Why Jacquizz Rodgers Can Start for the Falcons in 2013

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Why Jacquizz Rodgers Can Start for the Falcons in 2013
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Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff is expected to part ways with tailback Michael Turner this offseason, leaving Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling as the two main tailbacks left on the roster. 

Turner has been criticized for appearing out of shape during his time as the Falcons starter in the backfield. This past season, he finished with a pedestrian 800 yards on 222 carries (just 3.6 yards per carry), averaging 50 yards a game. 

The Falcons offensive line struggled with run-blocking throughout the season, sure. But the fact of the matter is that Turner simply doesn't function behind the line that's in front of him as well as other backs can. Turner also doesn't come close to fitting into the mold of second-year offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter's offensive schemes. 

Turner lacks burst at the point of attack. His successes in the past have come when the offensive line has led him to the second level, where he can be an imposing runner against linebackers and defensive backs. The problem has been that he hasn't been able to get to that point. 

He also isn't a receiving threat at all. In Koetter's system, Turner caught 19 passes on 30 targets. 

Turner will be entering the final year of his six-year, $34.5 million contract that he signed in 2008. In 2013, the Falcons will owe him $5.5 million. 

Needless to say, Dimitroff will very likely release Turner to create more cap space. The Falcons could use that cap space to make roster improvements, but don't be too surprised if they don't make a huge signing at tailback. 

Rodgers could be the guy that Dimitroff and Koetter want to go with, at least for now. 

 

What Rodgers did in 2012

Rodgers was a valuable utility in the Falcons' offense this past year. He provided Matt Ryan with a viable receiving threat out of the backfield and showcased serious running ability as the season progressed.

He carried 94 times for 362 yards (3.9 yards per carry), which isn't spectacular, but fans would likely agree that it was clear all year that Rodgers simply was a better runner than Turner and could be more productive as a starter.

In the passing game, he was the Falcons fourth-leading receiver behind Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez. He caught 53 passes on 59 targets for 402 yards, 17 first downs and one touchdown. 

Via sportsgif.com

 

Why he fits Koetter's system

Koetter came to Atlanta last year after working with inferior quarterbacks in Jacksonville, but he did have the luxury of featuring one of the NFL's top tailbacks—Maurice Jones-Drew. 

Rodgers is a similar back to Jones-Drew. In fact, there may not be a more similar back to him in the rest of the league. 

Rodgers proved this year that he can run between the tackles, which is something that many believed he couldn't do solely because of his size. He also showcased some serious physicality, especially in the NFC Divisional Playoffs when he ran over Earl Thomas. 

His receiving ability makes him a valuable part of this offense. Matt Ryan threw for 4,719 yards in 2012, which was a franchise record. The more receiving threats that the Falcons have, the better.

Finally, Rodgers jumps off of the film when it comes to his ability to pass-protect. He looks like a veteran out there. His low center of gravity actually helps him in that category as well. In fact, it was an impressive Rodgers block that gave Matt Ryan the time to complete the final throw to Tony Gonzalez to set up the game-winning field goal against Seattle.

Rodgers truly is a three-tool tailback. His youth, being a third-year player going into 2013, and his shape make him a reliable body. 

Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
Koetter worked with a similar back in MJD while in Jacksonville, with great success.

 

Too small, you say?

Of course, naysayers have simply claimed that Rodgers is too small to start in the NFL. These people must be short-sighted, because Rodgers, at 5'7" and 196 pounds, is just an inch shorter than the 5'8", 210-pound frame of Jones-Drew. 

Plus, do Falcons fans really not remember Warrick Dunn? The diminutive tailback from Florida State had a solid career as the Falcons starter between 2002 and 2007. In 2004, he helped the Falcons own the best rushing attack in football. 

Dunn was only 5'9" and weighed just 187 pounds.

A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Warrick Dunn never let size prevent him from becoming one of the most heralded backs in Falcons history.

 

What are the benefits of putting confidence in Rodgers?

Considering that the Falcons will probably cut Turner, conventional wisdom says that they will find a new back in free agency or through the draft.

Some have offered at the fact that Steven Jackson of the St. Louis Rams was given an option to opt out of the final year in his contract this year. Jackson immediately became the biggest free-agent tailback name out there.

The 29-year-old Jackson will turn 30 before the start of the season, but he still eclipsed 1,000 yards in 2012. Jackson has also been valued as a dual-threat back, combining a violent running style with receiving ability.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
The Falcons have Jason Snelling. He's pretty good, too.

Jackson will leverage for a big contract, however. Dimitroff has made bold moves in the past with the signings of Tony Gonzalez and Ray Edwards, as well as the trade up to get Julio Jones in the 2011 draft. Two of those three moves paid off pretty well. 

But Dimitroff could put his confidence behind Rodgers and third-string tailback Jason Snelling. Snelling proved in 2009, with Turner being hurt, that he could start in the league. It could be argued that a loyalty to Turner within the Falcons organization kept Snelling as the third-string back in this offense for the past few seasons. 

Snelling is a violent runner in his own right and is also much more versatile than Turner. 

The Falcons should focus on drafting a tailback to compete with Turner and Snelling. It might not even be a horrible idea to take a chance on Marcus Lattimore (South Carolina), who has suffered two knee injuries in the last two seasons. Lattimore's draft stock has dropped significantly since going down earlier in the year. He could become a bargain and a steal as a project for head coach Mike Smith.

Adding to the running back depth through the draft would enable Dimitroff to put his big bucks on making moves to heavily improve the Falcons defensive line, which needs help. 

Michael Foster is an Atlanta Falcons Featured Columnist for BleacherReport. He also served as Sports Editor of The Sentinel (Kennesaw State University's student-run newspaper) for a year and a half, has co-hosted a radio show for KSU Owl Radio and has worked as a sports correspondent for the Marietta Daily Journal and Cherokee Tribune, covering high school football in northwest Atlanta. 
Follow him on Twitter! 

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