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Faceoff: Maurice Jones-Drew vs. Steven Jackson

Footballguys staff members evaluate two veteran running backs.

Which of these veteran running backs would you rather have this season? Why?

Jason Wood: Our consensus rankings place MJD (RB13) and Steven Jackson (RB14) close together, with Jones-Drew getting the slight edge. I see things differently, with Jackson ranking 9th and Jones-Drew 15th. Jones-Drew is coming back from a significant injury and, as importantly, is surrounded by uncertainty. Do the Jags have a quarterback? Is the offensive line capable of regaining its form? Does MJD still have the same fire in his belly after being unhappy with his contract BEFORE this last injury and now having to play for what he considers less than fair value on a team that has almost no shot at competing? Meanwhile Jackson is in the exact opposite position. He gets to play for a Super Bowl contender that views him as one of the missing pieces, after toiling for a decade in semi-obscurity for a non-contender. Jackson won't be asked to run the ball 18-20 times a game anymore, but that will only serve him well. He's in great shape, and lands in a situation where his TD opportunities will triple this year. I think Jackson is a top 10 lock if he stays healthy, whereas Jones-Drew could defy the odds as he did in 2011 and be elite but could just as easily never return to form and be a wasted 2nd round fantasy pick.

Matt Waldman: Hey Conductor Wood, may I buy a ticket for that Steven Jackson train to Atlanta? Oh wait, seems I already have at the cost of one year for $16.5 million in an auction league with a $123 million cap this weekend with my buds Wood, Bloom, and Tefertiller. Jackson still runs with great burst and power and he's a fine receiver.

I continue to hear this name of a runner that rhymes "Whiz" but all I know is that Michael Turner delivered top-20 fantasy production last year in what was his worst-looking season since he arrived in Atlanta and did it in an offense that emphasized the pass. This rhymes with "Whiz" character returned kicks and caught some passes and pitches and amounted to nothing for fantasy owners to get excited about.

Jackson is and has always been a better runner than Michael Turner. He has been the best talent at running back stranded in a bad situation - even more than Jonathan Stewart and Deangelo Williams in Carolina. I can't imagine Jackson earning less than 1200 yards and double-digit touchdowns this year if he stays healthy for at least 13 games. Turner had at least 1300 yards and double-digit scores in three of his four seasons between 2009-2011 and had the opportunity to do the same in 2012. I thought he continued to deliver yards with power and vision, but his burst was gone and so is he. I'll be surprised if he ever finds a starting job beyond anything more than a short-term emergency gig for the rest of his career.

Maurice Jones-Drew is still a player I capable of top-10 production regardless of the shambles in North Florida. I like what the Jaguars offensive line has done by adding Luke Joeckel and getting back a healthy Eugene Monroe. I also believe Uche Nwaneri can deliver the goods at guard. I think Jackson has more red zone upside, but Jones-Drew should have a big receiving presence to close the gap somewhat.

I don't like relying on touchdowns because they are fickle friends to fantasy owners except when it came to Turner with the Falcons. But why should I doubt Jones-Drew? When has the Jaguars passing game been anything better than mediocre during Jones-Drew's career? Terrell Gaines, who runs one of the top training performance centers with a strong roster of NFL athletes says Jones-Drew is one of the most intense competitors he has ever met.

I've had enough conversations with Gaines to know that while he's smart about what he discloses about clients, he doesn't have this view of every player. In fact, I don't know if Jones-Drew is even his client. Gaines talked about the back in a conversation that was related to another of his players. I'm not worried about Jones-Drew losing his drive as much as I am him just wearing out. Ask me tomorrow and I might have Jones-Drew over Jackson, but for me it's still pretty close even if the conductor of the Jackson Express has me buying a ticket.

Chad Parsons: Jackson and Jones-Drew are neck-and-neck in current average draft position and will be a real draft decision in the late first, early second round range for many fantasy owners. The difference lies in two factors: health and opportunity. Jackson has missed just two games over the past four seasons and, for all we know, Jones-Drew's knees are held together with duct tape at this point. In terms of opportunity, Jackson will see his most favorable chances of his NFL career. With the Rams, Jackson had 45 red zone carries the past two seasons combined. A declining Michael Turner saw 50+ in each of the past three seasons in Atlanta. Jackson will see seven-man boxes and more goal line chances than multiple seasons in St.Louis. For Jones-Drew, he will need to eclipse 350 touches to maximize his fantasy value as one of the few weapons on a limited Jacksonville offense. Steven Jackson is a far safer bet to finish in the top-12 for fantasy backs in 2013.

