Steven Jackson and the future of Rams running backs
As I sat listening to the 2004 NFL draft, patiently waiting for the Rams to be on the clock I pondered the possibilities of their first pick. Surely the Rams would choose someone on the defensive side of the ball, possibly a linebacker or defensive lineman. So when I heard Steven Jackson, running back Oregon State I was shocked. With then future Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk on the roster it was clear to me that the Rams had bigger needs than running back. Jackson was named the teams starting running back in 2005 splitting time with Faulk, then Faulk missed the entire 2006 season after knee surgery and never returned to the NFL.
Looking back at the 2004 draft today it is almost unbelievable that Jackson was still on the board at 24. The first running back taken in the 2004 draft he has been the offensive centerpiece since the 2006 season. Through most of his career Jackson has been the only superstar on poor teams. As a fan of the Rams the last 10 years have been rough, but with Jackson in the game I always feel the Rams have a chance. Steven Jackson has compiled 7 consecutive 1,000 yard seasons while primarily facing 8 men in the box, charging hard through defenders regardless of the teams record or what was on the scoreboard. Jackson has carried the ball an average of 291 times per season since the 2006 season, and over 2,000 times during his career. The large workload combined with the fact that he is approaching the age of 30 has been discussed by seemingly every writer who covers the NFL. What everyone wants to know is, is this the year he hits the wall?
Flashback to the 2012 NFL draft where the St. Louis Rams used the 50th overall selection for Isiah Pead running back out of Cincinnati. I was relieved to see them draft a quality running back to help reduce the workload on Jackson. Pead has looked shaky in the first two preseason games, but I am confident he will be an effective backup for the Rams this year. With more game time in the final two preseason games he should shake those rookie nerves and develop a better feel for the speed of the game in the NFL. They also added 7th round pick Daryl Richardson out of Abilene Christian who has shown some ability in the preseason putting up some decent stats, albeit against 2nd and 3rd string players. Coupling that with the fact that the Rams drafted Sam Bradford with the 1st overall pick of the 2010 NFL Draft and its easy to see how Jackson’s career just might have been lengthened by a few more years. Most of you who follow the Rams are aware of how hard Jackson works to take care of his body and have heard reports of Jackson reporting to camp with 5% body fat and slightly trimmed down. More importantly everyone who watches the Rams has seen a fresh, explosive Jackson in preseason games. To me it looks as though he has regained that step that some claim he had lost over the last couple of years.
How many years of keeping defensive coordinators up at night does Jackson have left? With Jeff Fisher as the head coach, the Rams will run the ball there is no question about that. The question is who will help reduce the workload on Jackson and hopefully extend his career long enough to play for a contender? Will it be Sam Bradford playing to his potential and enticing Fisher to lean on the passing game? Will it be Isiah Pead developing into an every down back that can share the load with Jackson? Or does the answer lie in a future draft pick, perhaps Marcus Lattimore or Knile Davis will be taken in the first round next year as the heir to Jackson’s “feature back” throne? As a football fan I know there is no way anyone can accurately predict what will happen in the NFL from week to week let alone season to season so I wont even venture a guess on how much longer Steven Jackson plays. I do hope he plays the rest of his career with the Rams and that Rams fans appreciate every time he carries the ball, because there is no telling when you will see another player like #39.