Steven Jackson’s first season with the Atlanta Falcons qualifies as a major disappointment, with a hamstring injury costing him four games early in the season and he wound up averaging a career-low 3.5 yards per carry. But he did look better late in the season, with all six of his touchdowns coming over a five game stretch (Week 12-Week 16) and a yards per carry average of 3.6 over that stretch. He was again bothered by a hamstring issue that sidelined him for the majority of training camp, but Jackson returned to practice this week and should be ready for Week 1.
Even with left tackle Sam Baker out for the season with a torn patella tendon, the Falcons will have an improved offensive line with first-round pick Jake Matthews moving over from right tackle and guard Jon Asamoah being signed to a five-year deal this offseason. Jackson may lose playing time to rookie Devonta Freeman, and to a lesser extent Jacquizz Rodgers, but Atlanta’s running game should be much more effective this year.
Jackson has 2,552 career carries, which leads all active running backs, and he has nearly 3,000 total touches in his career (440 receptions). He had at least 250 carries in all but one season from 2005-2012, but Jackson has also only played all 16 games just three times in 10 NFL seasons. At age 31 with a decline of nearly a yard per carry over the last three seasons, there may be room for Jackson’s production to drop more this year.
Even though Jackson has never been a particularly prolific touchdown scorer in his career, he had 23 red zone carries last season, including 16 inside the 10-yard line and 10 inside the 5-yard line. As could be expected five of his six rushing touchdowns came from three yards out or less, and Jackson should not lose goal line work to Freeman or Rodgers this year.
Jackson is an interesting case for fantasy owners this year, since he is clearly a declining player that should no longer be considered a top-tier running back. But Atlanta’s top two wide receivers (Julio Jones and Roddy White) were either out or not at full strength for much of last season, and it’s fair to expect improvement from the team’s offense this year.
As the Falcons’ primary goal line back Jackson has some sneaky fantasy value, but a lot of us were saying the same thing at this time last year. The key for Jackson is of course health, and he’s not off to a great start in that regard thus far. Even with the expectation of a few missed games, I think Jackson has value as a RB3 in standard scoring leagues with increased appeal in touchdown-heavy formats.