Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith instructs running back Steven Jackson (39) against the San Francisco 49ers during the fourth quarter in the final regular season game at Candlestick Park. The 49ers defeated the Falcons 34-24. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Do the Atlanta Falcons have a legitimate position battle at running back?

Steven Jackson had a rough season in 2013. The Atlanta Falcons brought Jackson into the fold on a 3-year, $12 million prior to last season, but in his debut with the team, the now 30-year-old Jackson posted just 543 yards (on 3.5 yards per carry) and 6 touchdowns in 12 games of action. Now, speculation has begun that there could be a “position battle” in the backfield for Atlanta.

Field Yates of ESPN.com ($) had this to say about a speculative battle for playing time at the running back spot:

The 2013 season quickly flew off the rails in Atlanta, so this isn’t a declaration that Jackson was the primary issue. But the 30-year-old averaged just 3.5 yards per carry, fell short of 1,000 yards for the first time since 2004 and lacked the explosion at the point of contact we’re accustomed to seeing from him. If Jackson’s 2013 was a sign of pending regression, it’s time to look at the rest of the backfield. Rodgers is a useful, change-of-pace back, but it’s the rookie Freeman who really has us interested. He had a strong offseason, is a capable pass-catcher and packs a lot of power into his 209-pound frame. In what isn’t a particularly inspiring running back class, Freeman is a worthwhile rookie investment in dynasty leagues — and perhaps sooner, as Atlanta is going to need to be explosive offensively to win games. Freeman adds that element.

While Yates’ column touches on Atlanta’s situation from a fantasy football perspective, this is incredibly interesting. Thomas Dimitroff did invest a fourth-round selection on Devonta Freeman in the 2014 NFL Draft, and with Jacquizz Rodgers still in the fold, the Falcons seemingly have three legitimate options. That said, the insertion of Freeman into the mix is what puts a bit of pressure on Jackson, simply because Rodgers has never presented a real-threat as an every down back in the NFL due to size issues.

Steven Jackson will likely have every possibility to keep his job with even “average” performance in 2014, but if he stumbles out of the gate with less than stellar explosiveness or health issues, Devonta Freeman will be waiting, and the Atlanta Falcons could choose to look to the future at the position.

Tags: Atlanta Falcons

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