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Steven Jackson to Atlanta: One Giant Step Sideways

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Michael Turner was pitiful last season, but Steven Jackson wasn't that much more efficient.

Jumping for joy, Falcons fans? I'd hold off just one second.

Not going to lie, I'd be happy for a change, any sort of change. Long gone is Michael Turner, who finished last season as the third-worst running back in terms of expected points lost for his team. Over his 223 rushing attempts, Turner managed to cost the Falcons 46.41 net expected points (NEP), or about an average of a field goal per game.

Or, think about it a different way: every single time Turner took a handoff, the Falcons' expected scoring chance on that drive decreased by an average of 0.21 points. Every single attempt. And furthermore, Turner only increased the Falcons' chance of scoring (his "success rate") on 28.3 percent of his rushing attempts. That's the dirtiest of birds.

Now, Steven Jackson assumes the role of lead back in the Falcons offense, lining up behind numberFire's third-most efficient QB from this past season, Matt Ryan. I figure that he'll have about the same carries distribution with Jacquizz Rodgers that Turner did, with Rodgers being used heavily in third down and passing situations.

Falcons fans are already calling for a new Greatest Show on Turf. Steven Jackson's numbers say "Not So Fast".

RushesRush NEPRush NEP/Att.Success RateReceptionsReceiving NEPCatch RateTotal TDsTotal NEP
257-37.53-0.1533.9%3819.0671.7%4-18.47

While Michael Turner's rushing averages were exceptionally bad, Steven Jackson wasn't performing much better in St. Louis. Sorry Falcons fans, you just took one giant leap sideways.

Overall, the back lost the Rams 37.53 expected points over the course of the season, or 0.15 points per handoff. While a small drop is usually expected (most rushing NEP totals are negative since passing is more efficient at scoring than running), Jackson's numbers still indicate that he was one of the worst backs in the league.

Among backs with at least 200 carries, Jackson was 17th of 23 backs in terms of NEP per rush. Only Vick Ballard, Trent Richardson, Mikel LeShoure, Turner, Chris Johnson, and Darren McFadden had a lower NEP per rush average. What else do those six guys have in common? Oh yeah, they're all younger and have fewer career carries than Jackson as well.

The Falcons passed the ball on 61.9 percent of their offensive plays last season, which makes complete sense: Ryan and the White/Jones/Old Man Gonzalez trio should have the ball in their hands as much as humanly possible. Since that's the case, I have a hard time believing that the slight incremental increase that Jackson brings to the backfield will make that much of a difference. Doing 0.06 points per rush better is something, but when your lead back is only receiving 14 carries per game (as Turner did last year), then that total does not add up to much.

You could make the argument that Jackson was the focal point of his team, unlike Turner for the Falcons. But the Rams passed the ball on 57.6 percent of their offensive plays, just four percent less than the Falcons. Plus, with the youthful Daryl Richardson taking carries from Jackson throughout the season, the back only rushed the ball on 62.7 percent of St. Louis's running plays. In total, only 26.5 percent of the Rams' plays were Jackson rushes. Doesn't seem like a focal point to me.

Plus, even if he was, it's not like being a focal point matters that much in terms of overall efficiency. See two of our four most efficient backs from this past season, Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch. Peterson ran the ball on 35.9 percent of Minnesota's total plays; he finished with 0.03 NEP per rush. Lynch ran the ball on 33.5 percent of Seattle's total plays; he finished with -0.02 NEP per rush. If you're a good runner, you'll find holes no matter whether you're a "focal point" or not. Steven Jackson is nowhere near that level.

Still, I'd be happy. It's the start of a new era in Atlanta. But the new Greatest Show on Turf? I'm not holding my breath.

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In This Article

Matt Ryan
QB, Atlanta Falcons

Michael Turner
RB, Atlanta Falcons

Steven Jackson
RB, Atlanta Falcons

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