Note: the Buffalo Rumblings "Unsung Heroes" series continues today with a look at Bills RB Anthony Thomas. Previous Heroes: LB Keith Ellison.
Is the A-Train Forgotten?
It's been quite an off-season in Buffalo as far as the running back position goes, with a lot of headlines made nationally. First the team traded Willis McGahee to Baltimore, which left national "experts" scratching their heads. The Draft then brought two rookies in Marshawn Lynch and Dwayne Wright who carry pretty heavy expectations in their first seasons. The potential of these two players has many Bills fans envisioning a long-term "Thunder and Lightning" backfield in Buffalo.
Lost amongst the shuffle was the quiet re-signing of veteran Anthony Thomas, whose first season in Buffalo was anything but spectacular. Despite the necessity of a big season from Lynch, it isn't a stretch to say that the A-Train is the most valuable running back on the Bills' roster right now.
Last season, Thomas proved his worth with this team by capably filling in for Willis "Oh God I'm going to throw up so I can eat Quizno's on the sideline" McGahee during the three games McGahee missed. In those three starts (vs. GB, @ Ind, @ Hou), Thomas ran 67 times for 260 yards (3.9 average) and a TD, while also catching 8 passes for 39 yards. Obviously these numbers aren't close to world-breaking, but he did allow the team to maintain its offensive continuity while McGahee faked injuries on the sideline.
What likely isn't a coincidence is what happened during this three-game stretch. Those three games, especially the Houston game, were the "coming of age" for J.P. Losman, so to speak. After Losman torched Houston, he finished the season on a roll; having the A-Train in the lineup was the likely catalyst. Why?
Good at the "Little Things"
As talented as McGahee was, he was never close to being an all-around back. The fact that the A-Train could do more for the Buffalo offense speaks volumes about McGahee's overall abilities; that's beside the point at the moment. Thomas is widely regarded as a great pass protector who is extremely adept at picking up the blitz. He chips defensive ends, runs playfakes well, is a good lead blocker in the wedge on kick returns, and has solid hands as a receiver. This wide variety of skills made him a more important teammate last year than McGahee will ever hope to be in the rest of his career. That's why one is gone, and one is still with us.
In short, Buffalo isn't going anywhere this season without the A-Train playing a prominent role. He'll never be a guy who can carry a full load, but he's such a valuable teammate that does a little of everything that it's impossible not to keep him around. It's likely that the Bills will be using Lynch and Wright often, but Thomas will see his fair share of carries as well; he'll also be the leader of that group. Stats don't tell the whole story with Anthony Thomas, which is why he is Unsung Hero number two in our series.
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