Spotlight: Steven Jackson

posted by Jeff Haseley on Jul 17th


Jeff Haseley's thoughts

When discussing Steven Jackson's 2010 outlook there are several opinions that center around both the positive and negative aspects of his game as a fantasy RB. He definitely has the talent, ability, track record and opportunity for success in 2010, but there are some reasons to believe his resume won't live up to it's billing. Before you make an educated decision on which way to lean regarding Jackson, it's important to know the pros and cons of what would be a very important selection for your fantasy team.

RB Monopoly

Did you know? The last 29 rushing TDs for the Rams, dating back to week one of 2006, were all scored by Steven Jackson. Over the last five years, no other RB in the game has dominated the position for his team like Steven Jackson has for the Rams.

Wrap your brain around this mind boggling tidbit

Most FP from a Rams RB from 2005 to 2009

1. Steven Jackson 1,082 FP
2. Marshall Faulk 64.5 FP

To say Jackson is the team's primary RB is gross understatement. It doesn't just stop at team statistics either. Over the last five years, Jackson is 2nd in total FPs for RBs, 2nd in receptions for RBs and 3rd in total rushing yards. He has finished in the Top 15 each of the last five years, including two Top 10 finishes. Heading into the 2010 season, nothing appears to be any different. RBs Chris Ogbannaya and Kenneth Darby don't appear to be making a move to replace Jackson anytime soon.

So why are people down on Jackson?

  • If you are content selecting a Top 15 RB in the first round of your draft, there may not be a problem. Jackson currently has a RB6 and RB7 ADP in PPR and performance leagues respectively. He has not outperformed his ADP since 2006 and each year he's getting more wear and tear on his body, which can only minimize expectations.
  • It's not so much Jackson, but the lack of scoring by the Rams that have people concerned about him. The Rams as a team have scored just 16 rushing TDs in the last three years. Their offensive scoring production has dropped each of those years going from 23, 18 to 15 total offensive TDs. Jackson's value falls if the team isn't scoring.
  • He had back surgery in April to repair herniated discs, but he should be back to full health by the start of training camp. Back injuries, especially those that require surgery aren't anything to take lightly. He may be feeling better after his expected eight-week rehab program, but prior back injuries increase the chances of another related injury down the line.
  • The Rams have run Jackson into the ground for at least two straight years and they still don't have an adequate backup heading into the 2010 season. Kenneth Darby, Chris Ogbonnaya, and undrafted rookie free agent Keith Toston from Oklahoma State, are currently in place as Jackson's backups. The Rams are looking at Brian Westbrook or possibly another veteran to spell Jackson from time to time. As a result, his production could decrease if a respectable RB is brought in. To quote fellow staffer Will Grant, Jackson averaged 6.3 yards per reception last season. For his career, Jackson averages over 8. If Westbrook 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.
  • Rookie QB at the helm in Sam Bradford- The Rams are rebuilding on offense, as evidenced by the selection of number one overall pick, QB Sam Bradford in the 2010 NFL Draft. Bradford is expected to see the field fairly quickly, simply because he may be their best option at the position. You can bet that opposing defenses will key in on Bradford and force him to beat them through the air, while they stack eight to nine men in the box to stop the best offensive weapon the Rams have - Jackson. It all points to more failed drives, more turnovers, fewer plays per drive and fewer scoring chances.

Positives

  • For Steven Jackson to have five consecutive seasons with a Top 15 ranking on a struggling offense, imagine what his stats could have been if he was on a team that produced more? There's no denying his talent. He's a hard-nosed, determined, RB that will play through injuries and give his all, regardless of the team's success.
  • No competition in sight. The Rams are looking at a third consecutive season as Jackson being the primary ball carrier with little to no supporting cast giving him breathers or extended periods of rest. That may eventually catch up to him, but until it does, he is very productive in the role as the team's every down RB.
  • Jackson is an outstanding pass-catching RB, who could see more passes thrown at him in 2010 due to Sam Bradford starting at QB. Rookie QBs tend to go with the "safe play" more often, as opposed to forcing a play down field, because they don't want to make a costly mistake. Often, coaches will keep the plays simpler for less experienced QBs. Simpler translates to higher percentage passes, which often are shorter routes. As a result, Jackson could see plenty of targets on a per game basis. It all translates to more receptions and more production.

Negatives

  • Jackson has only one season-ending ranking higher than 10th in his career (2006 he finished 3rd). That year he had over 1500 rushing yards, 90 receptions for just over 800 yards and 16 total TDs. The Rams had just four rushing TDs last year and 16 total in the last three years. The likelihood of 2010 being a vast improvement, rookie QB and all, does not seem too probable.
  • Wear and tear is catching up to Jackson. He has 944 touches over the last 39 games (24 touches per game). He may play through aches, pains and even injuries, but eventually everyone, even the greatest RBs, wear down. Perhaps Jackson's back injury that required surgery this off season, is the beginning of the end to his reign as the team's workhorse RB?
  • Scoring deficiencies. The Rams had just 18 and 15 total offensive TDs in each of the last two years. Most teams have scored that many passing TDs. The fact that the Rams don't score a lot of points, means less plays per game, fewer plays per drive and fewer chances to score. It's not exactly a ringing endorsement for your team's RB1.

