Fantasy Arbitrage: Action Jackson vs Gore the Bore

Pat Thorman examines how Steven Jackson's rapid ascent up draft boards is draining his fantasy upside, while Frank Gore offers comparable production and excellent value two rounds later.

| 2 years ago

Pat Thorman examines how Steven Jackson's rapid ascent up draft boards is draining his fantasy upside, while Frank Gore offers comparable production and excellent value two rounds later.

Fantasy Arbitrage: Action Jackson vs Gore the Bore

A fantasy owner’s decision making is often impacted by the lure of the unknown. We covet upside, and for good reason. This is why many unproven players are over drafted each year and “boring” veterans tend to fall, no matter how proven of a commodity they represent.

It is quite the rare occurrence when a historically reliable player finds himself in a new situation that seemingly unlocks immeasurable potential. What could be better than a melding of the steady with the heady? That is the question being asked by a growing legion of Steven Jackson owners who appear bent on pushing his average draft position (ADP) into the first round.


It is a notable leap for someone chosen, on average, in the late second or early third round in 2012. Jackson finished as the 16th highest scoring fantasy running back, ironically just ahead of Michael Turner, the guy he will replace in Atlanta. His rapid ADP ascent began just before he signed with the Falcons on March 14th, at which time it was in the middle of the fifth round.

Many in the fantasy community are drooling over the prospects of Jackson adding to his usual production the 10 rushing touchdowns scored by Turner in 2012. Six more scores (Jackson had four) would have pushed his point total to just outside the top 10 fantasy running backs. It is being widely assumed that he will duplicate Turner’s touchdown output while operating in Atlanta’s offense, as well as increase his all-purpose yards along the way.

The issue here is that his headlong sprint up draft boards, something that will probably continue as his bandwagon swells and casual fans begin drafting, is gobbling up value like Turner inhaling a bacon-wrapped sausage. The higher he is chosen, the more he needs to produce to justify that ADP, and his value margin dwindles as a result.

On the other hand we have 49ers veteran Frank Gore. Actually that hand is very much the same, but is not covered by a shiny new Falcons glove. Gore was the 10th highest scoring back in fantasy last season, offering excellent value based on his 42nd place ADP. His current ADP, which is slowly falling, places him as the 16th rusher chosen and 23rd player overall.

Aside from respective levels of preseason buzz, Jackson and Gore have plenty in common. Both will be 30 years old by training camp. Both have battled injury prone labels during their career yet still average 14.5 games played per season (14.55 for Jackson). Gore has missed 12 games in eight seasons (zero in the last two years, including playoffs), and Jackson has missed 13 in nine seasons (one during the last two years). Note the similarity of their rate statistics in the table below, from both their career and 2012 performances.


Ru Att (Car.)

Yd/Ru (Car.)

Yd/Ru (‘12)

Rec (Car.)

Yd/Rec (Car.)

Yd/Rec (’12)















There is some difference in Gore’s favor, but nothing to really write home about. Will Jackson’s move to Atlanta separate the two by so much that one deserves a first round selection and the other a third?

The offensive lines that the two will be running behind do not even begin to compare. The 49ers arguably boast the league’s best blocking unit. The Falcons, well, they do not. San Francisco was ranked first in the league by PFF in run blocking during the 2012 season with a +150.4 grade, while Atlanta ranked 26th with a -13.6 mark. Jackson ran behind the 25th ranked run blocking team last year in St. Louis (-5.2), so he will probably feel right at home.

We know the narrative that claims a top passing game prevents teams from stacking eight or more defenders in the box is a myth, even though it has been parroted often when discussing Jackson this preseason. Either way, Jackson faced eight or more defenders in the box 23.9 percent of the time – 16th most often. That falls behind Turner’s 25.2 percent, and far behind Gore’s league leading 42.6 percent mark.

Their respective opportunity level is often mentioned when differentiating the two. The backfield in Atlanta certainly appears less crowded than the one in San Francisco, and the Niners do have more recognizable names. Kendall Hunter, a favorite of many sharp football minds, has had positive OTA reports just seven months after rupturing his Achilles. LaMichael James showed plenty of explosiveness down the stretch in 2012, if nothing else than as a promising third down back. Anthony Dixon is still serviceable, and they spent a pick on Marcus Lattimore just two months ago.

