As we count down to the NFL season, XN Sports will be bringing you 32 questions in 32 days. Each day, we’ll feature one of the most important questions for a different NFL team heading into the opening weekend of the league.
Today’s feature team and question?
The St. Louis Rams: How will the Rams fare without Steven Jackson?
Running back Steven Jackson has been one of the steadiest rushers in the NFL since being drafted in the first round in 2004 by the St. Louis Rams. Other than his rookie year when he split carries with star Marshall Faulk, Jackson has been a rock of consistency, racking up at least 1,000 yards in every season. Jackson’s also been incredibly healthy over his career, never playing less than 12 games in a season.
Even age hasn’t slowed Jackson all that much. Over the past four years, he has missed only two games while rushing for nearly 5,000 yards. His yards per carry haven’t been phased either, averaging slightly more than his 4.2 career average. Jackson is also still an effective receiver out of the backfield, accumulating 177 catches over the past four years.
Another impressive thing about Jackson is that he’s often been the focal point of opposing defenses. Despite teams stacking the box against him, he still found a way to make big plays. Even at 30, the running back seems like he still could have several years left.
The lifelong St. Louis Ram has had an impressive career but will be continuing it with the Atlanta Falcons. Jackson became a free agent after last year and signed a deal with the club in the offseason. His move leaves a huge void in the Rams’ backfield for 2013.
With Jackson playing for a new team, where will the Rams turn in 2013?
Simply put, the position is a sizable question mark for the franchise. For now, getting the starts will be second-year back Daryl Richardson. Richardson racked up 4.8 yards per carry average last year and 475 yards as a rookie, but is far from a guarantee. He wasn’t highly touted coming into the league and was one of the final picks in the entire NFL Draft. The league has produced stars late in the draft before but it’s not common. Also, despite his big-play ability, Richardson will need to cut back on the three fumbles he had last year in very limited action.
One thing to like about Richardson, though, is his gaudy 5.3 yards per attempt on first down. That was nearly a yard more than Jackson and his fresh legs could mean big plays for St. Louis. The Rams should hope that’s the case as the question marks behind him are even more significant than he is.
Former Cincinnati Bearcats running back Isaiah Pead joins him in the backfield. The 2012 second-round pick played much more sparingly than Richardson and has been passed up by him on the depth chart despite being selected higher in last year’s draft. Behind Pead is rookie Zac Stacy, a fifth-round pick. Stacy has been a big banged up lately and practiced only a little this week so his health, at least in the short term, is a question. Three other undrafted backs, Chase Reynolds, Benny Cunningham, and Eric Stevens, make up the remaining options. Another player in the backfield, 2012 rookie Terrance Ganaway, recently retired.
The bottom line is that while Richardson may be able to replace Jackson, the Rams better hope he can because there aren’t many viable options behind him. No back in that quartet has more than a year’s worth of experience so adding another back to the roster might be a possibility.
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