Jackson's value rises with Falcons
Here's a rundown of the latest free agent signings and other transactions:
• Steven Jackson to the Atlanta Falcons. This is the only big one from Thursday, so I'm going to spend extra time on it. I love this move. I mean, I heard the skepticism from many of my Twitter followers: Jackson has been a lukewarm fantasy option for years, failing to top seven rushing TDs or eight total TDs in a season since 2006. He hasn't topped 78 rushing yards per game since '09. And he turns 30 in July. Statistically, these are all warning signs. But I don't care. I love this move.
All statistical criticisms of Jackson must be prefaced with a disclaimer: He was playing for the St. Louis Rams. For at least three straight years, the Rams have been an offensive line wasteland. It's been soul-crushing. Over that time, the Rams have been 28th as a team in rushing yards, 25th in per-carry average, 23rd in "stuffed" percentage and dead last in rushing TDs ... by a mile! The Rams have 25 rushing TDs over the past three seasons. The next-worst in that category are the Kansas City Chiefs with 35. (The New England Patriots are tops with 81.) Lest you blame Jackson himself for all this misery, I extrapolated some data from ProFootballFocus and discovered that of the 25 RBs who played at least 50 percent of their team's offensive snaps, Jackson rated 21st in average yards before contact. While that could condemn a player's ability to avoid contact at the line, in Jackson's case I think it's a judgment on that Rams blocking.
That's because I watched the tape. Last night I went back and watched every Jackson carry from Weeks 14 to 17. I didn't see a player on his last legs. When he had room in December, Jackson could still move. Multiple times against the Buffalo Bills and Minnesota Vikings, I saw a RB with tons of life. He still has a high leg-kick in his stride, and while he's not what you'd categorize as elusive, he doesn't glide or drift when there's nothing there, like Michael Turner did so often in '12.
Jackson prefers to be a one-cut driver, a power-scheme player who may not find daylight but who'll almost always generate contact. In Week 16 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he wasn't productive early in the game because of poor blocking, but toward the end of the first half when an opportunity presented itself, he banged up the middle without hesitation for 12 yards, and on the same drive just powered and dove his way into the end zone for a five-yard score. Even in Week 17 against the rough-and-tumble Seattle Seahawks, as the Rams worked in Isaiah Pead into the game plan, Jackson produced a highlight-reel 15-yarder where he basically hopped for the first five yards on one leg. Laying down this tape with those Rams composite rushing numbers lead me to the conclusion that the problem in St. Louis hasn't been Jackson at all.
Consider this: Running for the Falcons, Turner has had 102 carries inside an opponent's 10 over the past three seasons, second in the NFL behind only Arian Foster. Jackson has had 43, which ties him for 17th, one spot behind Cam Newton, who's only been in the league for two of those three seasons. Plus, Falcons playcaller Dirk Koetter threw it short way more than Mike Mularkey used to: On passes behind the line of scrimmage last year, the Falcons had 66 more completions and 559 more yards than in '11, and on passes that traveled more than 20 yards in the air, their numbers were basically the same as in '11. Last season, it was Jacquizz Rodgers and Julio Jones who specialized in those screens, but it's crazy not to think Jackson -- who has 407 career grabs -- won't partake. Listen, I know he'll be 30, and I know Rodgers saw an increased workload later in the season and in the playoffs. I'm not telling you Jackson is in for an Arian Fosteresque workload in Atlanta. But doesn't he have to at least match Turner's 241 touches from '12? I believe he will, and he'll cash in on double-digit TDs. I was tempted to put Jackson inside my top 10 rushers last night, and I still may reconsider heading into the summer. For now, he jumps from No. 19 to No. 11. I'm a believer.
Christopher Harris and Field Yates discuss the fantasy implications from the free agency moves from Wes Welker to Stephen Jackson and more.
• Other moves of note: The Minnesota Vikings had seen enough of Joe Webb as their backup QB, so they signed Matt Cassel to understudy Christian Ponder. Do I believe there's a controversy brewing in Minny? Not yet. Ponder did win a big game in Week 17 and didn't get to start a playoff game because of injury, plus he's a first-round pick and the franchise has a bunch of emotional capital invested in him. But he's yet to prove he's got a big-league arm; Cassel has worse accuracy, but more oomph on his throws. It'll take a bad start to the season for Ponder to sit. We'll also have to see whether Greg Jennings signs as the Vikes' top receiving weapon before we can really draw any conclusions. ... Remember when Kevin Ogletree was a name on the lips of every fantasy owner? It was Week 1 last season, a Wednesday night affair for the Dallas Cowboys, as Ogletree burned some reserve corners for the New York Giants to the tune of eight grabs for 114 yards and two TDs. Alas, in the next 15 contests Ogletree managed 24 catches for 322 yards and two more scores, and lost his third-receiver gig to Dwayne Harris. Now Ogletree has signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and should compete for their third-receiver gig. But you know better. ... The Detroit Lions announced that long-time left tackle Jeff Backus is retiring, which means they'll be without both of their '12 starting tackles, as Gosder Cherilus has already left for the Indianapolis Colts. I'm not trying to tell you that the Backus/Cherilus combo was awesome, but according to ProFootballFocus, they did combine to allow only five sacks of Matthew Stafford last season. This is at least a little splash of cold water on the Lions offense hype train, Reggie Bush included. ... The Arizona Cardinals will reportedly release Kevin Kolb before Saturday, when he's due a roster bonus, and the New York Jets are said to be interested. Because, y'know. Obviously.
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