It’s time to look at the Falcons signature offensive free agent addition in running back Steven Jackson.
In fact, one could argue the Falcons made a mistake by not trading for Jackson at the trade deadline last fall, as the boost he could have potentially provided down the stretch could have meant the difference between the Falcons losing in the NFC Championship Game and going to the Super Bowl. The Falcons appear to believe that acquiring Jackson later is better than never. But let’s first look at Jackson’s skillset before talking about what exactly he could bring to the table in 2013. Once again, the grading system is based on a ten-point scale: 1-pathetic, 2-poor, 3-weak, 4-below average, 5-average, 6-above average, 7-good, 8-very good, 9-excellent, 10-elite.
Speed (5.0) – Jackson possesses good burst and hits the hole quickly. He however lacks the long speed to be particularly dangerous on the second level. He’s never been a back known for his ability to break long runs having 31 runs of 20 or more yards in his 9-year career. In comparison to Michael Turner, who had 45 in his 5 years in Atlanta and 29 between 2008-10. Jackson’s running style is more suited to being a volume back that can consistently get gains of 3-7 yards per run and wear down opponents over time.
Power (8.0) – Jackson runs with great authority, toughness, and physicality. He’s not afraid of contact and will consistently crave it. He consistently keeps his feet churning after initial contact and in traffic, allowing him to consistently add yards here and there. While not a player that is going to run over every defender, he does make it so that he’s not easy to bring down which can help wear down defenses. As a volume runner that can make him most effective in the fourth quarter.
Agility (6.0) – Jackson possesses good lateral agility and quickness, able to side-step defenders in the hole. He shows good burst out of his cuts, as he’s comfortable working inside and on the edge. His agility makes him an effective one-cut runner when working on stretch plays and other zone blocking runs. He is able to make a defender miss on the second level and bounce plays to the edge, although again his lack of ideal speed limits his ability to generate big plays in those instances.
Vision (7.0) – Jackson has good vision to the hole, able to run to daylight and due to his power, burst, and lateral quickness, he can exploit it. But his declining skill in those areas doesn’t allow him to always do so to the level he once did in the past. There will be many runs where he’ll run into traffic and use his size and power to make a hole where there is none.
Hands (7.0) – He possesses good hands and is comfortable catching the ball out of the backfield. He’ll drop some passes on occasion, but considering his relatively high volume of targets and opportunities, it’s a fairly low percentage. He is able to secure the ball and then square his shoulders to get downfield to run hard after the catch.
Blocking (7.0) – He is an experienced pass protector having served in that role for the Rams for a number of years. His reps were cut down last year in part due to the presence of Daryl Richardson, and also do to the Rams new offense preferring to spread the field and limiting how much backs were asked to block. His size and physicality makes him more than capable of squaring up a defensive linemen coming off the edge or up the middle.
Jackson isn’t the player he once was. Five years ago, he was in the mix for being one of the top backs in the league a notch below players like Adrian Peterson. Similarly, Jackson possesses all the tools you look for in a top back, size, speed, power, pass catching ability, quickness, and agility. And despite languishing on bad Rams teams for years, he was be able to showcase these skills. So even while his production never matched that of a player like Michael Turner in his heyday in Atlanta, I always considered Jackson to be the superior back.