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Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Where Steven Jackson ranks with top backs

By Mike Sando

Steven Jackson finished what I would consider a disappointing seventh in ESPN.com's power rankings for NFL running backs.

I understand why.

Steven Jackson
Rams running back Steven Jackson ranks fourth among NFL players in rushing yardage over the past three seasons, with a 4.1-yard average.
The St. Louis Rams haven't earned their way onto television much. Their offense has been particularly weak in the red zone, preventing Jackson from scoring cheap touchdowns. Jackson isn't a burner, so he doesn't break the 80-yard runs that pad a running back's average over the course of a season.

Those of us who have watched Jackson every week, season after season, realize there's so much more to him than the raw numbers. Not that his numbers need any apologies, aside from the 3.8-yard average Tim Graham cited in explaining why he left out Jackson from his top 10 altogether. Jackson ranks fourth among NFL players in rushing yardage over the last three seasons, with a 4.1-yard average during that time.

I ranked Jackson fourth on my ballot, as did on three other voters. Pat Yasinskas ranked Jackson third.

No back in the league can match Jackson's combination of size, power, heart and running ability. He is all of 6-foot-2 and weighs about 245 pounds. Opponents notice the size right away. He's 30 pounds heavier than Adrian Peterson.

Jackson was at his inspirational best during the final throes of the Rams' historically bad three-year run ending with the 2009 season. I'll always remember the way he ran defiantly and with such passion during the fourth quarter of a 35-0 road loss to San Francisco. Jackson would not let the situation define him. He tore into defenders play after play.

Jackson played out that season with a herniated disc that would later require surgery. That helps explain why two of his three lowest per-carry averages fell during the final month of the 2009 season. Jackson was playing hurt.

This past season, Jackson played against Seattle despite a groin muscle torn badly enough that he couldn't take a full stride. He wore this elaborate wrap with multiple straps holding his upper thigh in place, one reason he averaged only 3.2 yards per attempt in that game. But Jackson picked up 49 yards on a screen pass while running at maybe three-quarter stride, providing inspiration that played a role in the Rams' victory.

Jackson caught passes with one hand later in the season suffering a broken finger and having a pin inserted to stabilize it.

The Rams couldn't ask any more from him.