There comes a time in a man’s life when his career journey has descended towards its culmination. The ladder years of life stretching upwards of ages ranging in the 50′s-60′s for most, but if that mans profession is NFL running back then that age rapidly freefalls to his late 20′s-early 30′s.
The shelf life of your typical running back is minimal, and the average retirement age is the same as Steven Jackson currently is entering his 10th season in the league, 30. Running backs have the shortest lifespan of any position in the NFL by a two year margin. With this in mind, we are all very intrigued to see the amount of tread SJax has remaining with the accumulation of miles he has sustained throughout his career. 2,395 carries in 131 games has definitely taken its toll, but can such an extravagant specimen overcome the test of father time? This season will tell, but I’ve delved into the trenches to help decipher some insight on what we can blindly expect.
SJax has been nothing less than a model of consistency throughout his nine year career that has been unfortunately endured entirely within the St. Louis Rams organization. He has managed to string together eight straight seasons of 1,000+ yards on a team that has been mediocre at best. The Rams never once finished above .500 with SJax in the backfield, but his scenery has obtained a drastic makeover. Welcome to your new home Mr. Jackson, Atlanta. Five straight winning seasons and running for the Falcons, and they’re coming off a sizzling 13-3 year in which they were yards away from reaching the Super Bowl.
The promise of a winning team alone is enough to revitalize the spirits and determination that had to be dwindling away in The Lou. He could very well be the missing link within an offense that already beholds an exceptional aerial attack. Pairing him with Matt Ryan in his prime, and one last ride with the combination of Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez could prove to be essential to Jackson’s success this season.
I took a look back at the previous three seasons that the far-less talented Michael Turner had with the Atlanta Falcons. I elected to only venture three years back because of the age difference and change in offensive personnel.
The biggest factor I take out of Turner’s production isn’t even displayed in the three seasons above, but his touchdown totals over the entire five years he was in Atlanta. Never once finishing with less than double-digit touchdowns is quite a feat, but when you play within a productive offense the opportunity is abundant. Those touchdown statistics are astounding because SJax has only finished with more than ten in that category once, 2006. In fact, he has only averaged a mere five touchdowns per season over the last six years.
Opportunity is the name of the game, and Turner had plenty of it over the past three years. During this time span Turner accumulated 102 carries inside the ten yard line, as opposed to Jackson’s measly 43. It is not like Jackson is an inefficient goal line back who wasn’t able to produce in St. Louis. It is easy to point out that Jackson’s team just wasn’t putting him in position to rack up the quick six points. The inconsistent play of the team around him, and lack of weapons throughout the offenses he has been part of has been lackluster. Even the declining and ever so plodding Turner finished with the second most carries inside the five yard line last season, 22. That is astonishing when you consider that total is more than half of what SJax has seen inside the ten yard line over a three year span.
Turner had 50 carries inside the 5 yard line over the last two seasons; that is 5 more carries than Arian Foster has even had. Yes, you read that correctly. The sluggish Turner had more opportunity than Mr. Goal Line himself since the start of 2011. Turner only had a 32% touchdown percentage on those carries, yet still netted 16 touchdowns. Open the flood gates of opportunity for Mr. Jackson.
If you take his production with the Rams last season and add the additional six touchdowns Turner accumulated in comparison to his four in 2012, and stack them on top of Jackson’s standard point total from last year, he would’ve finished only 1.1 shallow points behind Ray Rice. This would’ve put him nearly 4 points higher than C.J. Spiller’s total and placed him as RB7 at seasons end. That total is also assuming Jackson won’t be any more effective for the Falcons as far as rushing yards, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns than he was for the Rams in 2012. This isn’t very far-fetched people, and I think we need to start opening our eyes to the possibilities.
Jackson will also be a much larger factor in the passing game than Turner ever was. Turner netted his highest reception total of his career last season, 19. That is the exact number of receptions SJax totaled during his least productive season; which happened to be his rookie year amidst minimal playing time. He has averaged 45 catches/season throughout his career, and I don’t expect him to fall short of that consistency. Word out of Falcons camp is that ATL is lining him up all over the field to help create mismatches against linebackers.
Jackson is even on record stating “It reminds me of my younger years in St. Louis when I was used more as a receiver out of the backfield.”
This versatility will not only aid the production of SJax, but the overall effectiveness of the playbook. It was a tell-tale sign that Atlanta was going to run majority of the time with Turner in the backfield last season, and vice-versa when Jacquizz Rodgers was in the game. An added element of surprise comes into play with the multi-talented Jackson being capable of doing damage on the ground and through the air. This will make it extremely difficult for opposing defenses to gauge what the Falcons are scheming inside the red zone with such a talented receiving corps and capable quarterback surrounding him.
It is simple to point out the obvious reasons why SJax is in the lucrative position to succeed, but the deterring factors can’t be easily overlooked. The strongest argument most have against him is his age, and I can’t argue him not being able to grow younger. Sharing the same birthday – July 22 – as myself doesn’t mean I can relate to Jackson’s situation, because I’m only 29 and have another year before that dreaded 30 years old. There is just one minor difference in our physiques, and that is the superhero build SJax has been able to carry through his 20′s.
