Bills RB Jackson gains ground in respect column
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP)
''My wife took me in the fifth round,'' Jackson said, shaking his head in mock frustration while discussing where his wife, Danielle, selected him in a football fantasy draft this year.
''She's in a league with family and friends and told them not to touch me,'' Jackson said. ''But I told her I'm not going to continue to sit there while she's skipping over me.''
It wouldn't be the first time Jackson's been skipped over. Not that getting ignored has ever stopped him.
The Division III Coe College product, who didn't get a sniff at the NFL until after two years of arena football and a stop in NFL Europe, Jackson has used his head-down, hard-pounding rushing style to bully his way into joining the league's elite tier.
In playing a key role in the Bills' 5-2 start, Jackson's fourth in the league with 721 yards rushing and second with 1,074 yards from scrimmage. And his yards from scrimmage total is more than Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas ever produced through seven games with Buffalo, and second-most in team history behind O.J. Simpson, who had 1,106 in 1975.
It's enough to have Jackson grab a mention as an NFL midseason MVP candidate as the Bills prepare to host the New York Jets (4-3) on Sunday.
And it's enough for Jackson to have finally captured the Bills' attention in regards to re-negotiating the two years left on his contract.
Jackson revealed Wednesday that three weeks ago he received ''some assurance'' from general manager Buddy Nix that the Bills are open to restructuring the deal. Jackson wasn't provided a timetable, but said he has ''faith'' something will be done.
Based on his production, Jackson is vastly underpaid this season, in which his a base salary of $1.75 million makes him the team's 24th highest paid player.
''Hopefully, something happens sooner than later, but I can't control that,'' he said. ''The only thing I can control is what I do on the football field.''
Jackson's been an unstoppable force this season. He's had 100 yards rushing a league-leading five times this season, and is coming off yet another breath-taking performance in which he had 194 yards from scrimmage in a 23-0 win over Washington last weekend.
If quarterback and Harvard graduate Ryan Fitzpatrick is regarded as the brains behind this Bills offensive operation, Jackson has been the heart.
''As far as Fred Jackson goes, this team will go,'' receiver David Nelson said. ''He's our horse.''
Coach Chan Gailey went one further in saying that in his 37 years of coaching, he's never had a player produce with such consistency.
''He catches, he runs, he protects. He's doing an amazing job,'' Gailey said. ''We wouldn't be where we are without him.''
Fitzpatrick has begun paying tribute by wearing a Jackson T-shirt being sold around Buffalo. It features an illustration of Jackson and the words ''FredEx Delivers'' across the chest.
''If you want to crown an MVP, the guy that really gets this thing going is Fred,'' Fitzpatrick said.
As much as it seems like Jackson has burst out of the blue, it's been a long and winding road for someone who's put up remarkable numbers at each stop.
He went undrafted despite a senior season at Coe College - Bills Hall of Fame coach Marv Levy's alma mater - in which he had 1,702 yards and 29 touchdowns. And he was a star with the U.S. Indoor Football League Sioux City Bandits, where during his second season, Jackson had 3,440 all-purpose yards and 54 touchdowns, including one passing.
Rob Hanrahan, the Bills pro personnel coordinator, recalled in 2005 when he and then-fellow scouting assistant Kevin Meganck first watched a grainy video of Jackson's arena league highlights. His performance was good enough to get him a tryout and eventually a spot in NFL Europe.
And yet, Hanrahan never envisioned Jackson would be this good.
''He capitalized on the opportunity and he's never looked back,'' he said. ''He took advantage of everything he got, and he's earned everything he's got.''
Hanrahan credits Jackson's perseverance, because it's the rare player who reaches the NFL in this fashion, let alone makes such an impact.
''He's kind of like a needle in the haystack,'' Hanrahan said. ''I'm grateful we've got him here.''
Jackson didn't know what his future held - the Canadian Football League, perhaps - had the Bills not contacted him.
''If I don't get that phone call, I didn't think the NFL was possible,'' he said. ''I put up ridiculous numbers in that (arena) league, and there was no way I could top what I did that year.''
Now he's putting up eye-popping numbers in the NFL in helping both the Bills and, yes, his wife's fantasy team, even though he was the second running back Danielle drafted behind Atlanta's Michael Turner.
''She told me she's happy she got me,'' Jackson said. ''She's in first place right now, and she said it's because of me. So I want half of the winnings, then.''