Regardless, there has to be a better way to use him next year.
Some of the blame has to fall on Spiller though. I think he came in last year expecting to run circles around NFL defenders the same way he did in college. When he was running between the tackles, he looked hesitant to hit the hole and was always looking for the big play. Sometimes you just have to take what the defense is giving you.
Spiller's rookie year was highly disappointing. Running backs are usually some of the first rookies to make an impact, so I'm already worrying a little bit about his pro future. I'll give him another year or two, but he needs to start showing me something sooner rather than later.
Johnny White actually reminds me quite a bit of Fred Jackson.
He is an all-around back. He can run between the tackles, or he can catch the ball out of the backfield. I don't think he's going to blow anyone away with his speed, but he should definitely be fast enough to get down the field.
White's team-first attitude also reminds me of Jackson. At North Carolina, he played whatever position the team needed him to, from cornerback to receiver to running back. He put the team first even to his own personal detriment.
All that position-switching almost certainly hurt his draft stock. He easily could have been drafted two to three rounds higher if he had played running back throughout his college career. I don't think we will have to deal with any Marshawn Lynch shenanigans or Willis McGahee Buffalo-bashing.
White is probably a work in progress at this point. He needs more experience at the position, but I like his potential to be a dependable part of the rotation.
Buffalo has two other running backs on the roster behind those three (not including Corey McIntyre, the fullback). They probably won't get much playing time this year. Don't be surprised if the Bills add another player to compete for the fourth running back slot.
1. Jehuu Caulcrick
A running back/fullback 'tweener, he is a nice story because of his Buffalo roots. He was a great college player, but his skills haven't translated well to the NFL. He'll never be anything more than a short-yardage back.
2. Quinton Ganther
Ganther can be a solid member of a running back rotation. He'll never play a prominent role, but he's shifty and has a low center of gravity (he's short at 5'9"). I don't think he adds anything to the running back position that Jackson and White don't already have.
3. John Clay
One of the top undrafted running backs out there, he would add another type of runner to the Bills backfield. He's a big bruiser of a back similar to a Brandon Jacobs. He might not be any better than Caulcrick, but I would like to see Buffalo give him a shot.
Jackson probably only has a few good years left. He's already 30, which is ancient in running back years. Fortunately, Buffalo now has two young backs behind him in Spiller and White, and the team should be set for years at the position.
I would like to see the Bills pick up a larger back, though. ESPN's John Clayton wrote an excellent article about the evolution of the running back position. Most teams need more than one back to carry the load, and it seems to be that the big, powerful backs are better suited to run against 3-4 defenses. The rest of the AFC East exclusively runs the 3-4 defense, so a large back would make sense for Buffalo.
The future largely rests upon Spiller's shoulders. Will he develop into a steady starter, or will he be the first bust of the Buddy Nix era? I'm praying that he takes a step forward this year. I don't want to see yet another high-round pick used on a running back.