Amidst the completely ungrounded rumors that the Atlanta Falcons were poised to make a run at Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson, myself and many other Falcons fans’ were forced to wonder if last year’s marquee free agent signing Stephen Jackson was really a viable option going into next season. I saw very little reason for the Falcons to have considered Johnson to begin with (and they probably didn’t). But, I would be lying if for at least a couple of moments, I wasn’t giddy at the prospects of a former two-thousand yard rusher joining the franchise regardless of how many years he is removed from that season (The answer is four, by the way). Nonetheless, I briefly wrestled with the question of Steven Jackson, and whether or not we could squeeze another year out of him behind a potentially porous O-line. While much of the Falcons’ fan base is divided, I am most-likely a dissenter in believing that Steven is a near perfect fit for Dirk Koetter’s offense, and despite his worst season, should remain the primary back in Atlanta’s offense.
Let me preface this with saying, I am biased. Since Jackson entered the league with the Rams’ he has been one of my favorite players. His physical running style is somewhat like a long-lost art. Few running backs run with the power and strength he had in his prime, and the few that do are some of the most talented at the position, such as Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch. However, Jackson in his prime is not the same player who sits atop the Falcons’ depth chart. In about four months, Jackson will be 31, one year past what is commonly viewed as the deadline for production in Running Backs. Moreover, his over nearly 3,000 career touches (both carries and receptions) mixed with his running style has left him wore down and often injured. For this reason, Jackson should not be seen as a viable starting option beyond next season, as next season will more than likely be his last productive season, if only because he fits so well into the offense.
In contrast to Johnson, Jackson is a between the tackles runner. Provided he has a competent O-line blocking for him, he can still push up the middle and gain the first on third and short situations, and as well as take it to the second level when the run is less expected. Despite averaging a career-low 3.5 YPC last season, Jackson played behind the weakest offensive line he has ever played behind in his career. No doubt, there is a decline in play due to wear and tear and a rising age. However, the addition of Jon Asamoah, (and hopefully a shiny, brand-new Left Tackle) should improve his YPC, and make a consistent 4 yard back out of him again. Jackson is not a home-run runner. Unlike Johnson, he is not going to be able to take it to the house from 30-40 yards out. But that it not what Atlanta needs. Atlanta needs a strong, power runner who can thrive in goal-line situations and play well when called upon. This is what Jackson provides the offense, he is a compliment to the passing game, rather than the key to the entire offense.