COMMENTARY | On Sunday, December 16, St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson reached 10,000 rushing yards for his career in the team's 36-22 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. He is now poised to rush for 1,000 yards in a season for the eighth consecutive year.
With his current statistics in mind, the question now becomes whether Jackson is a worthy candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Jackson is currently ranked 27th all-time in career rushing yards with 10,002. He'll probably pass Ricky Williams (10,009 yards) this weekend when the Rams take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and he has an outside shot of overtaking Ottis Anderson (10,273) for 25th place by the end of the season.
Futhermore, Jackson is currently the Rams' all-time rushing leader. He's made the Associated Press All-Pro team twice, and he's been voted into the Pro Bowl three times. Jackson certainly has put together an outstanding career in the NFL.
At his best, Jackson has been nearly unstoppable. He's a punishing runner with incredible endurance and strength. Jackson is also a solid option out of the backfield with 399 career catches for 3,283 yards. When you compare those numbers to another big back, Jerome Bettis, a 2012 Hall of Fame finalist, Jackson's statistics hold up well. Bettis caught just 200 passes in his 13-year career for 1,449 yards.
However, one could argue that Jackson has rushed for over 1,400 yards just twice in his career. He's also failed to reach 10 rushing touchdowns in every one of his seasons, except for the 2006 campaign. In fact, Jackson is currently ranked 52nd in career rushing touchdowns despite the fact that he's now reached 10,000 rushing yards.
Injuries are another problem that has affected Jackson throughout his career. He sat out eight games between the 2007 and 2008 seasons and has periodically missed time throughout his nine-year tenure with the Rams. Those lost games have hurt Jackson's statistics. He has also struggled to gain exposure across the league, despite being featured in multiple national commercials. The Rams have been awful for most of Jackson's career, and that has allowed other players to earn the attention of both the fans and the media.
All of these factors lead me to one conclusion: Jackson still has a ways to go before earning a spot in the Hall of Fame. I believe that he's at least two good seasons away from earning his ticket to Canton. For example, if Jackson runs for a combined 2,300 yards in the next two seasons, he'll surpass Marshall Faulk for 10th place on the all-time list. That's certainly a reachable feat for Jackson, and I believe that it would put him in prime position for a spot in the Hall of Fame.
Yet in order for that to happen, Jackson has to stay healthy. There's a reason most running backs start to break down when they turn 30 years old: their bodies take a lot of abuse, and the damage they take adds up. All we need to do is look at Faulk's final years to see how quickly a running back can decline.
Fortunately, it appears that Jackson has taken steps toward prolonging his career. He dropped almost 15 pounds off his playing weight and got down to 5.1 percent body fat during the 2011-2012 offseason. As a result, the 29-year-old Jackson looks better now than he did in September. Instead of losing steam as the season moved forward, Jackson has actually picked up his game, as shown by the 146 total yards he earned against the Vikings last weekend. The truth is Jackson is running just as hard now as he did in his rookie year.
Jackson isn't a sure-fire Hall of Famer yet, but it appears that he's well on his way to earning his way into Canton. Regardless of what happens, it's been a pleasure watching him take the field for the Rams. I hope to see him retire as both a Ram and a clear Hall of Fame candidate.
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