The St. Louis Rams are a franchise in transition.
It makes sense, then, that Steven Jackson's job as the starting running back is in a state of uncertainty. With all the turmoil in the Rams' backfield, Daryl Richardson, the rookie from Abilene Christian University, will supplant Jackson as the starter by the time the season is over.
Jackson is averaging a career low at 3.6 yards per carry. Richardson is at 5.2, and his explosiveness outside the numbers in the running game is an element the team hasn't had for quite some time.
From a fantasy and team perspective, it looks more and more like Richardson is prepping for a bigger role in the St. Louis attack.
If you look at the Rams' most recent game, a 17-14 loss to the Miami Dolphins, Jackson actually had his most productive game of the season. On 12 carries, he amassed 52 yards and had a long run negated by a penalty. He would also add three catches out of the backfield.
But Richardson, one of three rookie running backs on the roster in St. Louis, along with Isaiah Pead and Terrance Ganaway, got 13 total touches to Jackson's 15.
He led the way on the ground with 76 yards and finished with 99 yards of total offense.
That's a troubling trend for fantasy owners of Steven Jackson. But it's a good time to designate Richardson as a valuable waiver-wire pickup, especially if running back depth is killing your fantasy team.
Back in the real world, there have been plenty of reasons to guess that the 2012 season is Jackson's last with the team. The seven-time 1,000-yard rusher has been allowed the ability to void his contract and become a free agent in 2013, a stunning move when you consider he was once the face of this franchise.
This will be the first year since 2004 that Jackson has failed to amass 1,000 yards, should he continue on the path that he's started on this season.
That's not to say Jackson doesn't have a role on the Rams. He's a valuable inside runner, and his reckless abandonment for his body is one of the reasons he's been so successful as a back in the NFL.
It's also a reason he's inching towards retirement in just his ninth NFL season, although he's outlived a number of quality backs during his time playing one of the league's most short-lived positions.
Richardson and Jackson are likely headed to a timeshare at the position, as evidenced by the number of touches each got against the Dolphins. As the season progresses, however, I think Jeff Fisher and the offensive staff will notice Richardson's big-play potential is too great to pass up, just like Chris Johnson's was when Fisher was the head coach of the Tennessee Titans.
According to Rotoworld.com writer Chris Wesseling, Fisher hasn't committed to anyone but Jackson for the remainder of the season.
Jeff Fisher tells NFL Network S-Jax "is still our guy" and Daryl Richardson is "a nice little change-up." Doesn't want to wear S-Jax down.— Chris Wesseling (@ChrisWesseling) October 17, 2012
While his loyalty to Jackson is commendable, I don't think he can ignore what Richardson brings to the table. Jackson had a bounce-back week against the Dolphins, but teams will continue to stack the box and force pass protection, blitz pickup and Sam Bradford to beat them.
The smaller, yet faster back can get to the outside better and more effectively than Jackson, and that's worth a look with teams coming after Bradford more often than not.
Richardson hasn't found the end zone this season on 54 total carries. But that will soon change if the offense is clicking like it was against Miami, when Bradford threw for more than 300 yards and the ground game stretched over 150.
The Rams need a mix of power and speed in their backfield. But with the NFL creeping towards the end of power backs as the lone ranger, it won't be surprising at all to see Richardson overtake Jackson as the starter of this team and designate the nine-year veteran as a goal-line and situational runner.
If it's what's best for St. Louis, you can bet Jeff Fisher will make the call. Unpopular or not with the player himself or the fans, Jackson's days are already numbered as a Ram. Pulling the plug on his days as a starter could be the final nail in the coffin of a very distinguished career in St. Louis.