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Spotlight: Fred Jackson

posted by Mark Wimer on Aug 6th


Mark Wimer's thoughts

Would you draft a fantasy running back who has played in every game over the past three years, who has a career average of 4.4 yards per carry and a career average of 8.0 yards per reception, with a top-24 finish among fantasy backs in each of the past two years? What if I told you he posted 1,433 total yards from scrimmage during 2009 and 1,142 total yards from scrimmage during 2010? I'm pretty sure you would draft him as one of your starters, and so would I.

The above is why fantasy owners should be happy to add Fred Jackson as their #2 fantasy running back during 2011. He's a dual-threat back who has accumulated 648/2,860/10 rushing and 136/1,093/4 receiving during his four-year NFL career. All this, despite being teamed with players drafted in premium rounds (Marshawn Lynch was drafted 12th overall in 2007; C.J. Spiller was selected with the 9th overall pick in 2010). The undrafted Jackson out of Coe College has proven to be the most productive Buffalo back the last two seasons with 238/1,062/2 rushing and 46/371/2 receiving during 2009 and 222/927/5 rushing and 31/215/2 receiving last season. Last year, he was handicapped by one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL - yet he still posted a respectable 4.2 yards per carry on the year.

To put it simply, Fred Jackson has posted solid fantasy numbers in less-than-optimum conditions. He is a fiery, spirited player who has the advantage of playing on an improving offensive unit.

How is the Buffalo offense improving?

Well, now that QB Ryan Fitzpatrick has won the top job in Buffalo, the Bills will begin 2011 with stability on the offense for the first season in a long time. Steve Johnson provides the passing attack with a true #1 WR, something that Lee Evans never managed to become, and Evans/Roscoe Parrish/David Nelson/Marcus Easley provide some quality depth behind Johnson at wide receiver, and they have complementary skill sets to provide some nice three-wide alignments. Teams won't be able to crowd the line of scrimmage and not pay the consequences with Fitzpatrick slinging the ball around, which should allow more room for Jackson to roam. The team drafted OL Chris Hairston, a 6'6", 326-pound specimen from Clemson in the fourth round of the NFL draft, one of only two picks used on offense this year, and also added depth at running back with Johnny White, a 5'10", 209-pound running back from North Carolina. Tyler Thigpen gives the team a quality #2 QB familiar with Chan Gailey, providing insurance in case of a Fitzpatrick injury.

They aren't the Colts yet, but the Bills' offense is heading in the right direction.
If the team can improve on its league-worst finish of only six rushing TDs last year (mostly due to ineptitude on the offensive line), then Jackson's numbers should head further in the right direction this season, too. There is nowhere to go but up in the rushing-TD department, friends. Reports during the offseason indicated that the Bills intend to give Jackson most of the work handling inside carries during 2011 - that would include most of the goal-line work, obviously.

Positives

  • Jackson is the lead back on an improving offense
  • Jackson is likely to handle most of the goal-line work for Buffalo this year
  • Jackson catches enough footballs for him to have enhanced value in PPR leagues

Negatives

  • C.J. Spiller is still around and he's being highly paid, so the Bills will have to find a role for Spiller - Jackson is likely the senior member of this committee, but it is still a committee
  • The Bills' offensive line is in need of improvement, and so far during free agency the team has stood pat with their existing personnel
  • The Bills play in a very tough division and will have to deal with the Jets, Dolphins and Patriots twice this year (third-, seventh- and eleventh-ranked rush defenses during 2010 in yards allowed per game)

Final thoughts

Jackson is a good bet for solid RB#2 production during 2011. Though he may share a backfield with Spiller, he looks like the guy best positioned to score the bulk of Buffalo's TDs and to handle a majority of the carries for the Bills. I have him slotted at #19 on my redraft RB board (#18 PPR), which is among the most optimistic rankings of the Footballguys - the consensus opinion on him is #28 among fantasy running backs as of 8/6/11.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

Iwannabeacowboybaby! said:

Here's a surprising stat: Fred Jackson has rushed for just about 2000 yards and played in 32 games in the NFL the past 2 seasons. Fred Jackson has been a guy who you can acquire on the cheap due to RB draft picks by the Bills but Jackson's numbers speak for themself. Jackson is a guy who will never have the value he deserves so trying to trade him for a higher profile type player won't usually work but he'll put up decent numbers and make for a solid flex and spot player as your No. 2 RB.

IHEARTFF said:

Pretty hard to imagine C.J. Spiller not getting significantly more than the 74 carries he got last year. Jackson had 222. I'm guessing Spiller will double his total to near 150 and cut into Jackson's 3rd down time & receptions also. I see this being a 50/40/10 type committee, with Jackson maybe getting a bit more than half of touches.

FF Ninja said:

This is the same regime that drafted him [Spiller] #9 overall.

I'm not trying to make a case for Spiller. I'm still on the fence as far as Buffalo goes, but to write Spiller off like that does not seem wise. Someone on this staff wanted him more than other positions of need, so I expect they'll find a way to use him in year two. Given that there were only 347 fairly unproductive (4.0 ypc) RB rushing attemps, nobody is very enticing here unless some strange series of events leads to one player becoming a bell cow. It is feasible that both backs end up with less than 200 carries.

Jackson is currently RB28 and Spiller is RB34. I like Gailey as an OC, so if one of these guys clicks then you're probably looking at RB15 upside, but my money is on a split. Maybe these guys marginally outperform their draft position, but I'd rather roll the dice on Ryan Grant (RB27), Marshawn Lynch (RB29), or even wait a bit and take Beanie Wells (RB40).

FantasyMan said:

Fred Jackson continues to be undervalued in fantasy because he's not flashy and the Bills are bad, and he continues to produce as a RB2 for those savvy enough to realize his talents. Spiller isn't a threat to him and Lynch is gone. As pointed out earler, once the Bills were done showcasing Lynch and he was traded, Jackson put up good numbers for the Bills the rest of the way (averaging 88yds/game) as he has every time he's been the guy there.


Fred Jackson projections

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Mark Wimer24510507453602
Message board consensus2189185322251