With the 2012 Buffalo Bills’ season over, Queen City Sports will be performing a comprehensive review of all of the positions on the team. These evaluations will include key stats, grades, and thoughts on how players performed and the outlook of the position going into 2013. The fifth installment will be reviewing the running back position.
The Buffalo Bills entered the 2012 season with extremely high hopes for the rushing attack, as Fred Jackson was returning from a leg injury, and backup running back, C.J. Spiller, had started to show the skill set that made him worthy of the No. 9 overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. Those high expectations were met, but fans were still left questioning what could have been.
Fred Jackson is a fan favorite, after being undrafted out of Coe College, playing in the National Football League’s European affiliate before signing on with the Bills in 2007. In 2011, Jackson was one of the league’s top running backs, rushing for 934 yards on 170 carries, an average of 5.5 yards per rush, while scoring six touchdowns. However, during a Week 11 loss to the Miami Dolphins, Fred Jackson suffered a season-ending injury to his leg. He returned to the lineup for opening day this season, only to suffer another brutal leg injury after a devastating blow from New York Jets’ safety, LaRon Landry.
Jackson fought back, and started 10 games in 2012, but due to that injury, he wasn’t nearly as productive as the previous year. He managed to gain just 437 yards, while averaging 3.8 yards per carry, and fumbled the ball four times, losing each one.
Jackson was not the same running back in 2012 as he was in 2011, and the stats prove it. In 2011, Jackson had 15 rushes of 15 yards or more, while in 2012, he had just one. In 2011, Jackson was ProFootballFocus’ top rated pass blocking running back, after not allowing a single pressure the whole year. In 2012, Jackson ranked 16th.
Jackson has one year remaining on the two-year, $9 million deal he signed during the offseason prior to last year, but general manager Buddy Nix made it quite clear that this contract was rewarding Fred for his past work; something that is considered blasphemy in the National Football League. Despite being 31 years old, Jackson is still young by running back standards, considering he has just 932 carries under his belt, compared to a back like Adrian Peterson, who is four years younger, but has almost twice as many carries with 1,754 in his six seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. With Spiller pretty much a lock to be the Bills’ starter next year, and with an increased workload, Jackson should still be able to contribute on third downs, goal line situations, and passing downs and be effective.
C.J. Spiller was one of the best running backs in the National Football League during 2012, finishing eighth in the league in rush yards, while having 78 carries less than any back ahead of him. He averaged six yards-per-carry, tied with Adrian Peterson for the best in football. Spiller rushed for 1,244 yards this year on just 207 carries, scoring six rushing touchdowns, serving as the most efficient rusher in the league.
He added another 459 yards on 43 receptions with two more scores out of the backfield. Spiller was deadly in not only the run game, but as a receiver out of the backfield on screens as well. He was so deadly that opposing teams openly stating they had a special part in practice to gameplan for the screens because they were so effective for the offense.
Spiller was ranked ProFootballFocus’ most elusive runner, with a rating of 94.6 out of 100. Adrian Peterson was in second place, with a 72.0 rating. He forced 66 missed tackles, placing him fourth in the league, despite having 108 fewer carries than the next lowest total ahead of him. Spiller’s 2012 season was off the charts, and one has to wonder what his numbers would’ve been had he received even 50 more carries, still a small number for a starting running back.
Where Spiller was not impressive, however, was his pass blocking, which likely was the reason he wasn’t on the field as much as fans would’ve liked. He was one of the worst pass blockers in the entire league, ranking 60th, after allowing 10 quarterback pressures in the 78 snaps in which he was asked to stand back and protect Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Head coach Doug Marrone utilized Reggie Bush, a very similar running back to Spiller, very well during his time in New Orleans, but he used Bush more as a receiving weapon. Spiller has very underrated size, as people forget he’s 200 pounds and built like a thoroughbred. He received 20+ touches just four times this season, but he had at least 130 yards in three of those contests. With Spiller pretty much a lock to be the Bills’ starting running back in 2013, ensuring him at least 275 carries seems entirely plausible. Spiller is the most talented offensive player on the roster, and the coaching staff needs to make sure they can get the most out of his abilities if they want to win games.
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