I’m counting down the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons, and let’s continue with 19th-ranked player: running back Steven Jackson.
To read the methodology I devised to rank the Falcons players, click here.
Total Score: 59/100
Last year’s rank: 13
Player Grade: 59/100
Teams he is starter: 12 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 9 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 32 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +0
Positional Bonus: +3
Jackson has spent the bulk of his career as one of the league’s most consistent running backs. That consistency coupled with his durability were two of the main reasons why the Falcons were attracted by Jackson last offseason as their most notable free-agent signing.
But durability became a problem in 2013 as Jackson suffered a hamstring injury against his former team, the St. Louis Rams, in Week 2. He missed the next four games and then spent a few more games shaking off the rust before the Falcons started to see the player they had paid for.
However, Jackson still did not quite live up to the billing.
Coupled with a prolific passing attack, the Falcons intended to have Jackson finish games for them with his hard-running style and toughness to salt away leads. However, due to the injuries suffered at the wide receiver position, those plans were nixed early in the year. In the second half of 2013, Jackson wound up being asked to be the guy that drives the metaphorical bus for the Falcons offense.
Last season, Jackson was not capable of being that sort of player and really hasn’t been since 2011.
However, it certainly did not help Jackson’s cause that the Falcons offensive line was so porous, coupled with a defense that could not get enough stops to build leads.
And while time won’t rewind for Jackson, the hope is that improvements made in both those areas will give Jackson more opportunities to shine in 2014.
Jackson’s durability will also be very important for the team this year. He’s currently the only running back on the roster that has shown he’s capable of getting the tough, interior yards that are necessary in the NFL. So while there is certainly a decline in Jackson’s play in recent years, his value to the Falcons may have only increased.
Jackson will need to showcase that value this year due to the probability that it may be his last season in Atlanta. While signed through 2015, it’s going to be increasingly harder for the Falcons to justify keeping Jackson, who will be 32 next year and costing the team nearly $5 million in cap space.
And the only way that could be justified is if Jackson eclipses 1,000 yards and is every bit the player the team envisioned when they signed him. But even then, that may not be enough.