As his offensive line escorts the “Dream Team” defense toward the right sideline, Jackson jump-stops and cuts to the left.
Mere steps later, Jackson has a no-doubt first down as white jerseys continue to be toppled by men wearing all blue.
He splits a gap created by two wide receivers blocking downfield and bursts through the hole leaving two all-pro cornerbacks in his rear-view mirror.
Twenty yards later, Jackson crosses the goal-line for the Rams’ first touchdown of the season.
His customary touchdown celebration didn’t make an appearance. In fact, no demonstration ensued at all. Just a little celebration with teammates as the 240-pound rusher gets knocked around a bit by every teammate he passes on his way to the sideline.
Heading into the season, plays like that were expected.
But the strained quadriceps that happened somewhere along the way was not.
Neither was the bevy of injuries that attacked the Rams on both sides of the ball.
Jackson himself missed one.
A game-time decision entering week 3 (he played that game and carried the ball four times for 23 yards), there is no doubt that Jackson was not 100 percent healthy for the rest of 2011. But who was?
This story wasn’t about making excuses for the Rams’ problems in 2011, it’s about how things almost can’t go as wrong for the Rams in 2012.
That’s why Steven Jackson should be drafted as a No. 1 fantasy running back this year.
In a league that hosts more and more teams which shift to a multiple-running back approach, Jackson still has the backfield largely to himself in St. Louis.
He’s shed a few pounds in the offseason and should be an even faster speeding truck in the open field this season. As Deion Sanders would say, it’s a “business decision” to tackle this man, if you can even do it.
Let’s not forget: Jackson owns a top-10 finish at the running back position for 2011.
He didn’t rank in the top-10 in average points per game amongst his peers, but his overall fantasy points is evidence of Jackson’s durability, which has been a knock on his reputation in the past.
Jackson has only played a full 16-game slate twice in his eight-year career, but he’s played 15 games in three more seasons, averages 14 games played per season over his pro career, and he’s not even 30 (Jackson turned 29 in July).
Not exactly the picture of fragility.
He’s managed to tote the ball for 1,000 yards in each of the past seven seasons. This year, Jackson should make it eight.
Only 15 rushers reached that landmark last year. Jackson averaged more yards per carry than seven of them. Of the seven that boasted a better YPC average, only two were in comparable scenarios in terms of relief gained from his team’s passing game: Denver’s Willis McGahee and the NFL rushing leader, Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew.
Jones-Drew recorded eight rushing touchdowns and McGahee scored four times last season. Steven Jackson scored five. The other five 1,000-yard rushers ranked ahead of Jackson in YPC (Ray Rice, Michael Turner, LeSean McCoy, Ryan Mathews and Reggie Bush) averaged 10.4.
The entire team around Jackson should be better this season. That includes the quarterback, receivers, offensive line (three of the team’s five starters finished the season on the IR) and the Rams’ defense.
Sam Bradford appears to be healthy this season. The team added receivers Chris Givens and Brian Quick in the NFL Draft, Steve Smith from the Philadelphia Eagles and returns slot receivers Danny Amendola and Greg Salas from the IR.
The strides a team’s defense makes should not be understated when it comes to the outlook for the running back's statistics. Teams simply are able to run the ball more late in games when they’re in a position to win the game.
St. Louis finished 2-14 last season. In the two wins (home against New Orleans and at Cleveland) Jackson carried the ball 52 times for 287 yards and two touchdowns, adding seven catches and 55 receiving yards.
Jackson is an asset to the Rams, and a key contributor to the team’s ability to win games. He can be an asset to your fantasy team as well.