With Fred Jackson questionable for the start of the season, the Bills can perhaps take a look at a bright young backfield of the future. Jackson is a back that can do a little bit of everything, as evidenced by his league-leading total in all purpose yardage a season ago (2,516). But Marshawn Lynch and C.J. Spiller may be more dynamic as a pairing, due to how well they complement each other’s skills.
While Fred Jackson is a tough runner, he does not quite have the ability that Marshawn Lynch has to simply run tacklers over. Prior to his falling out with the front office and his run-ins with the law, Lynch was quickly becoming a fan favorite because of his ability to go into “beast mode” and pummel opposing tacklers. When Lynch hits the hole quickly and gets his shoulders parallel to the line of scrimmage, he is about as difficult as any back in the league to arm tackle. Now Lynch has shown that he will sometimes stutter in the backfield when he has the option to cut back on a running play. This has occasionally resulted in unnecessary negative plays when he has the ball. He also has shown that, while he is a bowling ball running downhill, he also resembles the bowling ball when trying to catch a pass in the open field.
This is where Spiller can be an effective yin to Lynch’s yang. Spiller is more slight of frame than Lynch or Jackson, at just 196 pounds. Where Spiller is effective is outside the tackles. He can be utilitzed in open space and as a receiver, split out or out of the backfield. Spiller’s sub-4.4 speed in the 40 yard dash, and his ability to score touchdowns from anywhere on the field are something the Bills have lacked as long as I can remember. Think of the last Bills’ running back that wouldn’t get caught from behind in the open field…if you’re also having visions of Travis Henry getting chased down by linebackers, you know what I’m talking about. Spiller’s speed and ability to catch the ball gives him the ability to do what Lynch can’t in the Bills’ offense.
This pairing can make the Bills more dynamic in many ways. The Bills can utilize Lynch or Spiller situationally, to exploit the weaknesses in opposing defenses, or even to play together in the same backfield. Head coach Chan Gailey has already said the team has been working on ways to get two running backs on the field together. While Fred Jackson has likely been involved in these backfields in practice, he may not be different enough in his skill set to fully exploit potential mismatches that could be created by a Lynch/Spiller backfield.
Fred Jackson was probably the best player on the Bills last season. He really is a well-rounded back who is also a wonderful story, having worked his way up from tiny Coe College to a starting back in the NFL. Be that as it may, Jackson is already 29 years old, and though he may not have as much tread on the tires as many starting backs, the shelf-life of NFL running backs is notoriously short. There is a concern that both Lynch and Spiller have held themselves out of OTA’s or training camp, and may be behind in terms of their understanding of the offense. There is also legitimate concern that the differences between Lynch and the Bills will be irreconcilable after this season. I just think you couldn’t tailor-make a better complementary backfield than Lynch and Spiller for the next seven years or so for the Bills.