For the past three seasons, Steven Jackson has been one of the biggest teases in fantasy football. He’s a player with the talent to be a top five running back, but played on one of the worst football teams in the NFL for most of his career that severely diminished his value. Jackson may have had eight straight 1,000 yard seasons, but he never had a double-digit touchdown season since 2006, due mainly to playing on a losing football team. However, things are looking up for his prospects in 2013. Not only did he sign with a winning football team in the Atlanta Falcons, but he’s also joining a Falcons’ offense where he could have his second best fantasy season ever.
So let’s see what Jackson could accomplish in 2013.
The major positive news for Jackson’s fantasy value this season came from Falcons’ Head Coach Mike Smith who praised Steven Jackson on his receiving ability stating “He creates issues for defenses. He’s just another weapon that we have in our offensive arsenal. He’s a guy who had close to 100 catches in a season, so he’s a guy that we can use in the passing game. He’s not just a running back, he’s a receiving back.”
What that means for his fantasy stock is he shouldn’t be threatened by Jacquizz Rodgers. Rodgers was used as the Falcons’ primary receiving back in 2012. He caught 53 passes for 402 yards and 1 touchdown in 2012, and also found some work as a change-of-pace back too on 94 carries for 362 yards and 1 touchdown. However, bringing a back like Jackson into the fold who doesn’t need to be taken out on passing downs will eliminate the need for having Rodgers on the field in those situations. You’re essentially killing one bird with two stones when Jackson is on the field.
Jackson has always been the definition of an every-down back in his time with the Rams and fits perfectly into the Falcons’ passing offense. This doesn’t mean that Rodgers won’t take away some rushing carries from Jackson, but Rodgers only scored 8% of the rushing touchdowns in 2012. Rodgers was the change-of-pace back, but he wasn’t siphoning off red zone touches from the featured back, which in this case would be Steven Jackson. He’s not the Falcons’ future featured back, because if Rodgers was, they never would have signed Jackson in the first place. This brings us to the real detriment to Jackson’s fantasy value in 2013, which is surprisingly the Falcons’ offense.
The Falcons are officially a passing football team. In fact, they were the most pass friendly football team in the NFL in 2012 according to Chase Stuart of Football Perspective. This doesn’t bode well for running backs, because they often get lost in the play calling. When you’re so busy tossing the football to your wide receivers and tight ends, you tend to forget about feeding the running back the ball. That happened in the Falcons’ backfield in 2012, where there wasn’t a single 1,000 yard rusher in the whole bunch.
Part of that was due to the decline of Michael Turner, but it was also due to the Falcons calling 5% less rushing plays in 2012 versus 2011.Less carries equals fewer opportunities to have a real fantasy impact, but Jackson might be the exception. His pass catching ability can help mitigate that lack of carries. After all, Jackson is playing in an offense with receivers like Roddy White, Julio Jones, Harry Douglas and Tony Gonzalez, versus what Jackson had on the Rams in Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson and Chris Givens. Are teams really going to spend time formulating game plans to shut down Steven Jackson in the passing game and running game when you have that type of receiving core in Atlanta? I’d take my odds with Jackson having an advantage the second he steps on the field to have opposing teams allow him better holes and better lanes, but that’s not what intrigues me most with Jackson.
The most intriguing factor in Jackson’s favor is Falcons’ offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter is known for using running backs in the passing game like Maurice Jones-Drew in Jacksonville from 2007-2011 as a NFL example, but Jones-Drew didn’t have the type of receivers Jackson will have. Jones-Drew never played in a pass first offense. Koetter from his time at Arizona State to Jacksonville has never had a running back like Steven Jackson in an offense with Atlanta’s receiving talent. What this could mean is Jackson can get the majority of carries and lots of receiving yardage too. A recipe for a lot of fantasy football success, but how much should be approached conservatively at best.
He may only get 250 carries for 4 yards per carry at least, but he will also get 50-80 receptions for 400-800 yards. Not to forget to mention, he’ll get close to 83% of the rushing touchdowns in the red zone based on the Falcons’ 2012 averages for a featured back in a prolific offense. That’s more than enough points to make him a solid RB2, and he will definitely reach that double-digit touchdown mark that has eluded him since 2006. Jackson has the upside if he hits in the passing game and could prove to be a true upgrade over Michael Turner leading to more carries that can push him into the top ten easily. He’s currently my 11th ranked running back for 2013 and that’s based on conservative estimates at best, but this where his value is. Consider targeting him as a RB2 with added value in a PPR league as a likely low-end RB1, because of the receptions.
James Cobern is a Division Leader for TPF and can be contacted at JCobern@ThePenaltyFlagBlog.com or follow him on Twitter @Jmcobern1