Aug 06

Running Back Context: will Steven Jackson capitalize on his role in Atlanta’s high-powered offense?

As part of our comprehensive draft guide I shared a piece on the importance of assessing a player’s team and offensive context when deciding on his relative value compared to other players at the position. Along that line of thinking, it is worth noting that six of our consensus top twelve running backs ranked as RB1s in twelve team leagues are operating in new offensive systems this year. In a series of posts, we’ll take a look at the impact of this change of context on each player.

Previous RB Context pieces: Trent Richardson, Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte. A special treat: RB expert Chet Gresham of thefakefootball.com discusses the position in our interview series today.

Steven Jackson arrives in Atlanta with a lot of wear on his tires but finds himself as part of an elite offense for the first time in his career (Photo: USATSI).

Steven Jackson arrives in Atlanta with a lot of wear on his tires but finds himself as part of an elite offense for the first time in his career (Photo: USATSI).

Perhaps no player changing teams this offseason finds themselves with a better upgrade in fantasy context than Steven Jackson who joins the Atlanta Falcons. Atlanta’s offense scored 26.2 points per game last season and averaged 369.1 yards of offense per game. St. Louis: 18.7 and 329 good for 25th and 23rd in the league respectively. Obviously, Jackson was a part of that offense and the limited number of rushing scores (a paltry five team-wide on the season) but more than anything the opportunities weren’t there because the offense struggled in general.

In Atlanta, the opportunities should be plentiful. Despite not appearing on the score sheet very often, Jackson finished as the 16th best fantasy Running Back – which was his lowest ranking since his rookie season. Jackson has been a model of consistency in both the real and virtual games since 2005, failing to eclipse 1300 just once during that timeframe, in a season where he played just 12 games. Michael Turner hit a wall last year. He clearly was not an effective runner, at times plodding toward the line of scrimmage and falling in to the pile as opposed to bursting through the hole and yet he still finished the season as fantasy’s 17th best back. If you watch the tape (or simply peeked at his 3.6 yards per carry average) there can be little argument that his production was entirely a product of the system that Jackson now finds himself working in. Not convinced? Michael Turner graded out as ProFootballFocus’s 49th of 59 eligible RBs in 2012; while Jackson was 13th – yet they finished just one spot away from one another in final fantasy value.

I’ve been glowing on all backs we’ve discussed in the RB Context articles and Jackson is no different. In fact, I’ve listed him as the 9th best option in my RB Ranks and I think given his ADP he may represent the best value of anyone in the top twelve, but, there are a few important caveats to note here: Age is an important consideration with Jackson; as discussed Michael Turner was a shell of his former self in the oft-discussed Running Back cliff year of age 30 and Jackson is now 30 as well. In addition, he finds himself working with Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter who is known as a proponent of the vertical passing game.

With those two points acknowledged, though, there is still reason to believe in Jackson. Despite being the active leader in career carries, he’s shown no signs of aging. Further, while Atlanta will certainly be a pass first team this year – there are too many talented pass catchers for them not to be – a strong offense brings up the value of all fantasy talent from Quarterback to Kicker. One of the game’s most consistent rushers finally finds himself in an elite offense. The status quo is probably the floor, 1300 total yards and half a dozen scores. A season hovering around 1400-1500 with double digit TDs is the ceiling, at an ADP of 17th overall and RB12 those numbers from a second round pick can help make your fantasy season.

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