- Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer
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As for the Atlanta Falcons, they made their big pickup last offseason by signing Steven Jackson to a three-year, $12 million deal. Jackson had eight-consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons with the St. Louis Rams before joining the Falcons. He averaged a career-low 3.5 yards per carry in his first season with Atlanta as a hamstring injury limited him to 12 games and poor offensive line play hampered his effectiveness.
But Falcons head coach Mike Smith expressed faith in Jackson moving forward, although Jackson turns 31 before the 2014 season. Smith was asked at this week's NFL owners meetings about the thought process of picking up a running back with a lot of mileage.
"We felt like you've got to be able to run the football and run the football when everybody knows you're going to do that," Smith explained. "When you're in that situation, you've got to have a big back. And we felt like Steven was the type of running back that we were looking for.
"Unfortunately, Steven was injured last year and we didn't really get a chance to see what he was capable of doing until the last four or five games. But you've got to have a big back when you have to get the two or three yards. Especially late in the season, you've got to be able to run the football."
Jackson injured his hamstring in a Week 2 win over his former team, the Rams. He missed four games and couldn't get into a rhythm immediately. He finished the 2013 season with six touchdowns in the last six games.
Although Smith values what Jackson is capable of bringing, he understand the value of running backs is starting to fade around the league.
"The running back position is going through a transition in terms of its value," Smith said. "It's more of a position where you want to have two or three running backs running the ball. It's probably the most punishing position on the field. You look at it as a position that you want to have a first-down runner, a change of pace runner, there's different body types and there's different skill sets. You've got to have a running back that can pass protect. … he's very involved in pass protection. Very rarely do you see a true four-down alignment. He's got to be able to identify the defensive formation, who the line's going to take and who he's going to take.
"Defensive coordinators do such a great job of changing up who's rushing. He's got to be the guy that blocks the fifth or sixth rusher. Never really have an idea who it's going to be. I think it's gone to more of a committee position. I think a lot of it has to do with the wear and tear that a running back takes. There are very few guys that can feel comfortable getting through the season in the NFL and feed him the ball 30 times a game."