The Falcons moved up in the fifth round to select Oregon State running back Jacquizz Rodgers this past April. The team is hopeful that Rodgers can provide a spark on the ground using his trademark quickness that allowed him to rack up 3,877 rushing yards during three seasons at Oregon State. Another big part of Rodgers success was in the passing game, catching 151 passes for 1,056 yards to give him the second-most yards (4,933) from scrimmage in the country over the past three years.
But in order for Rodgers to make an immediate impact on offense for the Falcons will highly depend on his ability to pass protect. Pro Football Focus published numbers indicating that Michael Turner and Jason Snelling are two of the better pass protecting running backs in the league over the past three seasons. Turner scored a 3.93 pass blocking efficiency rating over the past 3 seasons, while Snelling had a rating of 4.3. Even Jerious Norwood wouldn’t have been much further down with a 4.71 rating. The Falcons relied heavily on Snelling in pass protection last season on third downs.
It’s no doubt that the Falcons will try to mix Rodgers in on third downs. His potential as a pass catcher is far greater than any back on the roster. His burst, vision, and quickness makes him an ideal candidate on screen passes, and is the type of guy that can pick up big yards after the catch when Matt Ryan checks down to him. But how much production he can achieve in the passing game will depend on his ability in pass protection.
But the most important aspect of a third down back is his ability in pass protection. More often than not on third downs, he’s going to be blocking more than actually running or catching the football.
Rodgers has potential there, but his lack of size hurt him at various times during his Oregon State career. He has the toughness for an undersized guy that you like to see, showing an edge comparable to players like Maurice Jones-Drew. But if he cannot be trusted in pass protection, then whatever advantage is gained from his potential as a receiver will be negated by the risk of injury to franchise player Matt Ryan that is raised if Rodgers isn’t up to par. Clearly, the Falcons have a fairly reliable set of blockers with Snelling and Turner to turn to. So if Rodgers cannot perform on a comparable level, then he’ll be on the outside looking in.
The expectations for Rodgers this year should be that he may take some time before he can garner significant reps on offense. As the season wears on however, should be a good indicator to what Rodgers is doing in pass protection, which will likely be directly linked to his playing time. All that said, Rodgers probably is not going to have a huge rookie season. But his development in the passing game will likely determine the future of Jason Snelling beyond this year. Snelling is a prospective free agent, but presumably will be re-signed before the 2011 season commences. But his long-term future in Atlanta may be directly linked by how much Rodgers can contribute on third downs.