If there was one bright spot on Buffalo's offense last season, it was most definitely the running game. Rookie Marshawn Lynch made Bills fans quickly forget the now-demonized Willis McGahee with his relentless, physical play. Joining Lynch was D-III standout, Fred Jackson, who in only eight games proved he is a valuable component in the Bills' run game. Now that both running backs have a year of experience under their belt, this will be a year for both of them to build on last year's success.
The predominant force in this running tandem is unquestionably Lynch. He is a fast, powerful runner that refuses to go down with only two tacklers- teams need three or four defenders to take him down on any given play. His well-known "Beast Mode" is constantly a hassle for defenses because of his non-stop physical play that can last entire drives.
Lynch turned in an outstanding rookie season. In only 13 games, he compiled over 1,100 yards on 280 carries and seven touchdowns. He ranked 11th in the league for yards, ninth for attempts and eighth for average yards in a game. He earned two Diet Pepsi Rookie of the Weeks awards and was also named to several All-Rookie teams by season's end.
The only place where Lynch lacked last season was in his receiving numbers. Despite throwing for a touchdown last season, Lynch failed to catch any and compiled only 184 yards on 18 receptions. When the Bills drafted him, there was much hype around his receiving abilities along with his running prowess, but that just wasn't evident last season. This season could be different with new offensive coordinator Turk Schonert, who should be using Lynch as a receiver out of the backfield more often.
When using the Beast isn't enough for the Bills during games, they're lucky they have another capable runner in Fred Jackson. Jackson is a free agent pick up that seems to be paying off for the Bills. Originally playing in NFL Europa and the United Indoor Football League, the Bills signed him to their practice squad in 2006, and worked his way up to be Lynch's backup last season after the departure of Anthony Thomas in free agency.
Jackson cemented his place behind Lynch when they both rushed for more than 100 yards in a game against Miami. In addition to that game, Jackson played in seven more compiling over 300 yards on 58 attempts. He got a lot more playing time when Lynch was injured for a stretch of games in the middle of the season, and impressed the coaches with his speed and ability to make defenders miss.
With Lynch showcasing his talent all season long, and Jackson showing flashes of talent throughout the season, these two runners are ready to make a big impact for the Bills. Both are effective on their own, and when combined, they can be spectacular. It's unclear how often Schonert will use Jackson in the mix, but judging from his performance last season it would be foolish not to use him often and keep Lynch fresh and more importantly, healthy.
Beyond Jackson, the Bills have a solid backup in rookie Xavier Omon. Omon was the team's sixth-round pick and earned a roster spot during training camp, beating out Dwayne Wright. He showed a lot of talent during camp and during games, recording the only offensive touchdown in the game against Indianapolis.
Omon comes from Northwest Missouri State, where he set a host of records, including being one of only two players in college football history to rush for over 1,500 yards in all four seasons. There's no doubt he has talent, and he is the perfect backup behind Lynch and Jackson.
One big thing that will be different for the Bills rushers, and that is the resurrection of the fullback position. Last season, the team went without a fullback but Schonert wanted to bring the position back this year to step up the running game.
The Bills brought in seven-year veteran Darian Barnes, who previously played for the Jets, Dolphins, Cowboys and Buccaneers. Despite his vagabond-esque resume, Barnes appears ready to make an impact for the Bills. He loves playing the position and will have no problem blocking for Lynch and Jackson. At 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, he has the size to be an effective blocker and pave the way for the team's rushers. He's no Mike Alstott, but at least he's better than the ghost of a fullback that was on the team last season.
On a young team with a lot of questions, the running game will again prove to be a shining spot for the Bills. With two talented up-and-coming running backs, the Bills will turn some heads with their run game. The Bills are an optimistic team hoping to end an eight-season playoff drought.Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson could just be the ones to keep the team running well into January.
Stay tuned to the BFR all week for more position previews.