Will Wright, others see more playing time? (Photo Source)
Let's suppose that come September, the Buffalo Bills will be without running back Marshawn Lynch for an extended period of time. That's not close to being out of the question, as the second-year pro's off-field troubles (hit and run accident) could land him multiple misdemeanor charges; NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell may be compelled to hand out a suspension even if Lynch lands a plea deal.
Lynch might face charges in hit and run [Buffalo News]
Buffalo police threaten Bills RB Lynch with obstruction of justice [CBC Sports]
The Bills would do well in this scenario to prepare for the worst, and the worst is a lengthy suspension for Buffalo's running back. While we keep our fingers and toes crossed that Lynch can avoid disciplinarian action from the NFL (learn your lesson, Marshawn), we can also discuss Buffalo's contingency plan at the running back position.
Jackson starts, but can he score?
Buffalo had good luck in 2007 when its top two running backs, Lynch and Anthony Thomas, were on the shelf with injuries. That's when Fred Jackson - a former undrafted free agent out of Division III Coe College - emerged onto the NFL scene with solid performances in Bills wins over the Washington Redskins and Miami Dolphins. More than a fantasy for Freddy Jackson [Niagara Gazette]
Jackson performed admirably and became an integral part of Buffalo's offense - he notched 78 touches over the final seven weeks of the season in mostly backup duty - but the one thing he never did was score a touchdown. Jackson has proven that when he's starting he can move the chains, both on the ground and through the air, but he hasn't proven that he can put the ball in the end zone.
That's where Buffalo's two young reserves come in. Second-year man Dwayne Wright struggled as a rookie, but did show an ability to make tough runs and break tackles (though he'd usually fumble shortly thereafter). If Jackson were to struggle to score, Wright would almost certainly see short-yardage and goal line work - though he'll get a push from rookie sixth-round pick Xavier Omon. A Division II record-setting running back, Omon is not as tough as Wright, but is tough enough to handle those duties and shows outstanding cutting ability for a man his size. However, he's got a long way to go before he can make an impact at the NFL level, as he's facing quite the talent jump.
Are there outside sources that could help?
Supposing Lynch is suspended - and again, that's not quite a certainty at this point - the Bills will very likely keep four running backs on the roster. That means good things for Jackson, Wright and Omon, and in all likelihood, the Bills would rely on their young depth to get them through any disciplinary action Lynch may incur.
But if the team did not feel comfortable going into a significant chunk of their season with inexperience at a key offensive position, there are veteran options available. Former Bill Travis Henry was released by Denver this past week, and although he's a gigantic character risk, he'd be a productive short-term replacement. Former Lion Kevin Jones and former Seahawk and NFL MVP Shaun Alexander are available as well; the Raiders are also shopping veteran LaMont Jordan on the trade market.
If Lynch misses time, the Bills have options at running back. Obviously, none are as appealing as Lynch, however. Keep those fingers and toes crossed, Bills fans - not only that Lynch avoids missing major time, but that Jackson and others are up to the task should they need to replace him.