It's probably no secret that Fred Jackson has been a big part of Buffalo's highly productive offense through the first six games in 2011. Most NFL feature backs get a lot of touches each and every week, but few have put up the numbers accumulated by Jackson thus far this season. That's why there has already been talk about Buffalo's lead back being part of the NFL MVP discussion.
"Fred means a lot to us," said Ryan Fitzpatrick. "I think everybody kind of sees that now. He's our guy. He's the guy that we want to get him going running the ball. We get him involved throwing the ball, but whether it's making a few guys miss, breaking tackles and having a three yard run, something that gets us all fired up. Whatever it is he's our guy that we look to. He's our leader. He's that guy that has the fire and inspires us out there. He's done it all year long."
Through the first six weeks of the season Jackson is second in the NFL in rushing yards (601), second in rushing touchdowns (6), second in rushing average (5.7) and is tied for first in the league in runs of 20 yards or more with seven.
That might not be all that surprising for a running back to be productive in that area, but Jackson is equally productive as a receiver. Among NFL running backs, Jackson ranks second in the AFC and sixth in the league in receptions (24), fifth in the league in receiving yards (279) and fourth in receiving average (11.6).
As a result Jackson ranks second in the league in total yards from scrimmage (880) with Chicago's Matt Forte the only player currently outpacing him (908).
"I've always felt like if I get the touches I can lead the league in yards from scrimmage," said Jackson.
"We'll see how it goes. I think if I continue to get the touches I have a great shot at it."
Part of the reason he's been so productive has been his ability to turn in big plays each and every week. Jackson is tied for first in the league with seven rushes of 20 yards or more, including his 43-yard touchdown run against the Raiders in Week 2 and his 80-yard touchdown run last week against the Giants. He's also tied for first in the league among running backs with three catches of 25 yards or more.
"When he gets the ball in his hand he's going to do something special with it," said Fitzpatrick.
Jackson takes great pride in his versatility.
"I've been able to do that since my college career," he said. "It was one of the things I started early when I got to college and I was a big Marshall Faulk fan. The things he was able to do being split out as a wide receiver. That's kind of where I tried to take my game from, being able to stay on the field in all situations. Being a running back you want to be on the field as much as possible and you do that by being able to run routes and taking advantage of linebackers in coverage."
That versatility also gives head coach Chan Gailey the freedom to insert Jackson into any offensive situation he draws up no matter how the week to week game plans may change.
"I don't think we have to create things for Fred," said Gailey. "I think you plug him in wherever you need him and he performs and makes the plays. He can be a receiver. He can protect. He can run the football obviously. He is such a versatile football player. It really is easy to have him because he doesn't restrict you in any way. There are some people that restrict you. He restricts you in no way shape or form."
And if the opportunities with the ball continue for Jackson the numbers indicate it would be hard to keep him from leading the league in several offensive categories by season's end.