Steven Jackson has been one of the NFL's top workhorses ever since he was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in 2004. It's a pattern that Rams' general manager Billy Devaney says needs to end.
"He can't keep going at this pace," Devaney told Mike Florio on ProFootballTalk Live. "He wants all the carries, he hates being on the bench and even think about sharing the load. But whether he was 24 or 28 we’ve got to come up with a guy that could spell Steven here and there, when there isn’t a great drop off. We’re aware of that, and we’re going to try to address that, whether it’s in the draft or in free agency at some point.”
Devaney attested that running back isn't the team's only need and that with so many holes in the roster, the plan remains to draft the best available player. With a glut of ball carriers expected to fall to the second round and later, that best available player could be USC's Alan Bradford.
Similar to Jackson, Bradford is a physical runner who excels at running between the tackles. His lack of game-breaking speed will prevent him from being a guy who can consistently run outside, but can surprise unsuspecting defenses with an occasional burst. Even though he wasn't asked to catch a lot of passes in college, Bradford does have pretty good hands and can contribute a few receptions.
Jackson carried the ball 330 times last season and still has the ability to be a centerpiece back in the NFL.
But at 27 (he turns 28 in July), he's one of the offense's elder statesman. The free agent market actually is pretty robust with quality running backs. DeAngelo Williams, Ahmad Bradshaw and BenJarvus Green-Ellis are among a lengthy list of backs that could serve the Rams well as an understudy to Jackson. Yet while the proven commodity of a veteran player could serve a young team like St. Louis very well, the issue of the team's youth could be a driving force behind finding help in the draft.
From the moment he hired head coach Steve Spagnuolo, Devaney's plan was to avoid taking shortcuts and quick fixes to build the franchise.
Instead the idea was to address as many needs as possible through the draft to put together a group that had staying power. The added wrinkle in the 2011 draft is that the lockout has prevented teams from addressing their needs through free agency. As such, signing veteran talent may be a course of last resort for St. Louis.