Remember last off-season? Willis McGahee had been traded, Anthony Thomas sat atop the depth chart, Bills fans were drooling over a potential trade for Chargers RB Michael Turner, and we knew without a fraction of a doubt that if we didn't address the position our season would be sunk? What a difference a year makes. Once a position of potentially crippling weakness, running back is now arguably the strongest position on the team.
So let's talk about this bright spot. Here's the breakdown of Buffalo's running backs, and what the group should look like in 2008:
Only two NFL rookies had bigger statistical impacts in 2007 than did Lynch: Vikings RB Adrian Peterson and 49ers LB Patrick Willis. (Notice the use of the word "statistical" - didn't want to get Browns fans riled up over the contributions of OT Joe Thomas.) Displaying much more power and fight than most gave him credit for in scouting reports, Lynch proved that he has the all-around game to be an elite talent at this level - he can run inside, outside, catch the ball, and pick up the blitz. He's the total package. One downside: he led the NFL with 21.5 attempts per game; Buffalo needs to be careful next season not to run their thoroughbred into the ground.
Will Improve in '08 if - he's not asked to run inside as often :: a new coordinator finds a more creative way to get him the ball through the air :: Fred Jackson continues to improve
May have been the surprise of the '07 roster if it weren't for Trent Edwards. Jackson exploded onto the scene during the team's final five games, and finished the season with 300 rushing yards on just 58 attempts. Jackson's style is a bit different from Lynch - Marshawn has a little more wiggle to his running, while Jackson is more of a cutter - but they're similar in that both have the makings of being all-around backs. Buffalo's offense didn't miss a beat when Jackson started in place of the injured Lynch; his role will continue to be expanded next season. A true "diamond in the rough".
Will Improve in '08 if - he can refine his blitz pickup technique :: he's given more of Marshawn's work load :: the Bills use him as a receiver on third downs
Thomas spent much of 2007 as the primary backup to Lynch, but a season-ending ankle injury allowed Jackson to shine and may prove Thomas expendable next season. He was often utilized on third downs early in the season a pass blocker until Lynch learned the ropes, but didn't see much in the way of rush attempts. He's a resourceful, heady veteran, but unless the Bills keep four runners next year, Thomas may be the victim of a youth movement at the position.
The greenest of Buffalo's runners, Wright - a fourth round pick last season - did not see the field too often in '07. When he was on the field, he showed three main skills: a toughness paralleled only by Lynch, resourcefulness paralleled only by Thomas, and a propensity to fumble. He's got talent, but the fact that he was leap-frogged by a former practice squadder shows just how far Wright has to go. He has ability as a fullback on kick return units, and his youth almost assures him a spot on the team; just don't expect to see him carry the ball much next season.
Will Improve in '08 if - he nixes his fumbling issues :: he's given work at the goal line :: he loses some of his rookie reserve and runs even harder
Is only currently on the roster because of the injury to Thomas; he did not see active game action this season. Almost assuredly won't be on the team next season - he may not even get an invite to camp.
A fullback currently on the practice squad. Only chance at being a Bill in '08 is if he flashes special teams ability, and the new offensive coordinator scraps the H-Back.
Don't expect a lot of activity at this position during the coming months. The Bills have a trio of young backs in Lynch, Jackson and Wright that they will most assuredly continue to ride for as long as possible. If they decide to keep four backs, Thomas fits the bill, as he's familiar with Jauron and a great teammate. Unlike 2006, the Bills have incredible stability at the running back position.
Possible Additions: none
Possible Subtractions: Thomas, Williams, Evans