Should Fantasy Football Owners Be Concerned About Steven Jackson's Workload?

With Week 1 in the books, what can we expect out of Steven Jackson and the Falcons backfield this year?

In 2013, Steven Jackson was drafted in the early second round of fantasy drafts and was one of the top running back “busts” of the season. He injured his hamstring early in Week 2 and missed a month and a half of action due to the injury. But once Jackson returned to the playing field in Week 8, he was a decent fantasy commodity. In his final 10 games, he averaged 17 touches per game and accumulated numbers equivalent to a low-end RB2.

But what can we expect this year? Is Steven Jackson still on the low-end RB2 radar? If Week 1 is any indication of Jackson’s workload going forward, the people who drafted him as an RB2 may need to temper their expectations.

The Falcons Backfield: A Split Workload

According to Pro Football Focus, Steven Jackson was on the field for just 44% of the Falcons snaps and had 12 rushes for 52 yards. The rest of the Falcons Week 1 running back workload, along with their respective Rushing and Receiving Net Expected Points (NEP) totals, are in the table below. Rushing Net Expected Points is the number of points added or lost on the ground, while Reception NEP is the number of expected points a receiver gets on catches only.

NameTouchesRushesTargetsReceptionsRushing NEPReception NEP
S. Jackson 1312310.48-0.53
J. Rodgers 76113.22-0.47
D. Freeman 42220.683.15
A. Smith 3211-0.185.62

It’s important to note that this is a very small sample size of work and it isn’t necessarily a direct indication of whether or not a player is a detriment to their team yet. Also noteworthy: basically all of Antone Smith’s Reception NEP of 5.62 was earned solely on his 54-yard receiving touchdown.

Going forward, this is probably a good indication of how the Falcons backfield will shake out. If he stays healthy, Steven Jackson will likely see his 12-15 touches a game, which severely limits his upside because his career-long efficiency isn't very strong. He's not a player who can be incredibly dependable in fantasy football without a full workload. Remember that he was a low-end RB2 when he returned last year with 17 touches per game, and now that Jackson is 31, it’s likely that the Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter will want to use a rotation of Jacquizz Rodgers, Antone Smith, and Devonta Freeman to keep the veteran Jackson fresh.

In the event that Steven Jackson does get injured or is ineffective, the running back to watch is Devonta Freeman. He's a rookie, but if he continues to contribute positively on offense and progresses in pass protection, he could see an increase in time on the field. I’m not sure I would be actively seeking to add Freeman in shallow, 10-team leagues, but he is worth a roster spot in 12- to 16-team leagues with deep benches.