The Packers Super Bowl band wagon got quite a bit lighter today after the team announced that starting halfback Ryan Grant was placed on season ending injured reserve. Many prognosticators and fans tend to think there will be a significant drop off in the performance of their running game as they turn to fourth year player Brandon Jackson to be their feature back.
Upon further review, however, could Jackson actually be a better fit for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers explosive offense?
Jackson brought an impressive resume to Green Bay when he arrived as a second round draft pick in 2007. He was the 2003 5A High School player of the year at Lake Horn in Mississippi. He also finished sixth in the state championship in track with a personal best of 10.6 in the 100 meter sprint.
As a freshman at the University of Nebraska he worked his way onto the field and tallied 390 yards and 6 touchdowns. By his junior season he had honed his skills as a receiver and as a kick returner. He finished his junior campaign with 989 rushing yards an earned all Big 12 honors. Following that season, Jackson elected to fore go his senior year and enter the NFL draft.
When comparing Jackson and Grant it stands out that they are very different backs. Jackson runs very low to he ground. Grant is a long strider who runs very upright. Whereas Grant has struggled breaking tackles once he is in the open field, Jackson is more "slippery" and may be able to break the tackle to turn a short run into an explosive gain.
Though Grant is the more powerful runner, Jackson spent his off season with a new diet and training regimen intended to give him more power and endurance. Throughout training camp Jackson spoke about how he treated this off season differently than any other.
Jackson has always been a better receiver than Grant. He is a natural pass catcher whereas Grant has struggled with drops. Despite limited playing time Jackson has 67 receptions for 502 yards as a Packer.
The one skill that Jackson has worked tirelessly to improve upon is blitz pick up and blocking for Aaron Rodgers. The results have been impressive. During the Packers 7-1 run to finish the 2009 season, Jackson's blitz pick up and pass blocking was very effective as he became the consistent 3rd down back. As the featured running back, this will help the overall pass protection of the offense.
With his skill set Jackson will give Rodgers a nice "dump off" option. Hopefully Jackson can instinctively know when to move away from his pass blocking and slip into a seam uncovered. This is not something the Packers utilized much when Grant was in the game. With four talented receivers as well as rising star tight end Jermichael Finley, opposing defenses will be plenty busy attempting to cover the receiving stable, allowing Jackson some potential to take some short passes and turn them into long gains.
With Ryan Grant, the Packers used a power running game. Opposing defenses knew when he would get the ball and it became a simple battle of blocking versus pursuit. With Jackson in the game, defenses will have to play more of a guessing game on what plays the Packers will run.
Expect to see the offense throw more screens and passes to the flat than they have in the last few seasons. Sometimes a short passing game functions as well as a running game. Jackson will give the offense this flexibility.
When you look at all the variables, Jackson has all the skills to be a versatile feature back. If he can stay healthy and gain confidence as the season progresses, the Packers offense could potentially improve with Jackson. Aaron Rodgers led the entire NFL in passer rating on 3rd down last season. It is no coincidence that Brandon Jackson was the team's designated third down back. In other words, Aaron Rodgers played his best football when Jackson was on the field.
With Super Bowl expectations running rampant for the Packers, the future is definitely now for Brandon Jackson. And when the dust settles on this season Jackson could very well be one of the surprise players of the NFL 2010 campaign.