Banner Year: (2006) 188 attempts,. 989 rush yards, .313 receiving yards, 10 TD
Packer Comparison: Eddie Lee Ivery
How does he fit in? When NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced that the Buffalo Bills selected Marshawn Lynch with the 12th overall selection of the NFL draft, the gun fired on a running back derby 1,004 miles to the west.
Vernand Morency, Noah Herron, Arliss Beach, P.J. Pope, and second round pick Brandon Jackson will not be auditioning for just one starting spot. They will be fighting for specific roles in a rotation. Expect the Packers to take a tip from the four conference championship teams and adopt a ‘running back by committee' approach. Up to three backs could all see substantial playing time in 2007 as a pound-it-out back, a change-of-pace back, or a third down back.
Expect Jackson to fulfill the second role, and to fill it well. His instinctive, jitterbug style is an ideal contrast to Morency's violent, fall-forward running. Jackson might not have the leg strength of the back he's aiming to replace, fellow Cornhusker alum Ahman Green. But he has much more deliberate wiggle and cutting ability, which makes him a perfect fit for Green Bay's zone blocking scheme. Whereas Morency follows pulling guards better inside the tackles, Jackson is equipped for stretch, zone-blocking plays where he can find green on the outside and cut into the open field.
A 48-yard run against Kansas State said it all.
The play was designed for Jackson to string outside on a stretch run, toward the wide side of the field. Kansas State's defensive line collectively washed down the line on the snap and Jackson reacted immediately by cutting inside. He slid beneath a block and veered back to the right where a gang tackle awaited. No problem. You can't argue with five yards and a cloud of dust. But Jackson's sixth sense told him that the left side was open with greener pastures, so he hop-stepped and cut back against the grain. Jackson slipped, recovered and scampered up the sideline for 43 more yards - 43 yards that most backs wouldn't have known even existed.
Brandon Jackson isn't completely constricted to stretch zone plays, either. Like first round pick Justin Harrell, he's a versatile athlete. Nebraska often sent Jackson on ‘wheel' routes up the sideline, a route Ahman Green rarely ran. That's not the only reason Brett Favre will learn to love Jackson. At Nebraska he was a willing blocker in pass protection. Being a multi-purpose back should keep Jackson from fading away like other cut-oriented Packer backs Travis Jervey and De'Mond Parker.
So why was this guy criticized for declaring for the draft a year early? Jackson wasn't put in the same zip code as Adrian Peterson and Lynch by most scouts for several reasons. He only had one productive season at Nebraska and shared rushing duties with sophomores Marlon Lucky, Cody Glenn, and junior Kenny Wilson who collectively had 119 more carries than Jackson. Jackson only started in nine of 14 games in his breakout junior year and has had shoulder problems. Scouts argue that he is "more quick than fast" and that he "could wear down with increased carries." But with Green Bay, Atlanta, and Denver these are hardly negatives.
The zone blocking scheme is predicated on quickness in short areas, not straight ahead speed. When the offensive line moves laterally, rarely does the back wind up sprinting in a line. It takes authoritative quickness. You don't have to be a big and fast beast to thrive in this system as Warrick Dunn, Jerious Norwood, Olandis Gary, and Tatum Bell proved. Whether Jackson will wear down is just speculation. Unlike Brian Leonard (678 collegiate carries), Kenny Irons(520), and Antonio Pittman (557), Jackson (291) has few miles on his odometer. Considering most backs plateau at 30 years of age, it doesn't hurt to draft someone whose potential has just tipped the iceberg. If Jackson and Morency alternate for 12 to 15 carries apiece per game, "wearing down" will not be an issue for the rookie, and his longevity will benefit.
Right now head coach Mike McCarthy is happy to have a toy to play with on offense, workhorse or not.
"If one individual can carry the load, then we'll go that way," said McCarthy. "If not, we'll play it by situations, back-by-committee, however you want to label it. We've added a very good player at running back - that's the way I view it."
In his 17 seasons Brett Favre has relied on three primary running backs - Edgar Bennett, Levens, and Green. As McCarthy alluded, this season Favre could very well be handing off to three part-time backs. A rotation system will keep fresh legs on the field and maximize each running back's strengths, which will demoralize defenses… and of course fantasy football owners (see: the Mike Shanahan effect).
Expect offensive coordinator Joe Philbin to design particular plays for Morency, Jackson, and whoever else steps up. Remember, Vince Lombardi's playbook was thinner than that of the freewheelin' Golden State Warriors - 16 plays. Many NFL coaches draw up hundreds of complicated plays and basic fundamentals (route running, blocking techniques, reading linemen) get lost in translation.
If Jackson finds his niche on 3 to 5 specific plays then he could become this year's Maurice Jones-Drew. But first he'll have to earn his carries. You can bet that Beach, Herron, and Pope want a taste of the action, too.
Tyler Dunne is a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at email@example.com. Dunne will take a closer look at wide receiver David Clowney tomorrow.