“This gloom and doom of a 30-year old running back, I haven’t felt it. And if I do feel it, I’ll truck right through it.” Those are confident words coming from the old man himself, and who is going to argue that statement?
If you haven’t noticed, not many running backs have the stature of a linebacker. Standing at 6’3″ and about 229 lbs, Jackson is anything but fragile. It is also no secret he has continued to physically thrive as a workout warrior and stay in peak condition as he surpasses his youth.
Mike Smith is aware of his running back’s age, but had this to say about Jackson, “He’s almost 30, but in a 22 year olds body.”
Apparently the wear and tear over the past nine seasons hasn’t taken as much of a toll as we’ve all anticipated. Jackson was able to improve his 63 yds/gm over the first half of last season to 107 yds/gm as the second half of the year progressed. 29 year old running backs shouldn’t be capable of that type of incline, and especially not amongst a sub-par football team.
Managing to maintain a low-end RB1-RB2 status on that abysmal team for years speaks for itself. He finished no lower than RB16 throughout his nine seasons with the Rams. You’d have to think that his opportunity alone is going to keep him in the relevance of that range. Considering his ADP is placing him as the 14th running back off the board only makes rostering him that more valuable. It is not like there is a plethora of running back talent floating around the RB2 range, and why not grab a guy as your second back who could conceivably put up RB1 numbers?
The only other logical stance of skepticism surrounding Jackson is the question marks on the offensive line. Losing Todd McClure to retirement and Tyson Clabo - fifth-best RT in 2012 per Pro Football Focus – to the Dolphins doesn’t help the cause. After these losses Atlanta faced devastation losing Mike Johnson to a season-ending injury. Hopefully moving Peter Konz to Center will sew up the opening left by McClure, and their third-round pick in 2012, Lamar Holmes, can establish himself as a legitimate RT in replacement of Clabo. Growing pains were evident during the initial preseason game, but the offense seemed to fair much better during their second outing as Jackson was able to compile 42 yards on 8 carries.
The balance of such an impactful aerial attack should keep defenses honest, and divert stacked attention in the box from Jackson. There isn’t a much better situation he would’ve been able to walk into and be plugged in as the workhorse.
For all you nay-sayers who are still all caught up in the weary age of 30 and physical decline, I decided to pay a little visit to our friends over at RotoViz and put use to the exceptional RB Sim Score App. I plugged in 30 yrs old/229 lbs/16 gms/15 carries per game/70 yds per game/.6 TDs per game/25 rec yds per game, and here is what I found:
*Keep in mind SJax has averaged 77.4 yds/gm over the course of his career, and .6 TDs/gm would leave him just shy of 10 touchdowns.
LaDainian Tomlinson is tough company to contend with, but Jackson has proven himself as an elite talent throughout the majority of his career. LT’s 1,110 rush yds, 11 rushing touchdowns, 52 receptions, 411 rec. yds, and 1 rec. touchdown nets about 276 PPR points. Those 276 points last season would’ve landed him behind only Adrian Peterson, Doug Martin, and Arian Foster. Can we just assume Jackson will be just as productive as LT at the age of 30? Of course we can’t, but these statistics are derived for comparison.
It is key to point out that the 2008 San Diego Chargers were a much less dominant team as far as the run-game is concerned than in previous years. The Chargers dropped from 7th to 20th in rushing YPG from 2007-2008. They displayed a lack of physicality across their offensive line, and didn’t leave many openings for LT to work with.
Even Ricky Williams’ totals in 2009 netted about 249 PPR points. This would put him just inside the Top 10 ahead of Jamaal Charles, and right behind Trent Richardson in 2012. Williams was also 32, and I believe SJax at the age of 30 is an obvious superior talent than Williams was at that point.
The Dolphins also finished 2009 with a 7-9 record, obtained mediocre quarterback play from Chad Henne, and had no stand-out receiving threats to speak of. Throw in the fact they had a guy by the name of Ronnie Brown; who stole 147 carries from the ‘Phins backfield that year.
I didn’t preach all of this information in hopes of swaying drafters to consider Jackson as a first-round talent this year, but I believe I have opened some eyes to the value he could garner as your RB2. He is the active NFL rushing leader with 10,138 yards, and I expect him to build on that number by at least 1,000 yards this upcoming season.
With his 2012 season with the Rams being his floor, and I believe 10+ touchdowns being a reality; there is no reason you should be passing on this soon-to-be ageless wonder over the likes of inconsistent RB2′s, and unknown rookie/young emerging running backs when it comes to redraft. Top 10 status is easily within his reach, and I fully expect his consistent career to continue with an added plus. There is little doubt in anyone’s mind that the Atlanta Falcons are playoff bound in 2013, and with Steven Jackson as your RB2, you could very well be on your way there too…draft wisely my friends.
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