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Fallout: Jackson is a Falcon

Thursday, March 14, 2013


It takes a lot for me to get behind a 30-year-old running back with a staggering 2,802 career touches on his resume.

It's going to take a special player, in a special situation, playing for a special team. As a member of the Falcons, Steven Jackson fits that bill.

1. THE PLAYER
Over the last two seasons, Jackson has averaged a healthy 4.23 yards per carry while running behind the Rams' horrendous offensive line. And over the final eight games of last season -- when most older backs really wear down -- Jackson picked it up. He racked up 21.8 touches for 107.7 total yards during that span. We can comfortably say there's plenty of tread left on these tires.

How? It's a credit to Jackson's 6'2/240 frame and the remarkable physical condition he keeps himself in. He's missed just two games over the last four seasons.

2. THE SITUATION
A) Competition: Some will point to Jacquizz Rodgers and suggest a timeshare. Don't be silly. If the Falcons were comfortable with Rodgers, they wouldn't have given an overweight, washed up, inept Michael Turner the ball 222 times last season. They clearly don't trust Rodgers as much more than a change-of-pace option and receiver out of the backfield. On 151 career carries, he's averaged a pathetic 3.75 yards per carry.

So we know Jackson is going be the feature back, at least filling the Turner role. That's the absolute floor.

B) Fantasy football is about touchdowns: Per @LateRoundQB, Jackson got just 27 red-zone touches last year. Turner got 51. Let that sink in for a moment. The Falcons gave Turner the ball in scoring position 51 times and he turned that into 11 touchdowns. Jackson has at least twice more burst, is more likely to break tackles and has better long speed. The Falcons will trust him more in the red-zone and he'll do more with those touches. S-Jax is going to break his previous career-high of 16 touchdowns in a season, set in 2006.

C) Jackson is a pass-catching back in an elite passing offense: When we talk about true three-down plus goal-line runners, Jackson is the prototype. He averages 3.10 catches per game for his career, excelling in both the screen and dump game. It's something that just wasn't in Turner's arsenal.

3. THE TEAM
Jackson's fantasy value has been capped for a long time simply due to the team he played for. The Rams didn't get in the red-zone so he didn't have a chance to score touchdowns. The Rams didn't have a passing game so he faced eight-man boxes far too often. The Rams were always trailing in games so he fell out of the mix. That's all about to change.

The Falcons trio of Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez forces opponents to play both their safeties high. That means actual room to run once Jackson breaks through the line.

We also know that they'll be winning the majority of their games. Largely keeping last year's 13-3 team intact, Jackson will have plenty of clock-killing drives to rack up stats in second halves.

Bottom line: Turner was fantasy's No. 17 running back last season. But where would he have finished if he played for the Rams? Top-40? Maybe. Jackson did play for the Rams and finished 16th. A top-10 ranking for him next year is within reach.


The rest of the fallout:
* The Rams are not expected to add a veteran to their backfield. That means they're prepared to roll with Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead and whatever talent they add via the draft. Richardson is the name everyone remembers from last year, but he wore down badly and averaged just 3.9 YPC over the final eight games of the season. He has a fraction of Pead's natural talent. Although Pead struggled as a raw rookie, he's the one to watch. He has 4.4 wheels at 5'10/197.

* Downgrade Tony Gonzalez and Matt Ryan slightly. The Falcons' go-to play in the red zone many times last year was throw it up to T-Gonz in traffic and hope he comes down with it. That worked for eight scores. In 2013, Jackson will be converting a larger percentage of red-zone carries for touchdowns.

* Downgrade Jacquizz Rodgers: As detailed above, Jackson is an elite athlete that doesn't want to come off the field. It's part of the reason he left St. Louis, the only team he's ever known. Rodgers got 147 touches last year and will be lucky to reach that in 2013.



Adam Levitan is in his sixth season covering football and basketball for Rotoworld. He won the Fantasy Sports Writers Association award for Best Series in 2011 and 2009, and ESPN's overall fantasy football title in 2000. Find him on Twitter.
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