Jacquizz Rodgers has a golden opportunity due to a report this week that running back Steven Jackson may miss nearly a month due to his hamstring injury.
Jackson will miss his second consecutive game this week, matching his total number of missed games from the past four seasons. Jackson was noted for his durability and longevity over the near-decade he spent playing for the St. Louis Rams before joining the Falcons this off-season. But now he may be sidelined for the time being, opening the door for his backups in Rodgers and Jason Snelling.
Earlier this summer, I discussed the potential outlook for Rodgers this season as he tried to deal with Jackson’s added presence on the team. Then, it did not look promising with the Falcons likely centering their offense around Jackson. That looked to be the case in the team’s season-opening loss to the Saints as Jackson received 11 carries and Rodgers only saw a pair of them. But once Jackson was injured after scoring on Falcons opening drive the following week against his former team, the Falcons turned to Quizz. He did not make the most of that opportunity, gaining a paltry 17 yards on 11 carries. But he bounced back last week against the Dolphins, with an impressive 86 yards on 18 carries.
What was so impressive about was how consistent Rodgers was, something that has not been a hallmark of his short career in a Falcons uniform. That was displayed by his success rate on the ground. Success rate basically categorizes runs as a success or failure based on down and distance. Typically, gained 45-percent of the needed yardage on first down, 60-percent on second down, and converting for a first down regardless of distance on third and fourth down are considered successful runs.
For Rodgers, 12 of his 18 runs proved to be success, for a very impressive 67-percent. That helps keep the Falcons offense on schedule with manageable third downs. Rodgers was successful on 5 of his 11 first down runs but more impressively was perfect on all six of his second down runs and lone third down attempt. The Falcons have rarely seen that sort of rushing success in recent seasons, particularly on first down.
They will hope it continues in the coming weeks with Jackson absent. It will obviously be critical for the Falcons short-term success as they try to get out of their 1-2 rut. But it will also affect Rodgers’ long-term future as his contract will be up sooner rather than later following the 2014 season. Thus far in his short career his production hasn’t been great, with 182 attempts and 669 yards for a subpar 3.7 yards per carry. His value has mainly been in the passing game with 81 catches and where his 628 receiving yards nearly match his rushing total.
While Rodgers will continue to share the load with teammate Jason Snelling, it is really the former that is in prime position to show his value as a runner, not just as a third down specialist. Snelling turns 30 this December and while his contract is also up at the end of the 2014 season, his age will likely prevent him from receiving anything beyond a one or two-year deal from the Falcons. Rodgers will have just turned 25 by the time he hits free agency in March 2015, which opens the possibility for a long-term deal. Potentially one that pays him a salary compatible with a starting running back. That is a ways off, but it starts this season with how well Rodgers can fill the shoes of Jackson in the coming weeks. If he continues to be a productive back that can be successful while getting 15-20 carries per game, then the Falcons may begin to see him as more than just a role player and third down specialist. He may be able to sneak his way into their sights as a potential option to replace Jackson as the starting tailback a year or two down the line when the veteran is ready to hang up his cleats.