Fantasy Football: The Steven Jackson Conundrum and Where He Should Be Drafted

Bruce ChenAnalyst IJuly 21, 2013

ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 21: Running back Steven Jackson #39 of the St. Louis Rams runs the ball against the Atlanta Falcons during the preseason game at the Edward Jones Dome on August 21, 2009 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Let's face it: Steven Jackson is a great talent and unquestionably one of the hardest workers in the NFL. But in the past nine years he's spent toiling away in the offensive wasteland that is the St. Louis Rams, he hasn't always been the sexiest fantasy option.

However, he's been tempting as of late. Fantasy Football Calculator (FFC) reports that Jackson is, on average, being selected as the 12th overall pick, ahead of Matt Forte, Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew and Stevan Ridley.

Those are just running backs. I haven't mentioned the fact that SJ39 is being chosen ahead of Aaron Rodgers, Jimmy Graham and Dez Bryant.

Sounds insane, doesn't it?

It's easy to think that Jackson can overcome the barriers associated with a man of his relatively senior status in the fantasy football RB club. There's a ton to love about him this year, and people know it.

Atlanta had one of the league's best offenses in 2012. It was in the top eight for yards, points and third-down percentage in the regular season. According to CBS Sports, Michael Turner had 50 rushing attempts in the red zone last year and converted nine of them to touchdowns on 241 carries. Jackson had just 27 such attempts and four touchdowns.

Even with Jacquizz Rodgers, if Jackson got 241 carries, that's a huge chance for him to finally produce. If Turner got 10 touchdowns last season, how many could Jackson have had? Turner has had 17, 10, 12, 11 and 10 scores in his five years with Atlanta. In his absence, Jason Snelling became a fantasy star, even if it was for only five games in 2010.

Atlanta running backs in the Matt Ryan era produce short touchdowns. It's just a fact.

And that's the only thing that's prevented Jackson from being a fantasy star. 

While he's provided consistent yards from scrimmage (he's never had less than 1,273 since his rookie season), he's only ever scored more than double-digit touchdowns twice (in 2005 and 2006). On Monday, SJ39 will turn 30.

You know, the age that's equivalent to fantasy RB production as half lives are equivalent to radioactive isotopes.

And you might think that the whole "decline at age 30" thing is an overgeneralization. Maybe. It happens all the time that backs don't wear down at an advanced age because they didn't take a workhorse pounding earlier in their career since they were backups. Kind of like Jackson's predecessor, Michael Turner.

Dave Richard of did an interesting study on a handful of backs that evaluated their likelihood to break down based on age, over/under on 2,400 career carries, major injuries and whether the back had played more than eight seasons or not.

He evaluated every running back who went into the season who fit one of those criteria, and his results were scary accurate. He predicted that Fred Jackson's late career start made him trustworthy for fantasy, while telling us to avoid Thomas Jones, Ricky Williams, Clinton Portis and LaDainian Tomlinson.

If we conduct this same study on Jackson, he fails three categories: he's 30, has 2,395 career carries and has been in the league for nine years. History isn't in his favor. 

So, where does this all lead us? Well, if we could guarantee that Jackson could average 4.5 yards a carry, get more than 240 carries, get in on Atlanta's deadly screen game and score the same touchdowns Turner did, he'd be a top-five back.

On the flip side, if he flames out like Jones, LT and Portis, but still gets the carries, he'd pretty much be a flex-play and a huge bust at his current ADP.

Given the risk with his age, but the tantalizing situation he's in, I think his current ADP makes sense. He's a typical second-round running backa back who could easily be better than a top-five choice but isn't as safe as a Doug Martin or Ray Rice.

If you can get in him in the early or middle of the second round, taking a chance on Jackson is a worthwhile pick.