Faceoff: Steven Jackson
Clayton Gray: I love Steven Jackson's talent and the fact that he has little to no real competition for carries. The huge downside for his fantasy status is the undeniable fact that the St. Louis Rams are a terrible team right now. Simply put, bad teams have a hard time scoring, and teams that can't score have a hard time producing quality fantasy options.
For this reason, I have a big problem putting Jackson in the Top 5. Over the last 30 years, a top-five back's team averages 9.54 NFL wins. Over the last 10 years, the average moves up a tad to 9.68 wins. Of the 50 backs to make the Top 5 in the last 10 years, only seven came from losing teams (four had seven wins, two had six wins, and one had four wins).
Looking at Jackson's history, he has only made the Top 5 once - in 2006, when the Rams had eight wins. In his other four years as a starter, the Rams were a losing team, and Jackson finished 10th, 11th, 13th, and 14th among fantasy backs. With St. Louis looking like a 4-win squad (at best), somewhere around 12th appears to be the sweet spot for Steven Jackson.
Jeff Tefertiller: Steven Jackson has five straight seasons finishing as a Top 15 fantasy back. Many of these seasons, Jackson has been nicked up, playing on bad teams. The Rams have upgraded the offensive line the last couple of seasons and are building a good, young nucleus.
Jackson finished as RB10 last year despite scoring only four touchdowns. The entire St. Louis offense only hit paydirt 15 times. The low touchdown total is concerning, but should increase as the offense improves. Also, the offensive line has been upgraded over the past couple of offseasons. Former high draft pick, tackle Jason Smith should be back after missing eight games with concussions. Smith has a new helmet to help prevent future concussions. He played well as a rookie and should improve in year two. With the drafting of Rodger Safford, the liability known as Alex Barron is now in Dallas after a rough year. Left guard Jacob Bell will be back after getting his knee scoped this offseason. These three will make a good core for the Ram offensive line for several years to come.
Jackson is now being drafted as RB7 so there is risk. He does have a RB3 finish under his belt so we know if it can be done. I do think there is cause for optimism. Jackson was able to withstand a heavy workload last year with 325 carries and another 50 receptions. This was only the second time in his career that he hit the milestone. And, it was good to see his yards per carry average jump up in 2009 after declining for three consecutive seasons.
Jackson has a rare combination of size and speed. He has the chance to be an elite fantasy option once again this year. The key for him, like other seasons, will be staying healthy. The upgrade on the offensive line, combined with the addition of Sam Bradford, should open up more holes for the hard-running Jackson.
Will Grant: Depending on what ranking list you are looking at, Steven Jackson is somewhere in the #6-#8 range. Even in leagues that have a scoring system that favors running backs, I don't see why this continues to happen. Yes Jackson is an excellent talent. Yes he's a workhorse back who gets the majority of the touches in St. Louis. But there are a lot of things working against him ranking higher than 10th overall.
- Jackson has only finished better than the 10th best fantasy RUNNING BACK once in his six year career. As Clayton points out, that was in 2006. That year he had over 1500 rushing yards and 13 rushing TDS. He also had 90 receptions and just over 800 yards receiving. To put that in prospective, Jackson has 18 TDS over the last THREE SEASONS. He'll probably have more than four TDS this season, but 16?
- Jackson is entering his 7th season with 1830 touches and almost 9000 yards from scrimmage. While he's far from done as a stud running back, he also has a lot of mileage on him already. There's a reason that the Rams are seriously considering adding Brian Westbrook to their backfield - they need to give Jackson a break or he's going to burn out.
- The Rams are looking at starting a rookie QB for the majority of the season. While Bradford adjusts to the speed of the NFL, Jackson is going to be facing a lot of seven and eight man fronts. The Rams are going to turn the ball over more. They're not going to have a lot of ten play drives, and they're going to be playing from behind a lot of time. While that probably means more check downs for Jackson, it means he's going to have a hard time running the ball.
Jackson is a great back, and I love the guy's talent and intensity. But drafting him in the first round is basically taking the safe play, knowing that there will be a few guys who outperform him.
Jeff Tefertiller: Will brings up some great points. After the first four backs off the board in fantasy drafts, Jackson has similar risk and more of a chance to play up to his ADP. In addition, with only three more touchdowns last season, Jackson would have finished as RB7 ... his current ADP. He needs the Ram offense to become more productive. As for the potential Westbrook signing, I am not reading too much into it. St. Louis has had a void behind Jackson for some time. Also, to assume Westbrook's presence impacts Jackson also assumes Westbrook can stay healthy.
Will Grant: Jackson averaged 6.3 yards per reception last season. For his career, Jackson averages over 8. If West rook or any other back steals just one reception a game from Jackson, that drops him three spots down the fantasy RB charts. Two receptions a game? He's not even in the top 15.
Only 40 fantasy points separates RB 7 from RB 13. That's only 2.5 points per game. If the Rams sign Westbrook, Jackson's value could drop him into the second round.
Clayton Gray: I completely agree with Jeff - Jackson needs the Ram offense to become more productive. I just have zero faith that will happen in 2010.