Fantasy Reaction: Steven Jackson Signs With Atlanta
Steven Jackson has found a new home in Atlanta. Since the beginning of this offseason, Jackson’s primary interest was finding a team that would allow him to be the “bell cow” (in his own words) and not a secondary player in a committee attack. Jackson opted out of a $7 million salary with the Rams, a team he had grown comfortable with since being drafted there nine seasons ago. Instead, he settled for less annual money but a chance to play football on his terms. It doesn’t hurt that the Falcons were one game away from the Super Bowl last year considering that Jackson has never played for a winning team in his nine-year career.
Steven Jackson was a late-first round favorite pick among several PFF Fantasy writers this past drafting season—among them our leading expert Mike Clay. They had good reason to be excited about Jackson’s prospects. Jackson had never finished with fewer than 1,000 yards in any season in his career. He also showed up to camp at only 5 percent body fat and 6 pounds lighter than previous seasons. Some beat writers believed he was in the best shape of his entire career. The Rams had even worked on improving their atrocious offensive line from the season before by adding 2011 PFF standout, C Scott Wells from Green Bay.
However, most important of all, Jackson was about to play his first season for Head Coach Jeff Fisher. Everything we knew from Fisher’s past told us that he was a conservative coach who would lean heavy on the run and establish a physical run game. What it also told us was that he was one of the remaining old-school coaches who preferred the lone feature back and wasn’t afraid to ride one back dating back to his days with Eddie George in Tennessee.
The reality is that Scott Wells was injured early and turning to Jets turnstile RT Wayne Hunter proved to be disastrous. While Jackson started out the season as a true workhorse (playing 55/58 snaps), a Week 2 groin injury vs the Redskins (21/71 snaps) forced him to give way to exciting rookie Daryl Richardson, who never looked back and claimed a significant piece of the Rams’ timeshare at running back.
Looking at Jackson’s 2012, a case can be made that his usage was the only thing holding Jackson back from finishing as a borderline RB1. Jackson received the fewest carries since his 2008 season when he missed four games due to injury. Jackson was used much less in the passing game, especially on third downs when he consistently came off the field for Richardson down the stretch, and this led to Jackson recording the least receptions since his rookie season.
While some of this can again be attributed to Richardson’s impressive play on the field, the bigger factor was that the Rams just weren’t good enough to get out to big leads that made Fisher feel comfortable leaning heavily on a power-run-based game plan. We can look to two games in which the Rams were able to impose this brand of football and see that Jackson thrived with the additional workload (while playing behind his porous offensive line).
Week 10, when the Rams tied the 49ers, Jackson played his most total snaps of the season (70) and his third-highest percentage of snaps. He answered with 101 yards rushing, 26 yards receiving, and a touchdown (18 standard fantasy points). Week 14, the Rams took it to the Bills and that again meant that Jackson would play 62/69 total snaps (his second-highest total snaps and percentage of snaps on the year). He finished that week with 12 standard fantasy points.
While these point totals don’t stand out as elite RB1 production, they provide a baseline for what Jackson can do when given the workhorse workload. They also were achieved behind a leaky offensive line and an offense that didn’t provide nearly as many scoring opportunities as the Atlanta Falcons offense will.
Jackson saw most of his third-down snaps go to Richardson, but this seemed like a coaching decision and it may not have been justified. Jackson finished third overall among backs who played in at least 400 passing plays in PFF’s Pass Blocking Efficiency (94.2), allowing zero sacks and only six pressures. He can certainly keep his quarterback upright.
The hope is that Falcons’ Head Coach Mike Smith realizes that Jackson can still be used in a three-down role similar to how Smith has been able to employ Turner in the past. Jackson’s new home will offer him a better offensive line, a better quarterback, and more scoring opportunities. Jackson has at least another season or two with the capabilities of being a feature back. In the 2013 fantasy football landscape, finding a feature back is rare – finding one in a high-powered offense is even rarer. If I were to draft now, I would consider Jackson a low-end RB1 with a very high floor.