Can Falcons, Fantasy Owners Really Trust Jason Snelling, Jacquizz Rodgers?

Gary DavenportNFL AnalystSeptember 24, 2013

Sep 22, 2013; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Atlanta Falcons fullback Jason Snelling (44) runs past Miami Dolphins cornerback Nolan Carroll (28) during the second half at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

After winning 13 games last year, a lot was expected of the Atlanta Falcons in 2013.

However, the Falcons now sit at 1-2, due in large part to injuries which have ravaged the team on both sides of the ball.

Among those injuries is a bum leg that could hold running back Steven Jackson out until after the team's Week 6 bye. It leaves the Falcons and fantasy football enthusiasts facing a very important question:

How much faith can we have in the Atlanta ground game at this point?

The combination of Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling actually fared pretty well in last week's loss to the Miami Dolphins.

Against the NFL's 19th-ranked defense, Snelling and Rodgers combined to carry the ball 29 times for 139 yards. Add in the 65 yards that the pair picked up on six catches, and Rodgers and Snelling piled up over 200 yards of total offense.

It was Rodgers who drew the start. In fact, there was a time (before Jackson arrived in free agency) when many felt that Rodgers would take over the lead role in the Atlanta backfield in 2013.

Even head coach Mike Smith alluded to Rodgers being more than a scat-back-type back in February, according to Daniel Cox of the Falcons' website:

We thought he was only going to be a change of pace back. We found out very quickly that even though he is short, he is not little. He can handle all three downs and he does a very good job for us returning kicks.

Runs like this rumble in the Falcons' postseason win over Seattle last year no doubt led Smith to that conclusion.

However, the arrival of Jackson seemed to take the wind out of Rodgers' sails. Leading up to the Miami game, the third-year pro had carried the ball 13 times for 16 yards.

That explains why Snelling also had a substantial role in the offense last week, and given how he performed, it's a role he probably isn't going to relinquish anytime soon.

Snelling isn't nearly as explosive with a football in his hands as Rodgers. However, the seventh-year veteran is a capable between-the-tackles grinder and solid pass-catcher out of the backfield.

Snelling has also shown the ability to shoulder a heavy workload. In 2009, after starter Michael Turner was injured, Snelling took up the lead role in the Atlanta backfield.

Snelling performed well, finishing the season with nearly 900 total yards and five scores. In the last game of the 2009 season, Snelling rushed for 147 yards on 25 carries against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Granted, neither Snelling nor Rodgers has an NFL pedigree that approaches Jackson's.

However, we're not exactly talking about chopped liver either. Used in tandem with Rodgers as the starter and Snelling as the third-down and goal-line back, the duo showed last week that they're capable of keeping the Atlanta offense from becoming one-dimensional.

That's the good news for Falcons fans. The bad news is directed more at fantasy owners, and it involves a four-letter word.

No, not that one.


If the Miami game was any indication, the Atlanta running game has all the makings of a full-blown running back by committee until Jackson gets back. That may not be until after Atlanta's bye week, according to Vaughn McClure of ESPN.

Rodgers had the edge in touches in Week 4, with 20 compared to 15 for Snelling. However, Snelling had four receptions compared to only two for Rodgers, and it was Snelling who found the end zone.

The snap totals were also very evenly distributed. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Rodgers played 43 snaps. Snelling played 36.

That split isn't likely to change much, especially if it continues to be effective. It also caps the fantasy upside of both players.

Rodgers' ability to break the big one may offer a higher fantasy ceiling. However, Snelling will likely see the goal-line looks and would probably be the clock-killing back, giving him a higher floor.

Both players should be rostered in almost all fantasy formats, especially with the bye weeks upon us. If forced to choose, we'd give the edge to Snelling as the better touchdown bet, but it's a narrow edge indeed.

In any event, neither player is more than a bye-week RB2 or "flex" option, and they aren't going to replace the production fantasy owners were counting on from Jackson.

However, things could also be a lot worse, and at least Rodgers and Snelling showed against Miami that they're capable of holding down the fort in the Atlanta backfield until Jackson returns.