Is the Atlanta Falcons' Steven Jackson a Hall of Fame Running Back?
April 7, 2013
When the Atlanta Falcons signed Steven Jackson, they signed a Hall of Fame-caliber running back.
Often overlooked during his tenure with the St. Louis Rams, Jackson has compiled a Hall of Fame résumé, sporting incredible all-around production.
Jackson's 10,135 career rushing yards rank him first amongst active running backs.
Already ranked 26th on the all-time list, he has out-rushed the likes of Earl Campbell, Adrian Peterson, Larry Csonka, Shaun Alexander and Terrell Davis.
He ranks 30th all time in yards from scrimmage—already having out-produced the likes of O.J. Simpson, John Riggins, Michael Irvin, Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald.
Jackson's 2,334 yards from scrimmage in 2006 rank as the sixth-highest single-season total in NFL history.
At only 23 years of age, Jackson became the youngest player to ever produce more than 2,310 yards from scrimmage in a single season. That same season, Jackson became the only player in NFL history to ever rush for more than 1,500 yards and receive for more than 800 yards in a single season.
When you put into context the quality of support that has backed Jackson in his career, it's astonishing what he was capable of while being surrounded by so little talent.
The Rams' scoring defense ranked 25th in 2004, 31st in 2005, 28th in 2006, 31st in 2007, 23rd in 2008, 30th in 2009 and 26th in 2011.
The effect: Jackson's offense was often forced to play catch-up in games that his team had little chance of winning.
That realization would discourage most players.
In the middle of a 1-15 season in 2009, Jackson refused to quit on his team (3:52).
The Rams' passing offense ranked 19th in 2007, 26th in 2008, 28th in 2009, 21st in 2010, 30th in 2011, 18th in 2012. The effect: Opposing defenses have been able to stack the box in an effort to shut down the Rams' only productive weapon.
After all, who was there to take the pressure off of Jackson?
The only Rams players to be selected to the Pro Bowl during Jackson's career were Orlando Pace (2004-05), Torry Holt (2004-07) and Marc Bulger (2006).
The math: Jackson has played with 52 teammates per season for nine years. That's 468 opportunities for his teammates to make the Pro Bowl—and only three players managed to do so for a combined seven selections.
Jackson has been the only Rams player to make the Pro Bowl since 2008.
Running behind a make-shift line of no-names into swarms of opposing defensive players, Jackson could not be stopped [1:15].
With 13,459 career yards from scrimmage, Jackson is only a season or so away from surpassing the likes of Jim Brown, Cris Carter and Marvin Harrison.
To have been so productive while being stuck playing the role of a "one-man show" in St. Louis, one can only imagine how productive he would have been had he played for even an average team.
In spite of such horrific team support, Jackson has become only the sixth player in league history to record eight consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
The others: Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith, Thurman Thomas, Curtis Martin and LaDainian Tomlinson—the first four having already been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, with Tomlinson set to be inducted on the first ballot in 2017.
Why should Jackson be the only player of the six to not make it into the Hall of Fame?
All five of the previous players to reach that milestone played with considerably superior team support. For as bad as the Detroit Lions were during Sanders' tenure, even they managed to record five winning seasons in a seven-year span (1991-97).
The Rams haven't had a winning record since Jackson was a backup during his rookie season in 2004.
Only now, during the end of his career, has Jackson managed to land with a good football team.
Joining the likes of Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez, the addition of Jackson makes the Falcons offense one of the best in the NFL.
Speaking of Gonzalez: Jackson is seven years younger and only 793 yards behind him on the all-time yards from scrimmage list. At Jackson's age (29), Gonzalez had 7,824 career yards from scrimmage—5,635 yards behind where Jackson already is today.
One could debate the relative merits of position-values, but it already goes without saying that running backs contribute more to a team's chances of winning than tight ends.
Gonzalez will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot—not because he's contributed much more than Jackson, but because he has excelled in comparison to his contemporaries.
Bottom line: Jackson has contributed more to the Rams than Gonzalez has to the Chiefs and Falcons.
Being compared to his contemporaries—running backs, wide receivers and tight ends—the numbers don't lie.
Had Jackson begun his career with a team as talented as the Falcons will be in 2013, he may have gone down as the greatest running back of all time.
He's a better receiver than Brown, Payton, Smith and Sanders.
He's a better rusher than Tomlinson, Martin, Jerome Bettis and Marshall Faulk.
When you take into consideration the circumstances he's played under, what you have is the career of one of the greatest players in NFL history.