This post is part of a series entitled State of the Bills Roster, in which we're breaking down and evaluating the Buffalo Bills on a position-by-position basis. If you're confused about the number and letter classification appearing after each player's name, read this post. You can check out all previous installments of this series here.
To this point in the series, we've looked at some incredibly important positions on the field of play, having already examined Buffalo's quarterbacks, offensive tackles, nose tackles and outside linebackers. We'll dial down the positional importance today as we discuss the Bills' running backs.
This was a position that looked very different at the end of the 2010 season than it did when it started. Marshawn Lynch was flipped to Seattle for two draft picks after Week 4, Fred Jackson became the team's full-time back, and C.J. Spiller went from Week 1 starter to barely used to semi-effective by year's end. When all is said and done, however, this position still has a defined direction and quite a bit of talent.
Our look at Buffalo's running back position lies after the jump.
Right now, the Bills have five running backs in their organization.
Fred Jackson (2-B). In Buffalo's first four games, with Lynch still on the roster, Jackson toted the rock a total of 20 times. By the time the season ended, he'd gained 1,142 total offensive yards, scored seven touchdowns (second on the team to Stevie Johnson's 10), and become an integral part of Buffalo's pass protection schemes, as he had a very good year picking up the blitz. Though he's about to turn 30, he's still only logged 783 total touches in his four-year NFL career, and doesn't appear to be slowing down in the least. He'll enter the 2011 season as the team's unquestioned every-down tailback.
C.J. Spiller (3-D). To say that Spiller's rookie season was a disappointment would be a mild understatement. Brought in to "bring excitement" to the team and have an instant impact, Spiller did so in just one game, when he caught a touchdown pass and returned a kickoff 95 yards for another score in a Week 3 loss to New England. Those would be his only two touchdowns of the season, as he rushed for just 283 yards, added 157 receiving yards, and missed two games due to injury. Spiller's speed was always NFL-ready, but his overall game clearly was not. Chan Gailey believes Spiller will be put to better use in 2011, but he's got a ways to go in the eyes of fans before he'll even begin to justify his No. 9 overall selection last April.
Quinton Ganther (4-F). Added mid-season after the Lynch trade and some minor injuries killed the team's depth, Ganther saw most of his time on special teams, logging nine carries for 18 yards in eight games with the Bills. He's only 27 years old, but if he's kept around, it'll be for his special teams ability and reliability as a third back. There's not a ton of upside here.
Jehuu Caulcrick (4-F). Caulcrick made for a nice story when the Western New York native was added to the 53-man roster. He saw very little action, carrying the ball just once, and while the team likes his versatility as a runner and blocker, he's clearly on the roster fringe entering the off-season.
Corey McIntyre (3-E). Gailey and GM Buddy Nix like McIntyre so much - as a blocker, as a specialist and as a locker room presence - that the team gave him a two-year contract extension before the 2010 season even began. As the season wore on, his role become predominantly on kick coverage - where he's very effective - as Gailey used a fullback less and less offensively.
Contract situations to monitor: Jackson, who will turn 30 on February 20, is entering the penultimate year in the four-year deal he signed in May of 2009. Ganther will be a free agent this off-season, and could be re-signed for his special teams work.
Outlook: In Jackson and Spiller, the Bills have a defined direction at this position. Gailey loves Jackson's versatility, and he's convinced that the team will find better ways to use Spiller as he enters his second season in the league. The team made a commitment to McIntyre as its blocking back of choice, though he was not used frequently as the season wore on and the team used frequent spread looks. Finding a third back will be a priority, though the team may see fit to re-sign Ganther and use him as the primary backup in Jackson's "all everything" role.
Possible Acquisition: An upgrade at the third running back, where Ganther still provides some youth, but not a ton of upside. However, it's not a lock that the team will seek this upgrade, or at least place any sort of urgent priority around it.