Draft Countdown: Unsettled at running back?

Buffalo has brought in several running backs on visits since free agency began. Marshawn Lynch's suspension and Fred Jackson's contract situation has created a sense of urgency at the position. Will the Bills turn to the draft for insurance? The BFR Draft Countdown continues with a look at the running backs...

The Lineup: Marshawn Lynch, Fred Jackson, Xavier Omon, Bruce Hall, Corey McIntyre

The Lowdown: Lynch sure didn't do this team any favors with another run-in with the law. Aside from tainting the franchise name and becoming the poster boy for Bengals East, Lynch's(ultra-kind) suspension leaves the Bills in a three-game pickle. Jackson, seeking a long-term contract, didn't show up for voluntary workouts. It doesn't look like Buffalo want to give Jackson a long-term investment. The team extended an exclusive rights deal to Jackson, a low-ball $460,000 tender. While Jackson will be a restricted free agent next year, he'd certainly prefer a long-term security in the $3 million or $4 million per year range.

Jackson's agent Jerry Douglas recently responded to Russ Brandon's claim that the team still values strong character amid the police-blotting comedy of errors.

"We find the organization's comments regarding the importance of character very interesting given their position on Fred Jackson," Douglas said. "I think it's a fair statement to say that during his three years with the Bills, Fred has demonstrated his high character and that he is second to none in that department, to say nothing of his on-the-field contributions. Yet the organization is not making a concerted effort to lock in Fred as part of the team's long-term future. Public statements are great as long as you mean what you say."

Jackson has been lauded as one of the most team-high players on the Bills. He's active in the community and humble on the field. After getting zero touches against Miami in Toronto -- and having every right to go on a stool-throwing tirade in the locker room -- Jackson quietly shrugged his shoulders.

As mentioned here back in February, giving Jackson a long-term contract would instantly reverberate the positive, team-first vibe Brandon spoke about.

Despite the dissatisfaction with the subpar tender, Jackson showed up to the team's voluntary workouts.

The Bills have questions at running back despite boasting a dangerous duo in Lynch and Jackson.
Getty Images

Since Lynch's gun charge, the Bills have been in panic mode. Buffalo has ushered in Fred Taylor, DeShaun Foster, Kevin Jones, Skip Hicks and (now) Cecil Sapp on visits.

No dice on any signings so far. At this rate we could see Tim Tindale and Jonathan Linton any day now. Good grief.

First thing's first. Lock up Jackson. Ensure that a No. 1 back is in place for three difficult opening games against New England, Tampa Bay and New Orleans. In every snipet of game action he's received, Jackson has excelled. 100 yards in one half against the Patriots in violent wins. Game-breaking plays in an upset win at Denver. The reliable hands at Jacksonville. It's been like watching half of a 24 episode -- you're left wanting more.

With Lynch out, Jackson will have a golden opportunity to win the No. 1 job off the bat. The Bills may be holding off until then to appease Jackson with a contract extension. For now, they're not budging on the long-term deal, according to sources.

Omon is a project. As a rookie, he barely sniffed the field. Omon did post insane numbers in college, though, and isn't a bad darkhorse to have stashed away. At fullback, the Bills appear a little uneasy with Sapp coming in for a workout Thursday. Turk Schonert may be looking to incorporate a fullback more into the offense this year, sacrilegious under Steve Fairchild.

The Draft: Look for the Bills to nab either a running back or a fullback in the mid rounds. All of these visits suggest discomfort with the position.

Fullback will particularly get addressed at some point. McIntyre is a fringe special teams player. Nothing more. Syracuse's Tony Fiammetta is the best bet on the market. Fiammetta met with the Bills at the Combine. Be sure to check out this lengthy feature for more. Fiammetta is a traditional bruiser that shined on a terrible Orange team last year, plowing the way for Curtis Brinkley. He should be available in the fourth round.

Running back? This will be interesting. It's been very difficult to gauge how much the team values the 29-year-old Jackson. He's a late bloomer with plenty of elite years ahead of him. Jackson has rushed for 871 yards on 188 carries in two seasons. With this era's emphasis on two-back systems, it's realistic to pay both Lynch and Jackson sizeable contracts. But if contract talks continue to remain stagnant, there's a chance that Buffalo will reach for a running back next week.

One possibility is Michigan State's Javon Ringer. As Scout.com's Chris Steuber reported, the Bills showed concentrated interest in Ringer at the Combine. Projected as a third- or fourth-round pick, Ringer is a tough runner between the tackles. He doesn't wow in stature or speed but flat-out produced with the Spartans. Ringer rushed for 1,637 yards and 22 touchdowns in his only year as Michigan State's featured back last year.

Ringer had surgery on his left knee to repair a lateral meniscus in January. At a recent Michigan State spring football practice, Ringer said that his knee is between "90 and 95 percent." At the Combine he ran a 4.6 in the 40, but improved to a 4.42 at his pro day. No other back had more carries last year than Ringer. His 390 carries of mileage proves that he can take a pounding.

Having brought in middling free agent backs one-by-one, the Bills are clearly unsettled at running back. After he Lynch got away with a hit-and-run unscathed, Buffalo is now scrambling to respond to Lynch's second criminal act. There's a chance they abandon other needs in the third or fourth round for a running back. Though underwhelming at the top, the running back position is fairly rich in the middle rounds. Purdue's Kory Sheets and Alabama's Glen Coffee are other slashing-type backs that could fit in well.

Tyler Dunne is the Publisher of BuffaloFootballReport.com and also writes for The Packer Report. Contact him at thdunne@gmail.com.

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