Andy Hicks: 

Similar to a lot of the other guys, I only have a few ranking spots between the two players. I could argue a case for and against both of them too, but ultimately they have a lot of similarities. Both are three-down backs and excellent receivers. Both are clearly the lead backs. Both also have a significant mark against them. Jones-Drew had a injury riddled 2012 and I hate to draft guys like this towards the end of their careers. You just never know if last year was an aberration or the beginning of the end. Usually it is the latter. Jackson is over 30 and 30-year-old backs changing teams don't have the best fantasy records. Of course there are exceptions, but while Jackson has been reasonably durable, 2,400 carries is a lot of work.

Only 24 guys have more in the history of the NFL and most of them changed teams towards the end of their careers. Only LaDainian Tomlinson with the Jets and Marcus Allen with the Chiefs got anywhere near the RB ranking expected of Jackson. Emmitt Smith, Edgerrin James, Eric Dickerson, Franco Harris, Warrick Dunn, Thomas Jones, Eddie George, Thurmon Thomas, Tony Dorsett, O.J. Simpson, Ricky Williams, and Fred Taylor all moved teams in similar circumstances, although most were a couple of years older. Some had moderate success, most failed. Corey Dillon moved at 30 to New England and did great, but he had 500 fewer carries.

Ultimately I would side with Maurice Jones-Drew, purely on an age basis, but Jackson is in the better situation.

Jeff Pasquino: I have this as a clear tip of the hat to Steven Jackson. Maurice Jones-Drew has had lots of knee issues and his quarterback is on the hot seat in May, plus the top wide receiver in Jacksonville (Justin Blackmon) just received a 4-game suspension. I would not be surprised to see 8- or 9-man fronts against Jacksonville for most of the season.

Steven Jackson has struggled to put the ball in the end zone in recent years (just 4 TDs last year, and six in both 2010 and 2011) - but that was with St. Louis. Now in Atlanta, Jackson will be the feature tailback for a team with lots of offensive weapons in the passing game (Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez). Jackson should have lots of room to roam with the ball, either as a rusher or a receiver out of the backfield and I think he will make the push for 1,500 total yards and double-digit touchdowns. Jones-Drew might get close to that number of yards (if he stays healthy), but I don't see more than 7-8 scores for a team that will struggle to put points on the scoreboard this year.

Mark Wimer: I would defnitely prefer Jackson over Jones-Drew. All the pieces are in place for the Falcons to make a run deep into the playoffs, and Jackson is a great fit for what the Falcons want to do on offense.

Meanwhile, Jones-Drew faces one of the worst quarterback situations in the NFL, and the Jaguars have lost their #1 wide receiver for the first four games of the year, which should allow teams to load up against the run and limit Jones-Drew during September. Even after Justin Blackmon gets back in action, I'm not enthused about the Jaguars' offense. Of course, we also have Jones-Drew's ongoing recovery from a Lisfranc (foot) injury - and his unhappiness with his contract situation - as negative factors regarding him in play as of May 2013.

Jackson has a much higher fantasy scoring potential during 2013.

Jeff Haseley: I appear to be in the same camp as the consensus and that's having more interest in Steven Jackson than Maurice Jones-Drew. To me this favors Jackson for two main reasons. Atlanta has the better offense (by far) and therefore more goal line opportunities. Jackson has dealt with eight or nine man boxes for most of his career with the Rams. That won't be the case in Atlanta. Jackson is also healthier than Jones-Drew who has dealt with knee issues recently. That pain and/or discomfort may have subsided for now, but a long grueling season could have a negative impact on his availability later in the year. If Michael Turner can be productive in the Falcons offense, I expect Jackson to have a similar, if not better impact. Jackson runs harder, is more explosive and is a much better receiver than Turner. I am on board with Jackson being a legit RB2 in 2013 with the potential to put up RB1 numbers on occasion.


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