The Buffalo Bills are taking care of their own. They have signed running back Fred Jackson to a two-year extension to the year he had remaining on his previous contract.
Jackson's average salary more than doubles during the extension, rising to about $4.5 million a year. According to the Buffalo News story I have linked, it, that salary could escalate to about $10.7 million for the two new years if he hits certain incentives.
That's not bad for a 31-year old running back who suffered a fractured fibula last season. Many an NFL team would have released or at least marginalized a player in the same situation.
Jackson played at Coe College in Cedar Rapids. News of his new contract today got me wondering where Jackson would rank among Iowa collegians who have played running back in the NFL. The short answer is this: Pretty darn high.
First, let me give you Jackson's numbers. Five seasons, 66 games, 38 starts, 3,794 rushing yards, 1,535 receiving yards, 20 touchdowns. His rushing totals the last three seasons were 1,062, 927 and 934. He got a late NFL start because he didn't hook up with an NFL team until he made his Buffalo debut in 2007. He had NFL tryouts out of college that didn't materialize into anything, then spent two years with the Sioux City Bandits of United Indoor Football. In 2006 he played in NFL Europe, and made the Bills' roster in '07.
Jackson has been a mainstay the last three seasons with totals of 2,923 rushing yards and 1,028 receiving yards. Had he not fractured a fibula in his 10th game of last season, he was headed to the Pro Bowl. He had 1,376 total yards in 10 games to rank among the NFL. That average of 137.6 yards per game was topped only by Houston's Arian Foster.
Over the last few years, I have wondered what kind of play Jackson's ascent to NFL stardom would have received in Iowa had he played for the University of Iowa instead of Coe. I think we all know the answer to that question. It's the headline of this post, in fact.
So, who are the best historical running backs among Iowa collegians other than Jackson? The truth is, there aren't many to choose from, and they all played at Iowa. Unless I have a glaring omission, in which case someone will point it out within 30 seconds of this getting posted and I will work on damage control.
Ed Podolak, 1969-1977. Rushed for 4,451 yards and had 2,456 receiving yards in 104 games. His top rushing year was 749 yards in 14 games. But he had something no one else we'll mention here owns, which is one of the greatest postseason performances in American pro sports. He had an NFL playoff-record 350 total yards (85 rushing, 110 receiving, 155 on kick-returns) in his Kansas City Chiefs' 1971 double-overtime playoff loss to the Miami Dolphins.
Ronnie Harmon, 1986-1997. In 181 games, he had 2,774 rushing yards and 6,076 receiving yards, and scored 34 touchdowns. His top rushing season was 544 yards. He was the prototypical third-down back, with almost as many catches in his career as rushes.
Ladell Betts, 2002-2010. In 111 games, he had 3,326 rushing yards. One-third of those (1,154) came in 2006, his only season as his team's No. 1 running back. He also had 1,646 receiving yards, and scored 18 career TDs.
Shonn Greene, 2009-present. Is coming off a 1,054-yard rushing season with the New York Jets. In his three seasons, he has 2,360 yards rushing and 331 receiving over 45 games. He could be the best running back from an Iowa college before his time is done.
Those three played at Iowa. Other former Hawkeye star running backs who never made much of a dent in The League include Tavian Banks, Fred Russell, Albert Young, Owen Gill and Sedrick Shaw.
Nick Bell did score seven touchdowns from the Oakland Raiders, but only played from 1991 to 1993 and never topped 366 rushing yards in a season
Fullback Jim Jensen totaled 876 rushing yards for the Denver Broncos in the 1979 and 1980 seasons and had 377 receiving yards in '80, but did little statistically in the rest of his 6-year NFL career.
The top Iowa State NFL running back is Mike Strachan, 1975-1980. A ninth-round draft pick, Strachan rushed for 668 yards as a rookie. His 62-game totals were 1,902 rushing yards and 392 receiving yards.
UPDATE: Tony Baker of Iowa State had a 9-year NFL career. His career-high was 642 rushing yards in 1969, his second pro season. He also had 354 receiving yards that year. His career rushing total was 2,087 yards.
Troy Davis of Iowa State, who was the Heisman Trophy runner-up in 1996, played from just 1997 to 1999 in the NFL, compiling 681 total yards. He then played eight years in the Canadian Football League, and topped 1,000 yards in four different seasons.
The most-prolific Northern Iowa player when it comes to playing running back in the NFL is Randy Schultz, 1966-1968. He had 301 rushing yards and 220 receiving yards over 31 games.
OK, have I forgotten anyone, from a state school or one of Iowa's other colleges?
Wait, I've got another. Clarence "Pug" Manders of Drake had an NFL-best 486 rushing yards in 1941 for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and rushed for 2,712 yards over 90 games.