Can Steven Jackson Still Bulldoze the Competition?

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Can Steven Jackson Still Bulldoze the Competition?
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

When Steven Jackson retires, he just may go down as the most under-appreciated workhorse running backs in modern NFL history. 

No hyperbole there. 

He has appeared in two career postseason games,—both in 2005—plays in St. Louis' relatively small market, and his Rams don't necessarily have a storied rivalry with any divisional opponent. 

During his professional tenure, Jackson's Rams have, unfortunately for him, been essentially irrelevant and have experienced plenty ho-hum seasons.

Remember, we're less than a year removed from the immortalization of Curtis Martin when his 10-straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons were cited as one the reasons he ultimately was found to be Hall of Fame worthy. 

Jackson has rushed for over 1,000 yards in eight consecutive campaigns. 

Hall of Fame worthy?

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Seems pretty darn close.  

But this isn't an attempt to expound the truth's of Jackson's career—quite the opposite, actually. It just felt it necessary to put it in proper historical context because it has been easy for his sustained productivity to be forgotten.

After a 1,042-yard, four-touchdown 2012, what does the soon-to-be 30-year-old Jackson, a guy with 2,395 career carries, have left to offer?

 

By The Numbers

ProFootballFocus (subscription required) gave Jackson a +9.2 overall rating for his performance in the 2012 season, a higher grade than guys like Jamaal Charles, DeMarco Murray and Arian Foster.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
He finished with the eighth-most yards after contact, and although his 2.7 yards-after-contact-per-carry average seems rather low, it was better than the YACPC average of Frank Gore, Stevan Ridley, LeSean McCoy, Ray Rice, and Matt Forte.

Not bad for an old and slow nine-year vet. 

He averaged only 4.1 yards per carry on the year, but PFF rated the Rams' as the eighth-worst run-blocking team in the NFL. 

Sure, Jackson may not be as explosive as he once was—what 29-year-old running back is?—but St. Louis' run-blocking struggle certainly has played a major factor in his decreasing yards-per-carry statistics. 

In 2010 when he finished with a career-low 3.9 YPC, PFF rated the Rams' offensive line has the second-worst run-blocking unit in football. 

Before solely blaming Jackson himself for declining YPC numbers, St. Louis' offensive line deficiencies must be considered. 

 

Eye Test

Jackson still is a strong runner. 

He never ran past defenders in the open field, but his rare blend of size, lateral quickness, vision and sheer power made him one of the more feared backs in the league in the middle of the 2000's. 

While his timed, straight-line speed and suddenness to hop to outside on a cutback aren't what they once were, Jackson still bowls over smaller defenders in the open field, running through arm tackles before finishing nearly all of his runs extremely hard.

Remember, he was Marshawn Lynch before Marshawn Lynch.

Watch the first run on this 2012 highlight tape:

Sure, highlight tapes probably aren't the best way to objectively evaluate a running back in the twilight of his career, but it demonstrates that he still possesses the ability to wear down a defense with punishing runs and that his awareness has not diminished. 

Check this eight-yard run against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 15.

Upon the snap, center Scott Wells gets pushed back by Vikings defensive tackle Letroy Guion. Jackson identifies this disruption, so he instinctively bounces back to the inside where there is a much more inviting hole through which to run. 

He explodes with a rather impressive amount of burst, kicks off an arm tackle, and lowers his center of gravity to take on the tackle of linebacker Chad Greenway while falling forward for extra yardage. 

Adrian Peterson stole the show that day in St. Louis, but Jackson ended with 73 yards at a 5.6 yards-per-carry clip against Minnesota run defense that finished in the Top 10 in terms of fewest total rushing yards allowed in 2012. 

It's easy to see that, with improved blocking in front of him, Jackson can still bust a few big plays, is still devastating when he reaches the second level of the defense and isn't a liability as a pass-catcher.

 

His worth

Jackson remains a valuable running asset, although it's unlikely that a team will make him their featured runner in 2013 and beyond. 

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
At nearly 30 years of age, it's probably best if he isn't the No. 1 guy anymore. 

But there aren't many super savvy, multifaceted, thunderous runners who can plow over defenders on the open market. 

A team in win-now mode in need of a sturdy back— a guy to spell the starter without losing production while wearing down a defense—would be smart to consider Jackson and sign him to a two- or-three-year deal at around $10- to-$15 million. 

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