Final thoughts

There's no escaping Jackson's talent, drive, determination and heart for the position. He is one of the league's better all-around, every down RBs. The main concern regarding whether or not you should risk a first round pick on Jackson is your belief in the Rams chances for increased offensive production in 2010. In other words, will the offense improve with Sam Bradford at QB? If so, Jackson becomes a bigger interest, because better offensive production means more scoring chances and more TDs for Jackson. If that's not the case, Jackson will at best, finish with last year's numbers, which if all things fall the right way, would wind up being a Top 10-12 finish. That's the best case scenario if the Rams don't improve on offense. It's interesting to look at Jackson this way, but his 2010 success hinges on the success of the offense, mainly the QB, which will likely be rookie Sam Bradford. If you select Jackson at pick six, seven or eight in your re-draft league, you are probably looking at another Top 15 season, without much hope for a Top 10 season. If you're OK with that gamble in the first round, there's nothing wrong with that selection. If you want to shoot for a higher finish from your primary RB, Jackson may not be the best choice.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

MrTwo94 said:

My favorite RB to watch. The guy is an absolute beast. But owning him for the past 4 years it is clear that he's prone to miss a few games and he's stuck in a situation where double digit TD's is virtually an impossible feat. Thus, upside is limited. We throw around projections here but floor and ceiling should factor in much larger than simple projections. His injury concerns and woeful team make his floor relatively low for a three down workhorse back (rare these days) and his poor surrounding cast make his realistic ceiling lower than guys drafted around him (although even a rookie QB can't be much worse than last year's quarterbacking). But if you're into consistency, SJax is money while he's healthy - unlike other backs he remains in the offensive game plan no matter what the score. 100 combined yards easy every week. Hell, he was usually getting that done with a bad back in the second half of last year (4.80 ypc first 10 games, 3.53 last 5 games). Given that this year will likely be more of the same, it is hard to project anything more for him. Barring Bradford having a better season than Peyton did his rookie year, here are my projections for a healthy 16 game season from SJax:

330 carries x 4.5 ypc = 1485 yds 6 TD, 55 rec x 8.5 ypr = 468 yds 1 TD

He's only played one 16 game season in six seasons, so be ready to put in your RB3 for a couple games. If the back gives him troubles, expect a lower ypc. If he's fully healthy then his ypc could be back up in the 4.8 range.

Creed Bratton said:

Steven Jackson is a beast. But with that being said, this is a guy that I'm not going to be drafting this year unless he really falls in the draft. He's always gotten a bad rap because of his injury history and bad team. But after seeing him produce in 2007 when they were signing offensive lineman off the street, I didn't really care. I once saw SJax get tackled by all eleven defenders before going down, and then kill Chuck Norris. If he stays healthy, he's probably gonna get 350+ touches for 1600+yards and around 7 touchdowns. But I have to admit, I'm scared off by the bad back. I don't downgrade players just because they got injured in the past, unless it's a chronic or recurring condition. I think if you combine the fact that he's got the back problem with the number of years that he's been in the league, I think there's a reasonable chance he could enter the down slope of his career as early as this year. And I don't see the upside to significantly outweigh that risk as a top 20 pick.

baconisgood said:

The Rams have also selected an offensive lineman with the #2 and #33 overall picks the past two years and signed the best C available last year. If their offensive line is healthy it should/could be considerable better than it has been the past 2 years. A healthy and productive o-line could mean a 4.8 y/c average for a guy like SJax.

TheDirtyWord said:

The shelf life for RB's in the NFL is notoriously short. But the shelf like for big RB's in the NFL is notoriously shorter. Not only that, but for as effective as they can be...they can also be quite fragile. And in the case of Stephen Jackson, the most durable season he's had in 4 years resulted in back surgery. Like Ross Tucker said, there is no such thing as minor back surgery and the fact that it occurred 3 months into the offseason meant that there was a hope it would self-correct with rehab and rest.

Jackson is still relatively young (he'll be 27 this season). But for the last 4 years, the Rams have given the ball to Jackson an average of 21.1 times/game. Couple that with another 4 receptions/game and you have 25 touches/game over a 4 year stretch for a big RB. A 4 year stretch where he was pretty much forced to make chicken salad throughout the duration. It's a shame for Jackson because I think the Rams are finally on their way to climbing their way out of the abysmal swamp of crap football they've been in these last 3 years. But I feel like Jackson is more of a relic of that era rather than a building block for this new one.

Normally, I'm a big stat guy and will rely on numbers and simple logic to state my case. But I have a gut feel on Jackson that he's going to be 2010's Clinton Portis. A player who even if he stays healthy, will start to see a significant decline in his production. If I pride myself on being an astute fantasy player who relies on trends to dictate strategy, it's difficult to ignore the even shorter shelf life of big RB's in the NFL. That's why I would sell high on Jackson and give him a 3rd round grade.

Big Backs

Jamal Lewis - during his 26 & 27 year old seasons, he averaged 3.5 YPC. At 28, he had his FU season with Cleveland but was done shortly thereafter.

Eddie George - could day he had his best season at 27 with 1509 yards, but it took him a whopping 403 carries to get there for a 3.7 YPC, a career low. He never exceeded 3.4 YPC after that.

Rudi Johnson - Had the last of his very good seasons at 27 with a 341/1309/12 mark. But his YPC dropped to 3.8, down from 4.0 & 4.3 the seasons before. He never made an impact after this.

Jerome Bettis - Had one stellar season after 27, but his YPC which had been at a career mark of 4.1 up until this year, dropped to 3.6. Aside from a injury shortened season when he was 29 when his YPC was a career best 4.8, Bettis muddled around the 3.6-3.7 mark (if not below for the remainder of his career).

...you can go back to the days of big backs like Earl Campbell, Christian Okoye, Gerald Riggs and James Wilder to see these declines as well. It's possible that Jackson has more gas left in the tank. But I'm going to let someone else find out (whether it's the hard way or not).


Steven Jackson projections

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