Tuesday October 11th, 2011

Fred Jackson has continued to go underrecognized despite the Bills' hot start. (Richard Mackson/US Presswire)

Is there a better-kept secret in the NFL than Fred Jackson?

The Buffalo running back had nearly 2,600 total yards combined over the past two seasons. He's on pace to nearly match that total this season -- his 712 yards through five games work out to a total of 2,278 over a full season, if he keeps it up.

Yet, the Bills drafted C.J. Spiller in 2010 and plenty of people assumed he would supplant Jackson as the team's No. 1 running back. No dice. At least not yet, with apologies to fantasy football players who reached for Spiller prior to this season.

The Lions may be this NFL season's Cinderella story, but the Bills are working on their own little fairy tale, and Jackson's the centerpiece. (This is where I wanted to dive down the Disney rabbit hole and compare Jackson to "Aladdin," because of their diamond-in-the-rough qualities, but I'm passing.)

Jackson was front and center during the Bills' Week 5 win over Philadelphia. He gashed the Eagles' maligned defense for 111 yards on 26 carries, then tossed in 85 yards receiving to boot. Spiller, meanwhile, had just four touches -- two rushes and two receptions, which makes it pretty clear that the Bills are prepared to ride Jackson as long as they can.

Bills coach Chan Gailey on Jackson's performance last Sunday:

“We were trying to let him run the ball and then there were a bunch of passes that we had where he could get the ball as well,” said Gailey. “We were fortunate to be able to have those different ways where he could get the ball.”

Remember back to the preseason, when Jackson was dropped to No. 2 on the depth chart for a game so Spiller could get some playing time. Jackson was unhappy after that game and said, "I feel like a No. 1 back."

He's acted like it so far this season. Jackson is third in the league in yards rushing at 480 and second in touchdowns with five.

Playing just a few hours east of Foxborough, Mass., and New York, Jackson's been in the huge shadows of the Patriots and Jets. Even as he has put up big numbers, there haven't been a lot of reasons to pay attention to Buffalo -- six straight losing seasons make it difficult to steal national headlines.

Even now, the Bills are still flying under the radar. Philadelphia headed into Week 5 as a favorite, despite sporting a record two games worse than the host Bills.

Sooner or later, if Jackson and his team keep this up, everyone will have to pay attention. Maybe the spotlight will shine on Buffalo over these next few weeks -- the Bills play at the Giants in Week 6, host Washington and the Jets back-to-back in Weeks 8 and 9, then play at Dallas in Week 10.

Win two, three or even all four of those games, and the Bills will go from a nice early-season story to a legit threat in the AFC. And if they somehow manage to pull that off, chances are Jackson will be the one driving the success. He's done it so far, even if no one's really noticed.

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