The Curious Case Of Steven Jackson: Changing Perceptions

Dec 30, 2012, Seattle, WA, USA; St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson (39) is tackled by Seattle Seahawks defensive end Red Bryant (79) during the third quarter at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 30, 2012, Seattle, WA, USA; St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson (39) is tackled by Seattle Seahawks defensive end Red Bryant (79) during the third quarter at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports /

To most in St. Louis, the departure of Steven Jackson was a bittersweet moment; watching a long-standing face of the franchise leave, all while ushering in a new era in the Rams’ organization. For years, mainstream sports media had piled on Jackson, consistently labeling the star with tags like “over the hill,” “lost a step,” or other generalization about running backs headed towards the 30-year blockage in their career. For most that actually watched Jackson play over the past few season, that couldn’t be further from the truth. In 2011, Jackson first rush of the season was a 47 yard touchdown burst up the gut against the “Dream Team” Philadelphia Eagles. In 2012, after fully recovering from the hamstring injury, Jackson averaged 18 carries for 79.8 yards per game, including a 101 yard rushing performance against the San Francisco 49ers. The motor is running just fine…

However, since the move to Atlanta, the media seems to have miraculously switched gears on the perception of Jackson. Some have praised the Falcons’ acquisition as the final piece of the offensive puzzle, some even calling their 2013 offensive roster the Greatest Show on Turf 2.0; blasphemy! However, it wasn’t until a recent article by Bleacher Report on the “NFL Stars with the Most to Prove in 2013” that the sensations of disbelief and near outrage began to set in…

The piece started with the line, “Steven Jackson has plenty of tread left on these tires”; an utterly astounding reversal on the common phraseology that had been used to describe Jackson in St. Louis over the last couple of years. However, despite the discrepancy in point-of-view merely as a result of a team change, that line was not what irked me most as a fan of the St. Louis Rams. It was the ending line, stating, “In Atlanta, however, there’s no reason he can’t maximize his potential with 200-225 carries a year and set career highs…”

Clearly there is no disagreement that Jackson can handle  200-225 carries in Atlanta, considering he has never had fewer than 230 carries since his rookie season when he was under the tutelage of Marshall Faulk. However, to think that Jackson will put up any “career” highs is ludicrous, and shows signs of a resounding ignorance of Jackson’s career in St. Louis.

In 2006, the St. Louis Rams were flying high, having recently found what they thought to be their heir to the Kurt Warner throne, Marc Bulger. That season, both Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt would surpass the 1,000 receiving mark. Steven Jackson would  put up career highs in every major statistical category that year, all while compiling the 6th greatest performance in the history of the NFL, with 2,334 yards from scrimmage; trailing only a handful of current and future Hall-of-Famers (Faulk, Sanders, Barber, Tomlinson), and that one freak year from Chris Johnson.

Jackson was essentially the only running back on the roster that season, and handled a mindblowing 346 carries (on top of another 90 receptions) to reach that mark.

Fast forward to 2013, and Jackson will be entering a team with a signal caller that is an annual 600+ attempt quarterback, which will inevitably mean less snaps for Jackson. He will also have to share, at least some, snaps with Jacquizz Rodgers, who handled a bulk of the carries when Michael Turner occasionally got jammed in first gear. Furthermore, the Falcons haven’t had a running back top 13 rushing touchdowns since Michael Turner hit 17 in the prime of his career in 2008. However, that was Matt Ryan’s debut to the NFL, and he attempted only 434 passes… that will never happen again, as long as Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez are healthy.

The suggestion that Steven Jackson still has gas left in his proverbial tank is obviously nothing to be upset about, even if you are a disgruntled St. Louis Rams fan. However, the fact that it took a change of team for Jackson to earn the respect he deserves as one of the hardest working veterans in the game it disheartening, to say the least. The mere thought that his sheer dominance of the league in the earlier years of his career could be forgotten so easily, lost in the mediocrity of a franchise wallowing in the bottom of the NFL, is truly, truly saddening.

Hopefully, this “new light” on the ex-St. Louis Ram will finally open the casual NFL viewer’s eyes to the star in that was, and still is, Steven Jackson. It is a tragedy, at least in the realm of sports, that it has taken until now for some to see the value of, what should be, a future Hall-of-Fame running back; and worse, that some are still oblivious to the career that Jackson has had in the NFL.