A closer examination reveals that none of those players pose a meaningful threat to Gore’s leading role. Hunter can claim he plans to be 100 percent by training camp all he wants, but the history of ruptured Achilles is a dicey one – especially less than a year removed from the injury. James should pick up some of Hunter’s touches early on, but he also now has return duties on his plate and will at most nibble at Gore’s workload. Dixon is on the roster bubble, and Lattimore will not play in 2013 after shredding his knee during a dislocation disaster eight months ago. Gore has seen the specter of potential usurpers to his role before, and 2013 is not appreciably different.

Jackson does not have nearly as many flies buzzing around him in the running back room now that he is in Atlanta and has escaped the steaming pile of a Rams backfield. He does, however, need to contend with one of the better pass catching backs in football – Jacquizz Rodgers. Tied with LeSean McCoy as the seventh highest graded passing game back in 2012 by PFF, Rodgers also took more than a quarter of the Falcons’ handoffs last season (26.7%) and was on the field for 28.4 percent of their offensive snaps. That fits nicely with Jackson’s 67.6 percent snap tally from 2012, and is a reasonable approximation of what the Falcons have in mind for the well-worn veteran.

Snap Percentage


















The above table shows how close the two are in terms of percentage of their teams’ snaps taken, and how their workload has been lessened in recent seasons. It is no coincidence that they have enjoyed an extended period of healthy production these past two seasons. They also happen to have performed comparably in fantasy – with virtual ties in 2011 and 2008, Gore taking an upper hand in 2012 and 2009, and Jackson ahead in 2010.

While not playing the every-down workhorse role at this stage of their careers is prudent, it does not jibe with the over-exuberant narrative about Jackson that we have seen. Chances are that being surrounded by better talent will aid his performance to an unknown degree, yet Gore has already been doing relatively more with fewer touches for the 49ers. The problem is that we already know what that constitutes and are apparently bored with it.

As the table below illustrates, Jackson has been fed a larger slice of his offense’s handoff pie over the last five seasons than Gore. It gives a snapshot of their per game rushing attempt averages, followed by what percent of their teams’ total per game rushing attempt average it comprised (in parenthesis). Per game averages were used to account for contests missed due to injury by both backs.








16.1 (62.9%)

17.3 (67.6%)

20.6 (76.9%)

21.6 (84.0%)

21.1 (80.8%)


16.1 (52.2%)

17.6 (56.6%)

18.5 (73.7%)

16.4 (70.1%)

17.1 (69.0%)

If Gore can yield 10th place fantasy totals with barely half of his team’s carries, he seems like a good bet to repeat that performance no matter who he shares touches with – including 16 games worth of dynamic quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Also, while it is reasonable to expect more touchdowns for Jackson with an expected rise in redzone opportunities, it should not be overlooked that his efficiency when in that part of the field has lagged. Since Turner arrived in Atlanta before the 2008 season, he has converted 18.0 percent of redzone ‘looks’ (carries plus targets) into touchdowns. Gore has turned similar opportunities into scores at an 18.1 percent clip over that time. Jackson, however, has only hit paydirt on 22 of his 188 redzone looks (11.7%).

Just for fun, the difference in redzone looks between Jackson and Turner during that time is 106. If Jackson converted 11.7 percent of those extra opportunities into touchdowns (12) and added them to his own 22 scores, he would still fall 19 short of Turner’s total and six shy of Gore’s. Obviously more goes into it, but perhaps Jackson duplicating Turner’s scoring is not the slam-dunk that many assume?

Jackson may well earn back the increasing cost his drafters are incurring as his ADP rises, and it is quite possible that Gore will not out produce him. The point is, however, that the result of the narrative that separates them is the simultaneous killing of Jackson’s value and a boosting of Gore’s.

The 49ers will ride their impending free agent back just as they have in recent years and then, likely, ship him off to the glue factory. We have a pretty good idea of what that will mean for fantasy. The irony of this situation is that we are not really sure of what to expect from Jackson in Atlanta, and it steadily gnaws away at his value as our imaginations get the better of us.

Pat Thorman is a Senior Writer for PFF Fantasy. You can follow him on Twitter at @Pat_Thorman.

  • Dan Schneier

    Great article! Jackson was a PFF favorite in 2012 and as a Falcon I can’t wait to see how high he will be drafted come August.

  • Ryan

    Fantastic article. It seems to me that it is better to draft early, get a top RB and get Gore in the late second round, instead of at the end and nab a duo like Forte and Jackson.

  • Pat

    Thanks guys. Appreciate that very much.
    Looks like a case of runaway offseason hype that is killing a potential value pick. Give me Gore two rounds later!

  • Scott@Seattle

    I think the value pick is Chris Ivory with the Jets. Chris Ivory has always performed when given chances and the Jets offensive line is very good.