Though the 2009 season saw the Buffalo Bills finish with an incredibly disappointing 6-10 record - followed by a good old-fashioned house cleaning - there were bright spots amongst the darkness of the past four months. No single person in the Bills organization shone brighter in 2009 than running back Fred Jackson, who is quickly becoming a household name.
Jackson, who will turn 29 in February, set career highs in rushing attempts (237), yards (1,062), receptions (46), reception yards (371) and total touchdowns (5) this season, his third in the NFL. His story is moving toward local legend status: Jackson is a Division III product out of Coe College that cut his teeth with the Sioux City Bandits, an indoor football team. His climb to NFL prominence has been fascinating to behold.
No. 22 did it all for Buffalo in 2009. On top of his solid rushing and receiving totals, Jackson returned 41 kickoffs for 1,014 yards as the team's primary kick returner. He returned six punts for 69 yards. He threw a touchdown pass out of the Wildcat formation to Lee Evans in a Week 10 loss to Tennessee, giving him passing, rushing and receiving scores on the season.
It was plain to everyone who watched him this year that Jackson was Buffalo's MVP, by a wide margin. What few still understand is that Jackson's 2009 season was one of the most prolific in NFL history from an all-purpose yardage standpoint.
Jackson's 2,516 all-purpose yards were the most by any NFL player this year. They were also the highest total the NFL has seen since 2002, and the fourth-highest total in NFL history. Jackson's all-purpose yardage was the highest total in franchise history. The second-highest total belongs to O.J. Simpson, although Chet Mutryn of the AAFC's version of the Buffalo Bills gained 2,288 yards in 1948. Jackson became the first player in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards and return kicks for 1,000 yards in the same season.
Two other players this year - Cleveland's Josh Cribbs and Tennessee's Chris Johnson - put up monstrous all-purpose yardage totals as well, with Cribbs putting up the fifth-highest total in league history (2,510) and Johnson sixth (2,509). These are two players that are considered elite playmakers at the NFL level - Johnson, in particular, is a dominant force, scoring 26 total touchdowns in his first two seasons in the league - but Jackson deserves mention as well. He's not flashy, but no one can deny that he gets the job done at highly productive levels.
There are days where even I think Jackson is a touch overrated by the Bills' fan base. Truth be told, he isn't. He's every bit as valuable and productive as the most crushing optimists make him out to be. Respect him, folks - Jackson's earned it.
All statistics presented come via Pro-Football-Reference.com.