by Mario Granata
Heading into the 2015 off-season many Bills fans are excited about the team that will take the field to end the longest layoff drought in the NFL. Over the past few seasons, there have been some fan favorites that have left the team much to the dismay of the Bills fans. Looking at the numbers regarding this new coaching staff that has come to One Bills Drive, probably the biggest fan favorite might be headed out the door.
In his 8 seasons for the Buffalo Bills, Fred Jackson has over 8,200 yards rushing and receiving and if you ask any Bills fan during that time, he has earned every yard. Along the way, he has accumulated 322 receptions (roughly 40 a year) and has arguably been the absolute best blocking back in the passing game. All of the attributes that he carries with him are ones that any team would want in a running back. Any coach would marvel as his age and what he is able to do on a game-by-game basis, with the exception of Greg Roman. A closer look at the numbers of running backs under Roman, you can see why the talents of Jackson might be overlooked going into 2015.
San Francisco Ground and Pound:
In the past 4 seasons under Roman, the San Francisco 49ers have been the blueprint of a throwback football team. Frank Gore, has enjoyed 3 Pro Bowl seasons rushing for over 1,100 yards each year. Gore, however, has only averaged 18 receptions and 28 targets a season under Roman. The previous 5 seasons Gore averaged 51 receptions on 74 targets. So, it is not that Gore can’t catch the ball, it is that he is not being targeted other than a last ditch safety valve. If you are running the numbers, Gore has 72 receptions on 113 targets over 4 seasons under Roman. Fred Jackson, in 2014 alone, had 66 receptions on 90 targets.
If you think that this philosophy of Roman started when he moved up to the pro game, then you better look again. In 2010 Stefan Taylor managed 28 receptions and in 2009 Toby Gerhart had a mere 11 receptions. So, even in the college game, Roman put a premium on pass catching running backs and how they are used in his offense.
2015 Bills Draft:
Before the draft, Bills fans thought that if there was one position (other than defensive line) that the Bills were ‘set’, it was the running backs. With LeSean McCoy, Fred Jackson, Boobie Dixon and Bryce Brown coupled with the addition of Jerome Felton, the foundation of the ground and pound was set for the Bills in 2015. The Bills then threw a curveball at all of us, selecting Karlos Williams from Florida State. While many of the fans as well as myself thought they were doing this for special teams, one cannot deny that Williams is an explosive runner who is devastating between the tackles. Also, being a 5th round pick, his price tag is very low for his first 4 seasons, and if he has some off the field problems, then the Bills can cut bait and try again. While many thought that this signified the end of Boobie Dixon (as he washed out of a Greg Roman team in San Francisco), Jackson could be the reason why they drafted Williams.
Terminator in Town:
As if the running back situation in Buffalo wasn’t getting crowded, the Bills sign John Conner. So, at the latest tally, the Bills currently have LeSean McCoy, Fred Jackson, Karlos Williams, Boobie Dixon, Bryce Brown, Jerome Felton and John Connor on the roster. True, the rosters are at 90, and taking another player at a position is common at this point in the season, they will have some unpopular cuts to make, as camp looms closer to the regular season. The Bills are not going to keep 7 running backs on the roster, but who will not make the team? Both Conner and Felton have about a dozen receptions in their career, and just as many carries, so the responsibility of protecting the quarterback in the passing game, or lead blocking for the running back in the run game are pretty much set. Where does Freddy fit in?
If you have followed the articles here at Hashtag Sports, you can already sense that this isn’t one that I was excited to write, but one that has to merit some consideration given the moves that the Bills have made recently. Greg Roman rarely throws to his backs, which is Jackson’s strength. He is the best pass blocking back in the NFL; the Bills just added another one who can fill that role at a cheap price. Jerome Felton is 28, which is 6 years Jackson’s junior, so the Bills fans might see a very unpopular decision in the upcoming months.
Now three of Fred Jackson's jerseys hang in my closet because he embodies everything about the Buffalo Bills that fans love. He is Freddy, FredEx, and the heart and soul of the Bills, but the NFL is a business, and in business there are decisions that have to be made that while unpopular have to be made. Would I like to see Jackson play in the 2015 season? Without question I do, but I have a very bad feeling given the moves that the Bills have made recently.