First Down: ‘Action’ still aplenty in Atlanta’s Jackson

In the court of public opinion fantasy ‘experts’ are always guilty, especially when it comes to drafting. No matter how seemingly obvious the pick, pundits are constantly scrutinized by the masses, flattened repeatedly by the bus they're thrown under. Hey, it’s the nature of the game. And the Noise, a self-proclaimed sadist, relishes every venom-spewing moment.

Take my selection of Steven Jackson at No. 10 overall in last week’s 12-man PPR mock with the Rotoworld crew.

After revealing my team on Twitter, hatemongers emerged from their caves hell-bent on putting yours truly on blast. Though some praised the move, “moron,” “dumb” and “(Donkey)-hat” were common descriptions used to denounce the pick, unexpected vitriol for what felt like a very comfortable selection.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion. However, those who refuse to buy into the S-Jax hype are a few fries short of a Happy Meal. Yes, his elderly state – when he entered the league in 2004 Domanick Davis/Williams (Remember him?) was a somebody – and high odometer reading are cause for pause, but he’s shown few signs of deterioration. Age, after all, ain’t nothin’ but a number. Tiki Barber, Corey Dillon, Walter Payton, Thomas Jones, Curtis Martin, Barry Sanders and ex-Falcon Warrick Dunn are just a few noteworthy rushers who registered standout seasons at 30 years-young.

Jackson, who turns the big 3-0 July 22, will soon join the club.

Scrawl it in blood, the ground pounder still packs the necessary punch to deliver back-end Round 1 numbers in 12-team leagues.


Here are three reasons why Jackson is primed to log one of his best fantasy campaigns to date:

All-around, intact skill set. Critics who contend Jackson is in decline are living in a warped world. Yes his 2,802 career touches are the most among active players by a significant margin and his yardage total has dropped in four straight years, but the needle on the dashboard points well-above 'E.' As the chart right depicts, his baseline skills haven't eroded. In fact, his 66.3 percent of yards gained after contact in 2012 exceeded what top-billed steers Marshawn Lynch, Alfred Morris and Stevan Ridley achieved. He's never been the most elusive rusher, but his punishing downhill style has and will continue to gash the opposition.

Equally important, S-Jax is incredibly durable. Despite a tiresome workload, he's missed only two games over the past four years. If Ryan Mathews is fantasy's Humpty Dumpty, Jackson is the hard ground the eggshelled character scrambled its brain on. Contrary to popular belief, he's the definition of 'reliable.'

Touches. On the Falcons' roster, there are little to no threats for Jackson. Jacquizz Rodgers will be sprinkled in on passing/third-downs, but given S-Jax's adeptness in the pass game, he should dominate touches, netting roughly 17-20 grips per game. Mike Smith told the Journal-Constitution in late May he views the three-time Pro Bowler as "not only a running back, but a receiving back as well." After all, he's averaged 45 receptions per year since 2004. Because offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter plans to stress the screen game, he's a strong candidate for 40-plus catches, enhancing his overall worth in PPR settings.

Of utmost importance, Jackson will be a workhorse near the goal-line, an area of the field he's rarely been deployed. During Michael Turner's five-year run in Atlanta, he averaged a whopping 41.6 carries inside the 10 per year. By comparison, S-Jax tallied a mere 17.6 totes per year as a Ram from 2004-2012. Undoubtedly, he'll be a hammer at the goal-line, putting him in a favorable position for 12-15 scores.

Loaded offense. Atlanta's volcanic offense bodes well for S-Jax. With field-stretchers Julio Jones, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and Matt Ryan to account for, defenses are often stretched thin. Stacked boxes, which the RB saw often in St. Louis, will be a rarity.

Last year, the Falcons' offensive line underachieved ranking No. 26 in run-blocking according to Pro Football Focus. However, 'The Burner's' extinguished flame greatly inhibited the ground game as a whole. Including last year's backwards step, the Falcons ranked in the top-half in run-blocking four of the last five years. St. Louis can't say the same. Only once since 2008 have the Rams tuck inside the top-20 in that category (No. 19 in 2009). No question, Jackson will often see walrus-wide holes.

Bottom line: If you still don't believe Jackson is capable of a top-10 RB campaign, you're incredibly stubborn. The environment and situation are very conducive for explosive numbers. Combine that with his still glowing talents, and he's primed for his best season since 2006. He's worth every penny at his current 13.2 (RB11) ADP. Drafting him ahead of C.J. Spiller, Ray Rice or Trent Richardson isn't a boneheaded move.

This fall, Jackson will be the fantasy Jewel of the South.

Fearless Forecast (16 games): 239 attempts, 1,052 rushing yards, 41 receptions, 356 receiving yards, 13 total touchdowns

Understandably, the messy situation in New England has drafters, particularly Tom Brady enthusiasts, on high-alert. Still, the future HOFer has a long history of turning garbage into gold. Just look at the career path of undrafted receiver and Dolphins castoff Wes Welker. He could soon do the same with a little talked about tight end.

Though many within the 'experts' community feel Jake Ballard stands to benefit most if Rob Gronkowski lands on the PUP, Michael Hoomanawanui (Pronounced Uh-oh-mana-wanui) might be the Pats' true diamond in the rough. As ESPN Boston noted last week, the Illinois product is Aaron Hernandez's direct backup at the 'F' position.

Recall, Hernandez wasn't a conventional tight end, lining up wide 70-percent of the time last year. UhOh isn't as slippery, but possesses more athleticism and versatility than wooden Jake Ballard. Limited by injuries, he's hauled in just 25 receptions over three seasons, two of them in St. Louis, but with the door of opportunity clearly ajar, he could venture into shocker special territory with a strong camp. Then again, the Patriots could explore the trade market. Tony Moeaki, Joel Dreesseen and D.J. Williams are rumored targets. Still, deep leaguers should monitor UhOh's progress closely when camps open in late July.

The pride of the mighty Wayne State Warriors, Joique Bell, is quietly climbing up the Lions' depth-chart. Quite useful in spurts last year, the unsung PPR hero totaled 899 yards, three touchdowns and the fifth-most receptions (52) among running backs. Underneath the surface he was even better, gaining nearly 60-percent of his yards after contact while tallying a noteworthy 13.4 missed tackle percentage (Reggie Bush registered a 12.7 MT% in 2012).

Bush will undoubtedly dominate pass downs, greatly hindering Bell's vertical contributions. However, because of Mikel Leshoure's struggles between-the-tackles (3.4 YPC on up-the-middle runs last year), the afterthought could secure goal-line touches with a standout camp. Even if he doesn't, he should see measurable action during the regular season. Jim Schwartz told the Free Press recently he has "plenty of touches" to go around. Also keep in mind if Bush breaks, a distinct possibility given his injury history, the converted fullback would likely serve as next man up. Mark the Noise's words, at some point this season Bell will be highly sought after.

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