Greetings! As the 2013 NFL season approaches, it is time to take a deeper look at what to expect from the Atlanta Falcons. In the seventh of a nine-part preview, we’re looking at the Michael Turner-less running back corps. Let’s go!
Someone who isn’t Michael Turner!! For anyone new to my work, I’ve been vocal that Turner was done for the better part of two full seasons, and I couldn’t be more excited for the Steven Jackson era. Jackson has been an upper-tier running back for nearly a decade, despite toiling with the usually-awful Rams. He has rushed for 1,000+ yards in 8 consecutive seasons, and while that total doesn’t necessarily mean “elite”, he has averaged over 100 total yards per game for his career, and that is tremendous. At 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, he’s an absolute monster between the tackles, but unlike Turner, he has great hands out of the backfield and can be on the field for all 3 downs. At age 30, Jackson is probably nearing the end, but he has 260 carries or less in each of the past two seasons and that should help to keep a bit of the wear and tear off. He won’t be a top-5 back in the league this season, but Jackson will get a ton of goal-line work and if he can stay healthy, I see approximately 1,500 total yards and double-digit touchdowns.
The primary handcuff (warning: fantasy term) for Steven Jackson is our old friend, Jacquizz Rodgers. Rodgers is still incredibly tiny (5-foot-6), but he’s shown the propensity for effectiveness in limited time. He may not be on the field as consistently this season with Jackson’s versatility on display, but he’ll still be in the lineup every game and the fact that he caught 53 balls in 2012 demonstrates his value. I’m not positive that he would become “the guy” if Jackson broke down, but Rodgers is a guy that is valuable, and we’ll also see him as the kickoff returner. Aside from Rodgers, Jason Snelling is the other significant option. Snelling could see some time at fullback, but he would be the short-yardage option if Jackson wasn’t available. He has 7 total touchdowns in 82 games as a Falcon, but at 29, the end of the line is on the way for Snelling as well.
Finally, Antone Smith and Josh Vaughan are around for special teams and insurance purposes. This will be Smith’s fourth year on the active roster, but he has exactly one career carry and I’d expect that to continue. Vaughan has 10 career carries with the Panthers in 2010 and 2011, and if we see him in the backfield, something has gone wrong.
The lone option
Bradie Ewing! In today’s NFL, the fullback position is on the verge of being obsolete, and the Falcons are no different. Ewing will definitely see the field in certain packages, but he isn’t a ball carrier or really a receiving option. Look for the Falcons to use Jason Snelling in some fullback work, but Ewing is the straight-ahead mauler in short-yardage spots.
After this position being a weakness (in my view at least) last season, the Falcons are suddenly above-average in the backfield with the presence of Jackson. In a perfect world, that should take a very, very, very good offense to a great offense, and if Jackson is the same player that he’s been in St. Louis, this could be the best offense in league as a result. Keep an eye on how much playing time Jacquizz Rodgers gets in the early season, as that could be a real barometer of how the time share will break down.
Stay tuned for part 8, when we finally arrive at the quarterback spot.