Sunday, August 7, 2011

Let?s talk Steven Jackson, while the Rams shop for RB depth

The St. Louis Rams, rather quietly, are having a nice off-season. You might have missed this fact, while distracted by unending coverage of the Eagles, Jets and Patriots, but we swear the Rams have been active, too.

The St. Louis personnel move that made the most noise in fantasy circles was the addition of receiver Mike Sims-Walker on a one-year deal, but there have certainly been other enhancements. The team improved the interior of the O-line with RG Harvey Dahl, a terrific run-blocker and huge position upgrade. The Rams also hired Josh McDaniels as the new offensive coordinator, a move that should dial up the aggressiveness of the Sam Bradford-led passing game. And they signed All-Pro safety Quintin Mikell to a four-year deal. And now they're reportedly considering a trade for Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora.

These are exciting times in St. Louis, and the division is up for grabs. The top Rams skill player for fantasy purposes is of course still Steven Jackson, a 28-year-old high-mileage running back coming off six straight 1,000-yard seasons. Even when the Rams were at their lowest point ? losing 15 games in 2009, setting up the Bradford draft ? Jackson was still a force, gaining 1,738 scrimmage yards. He found the end zone just four times that year, true, but you have to blame the team context; the '09 Rams scored only 16 offensive touchdowns. In the season ahead, this team figures to break the plane a lot more often.

But it's now reasonable to ask, for the first time in years, what Jackson's role in the offense will look like. His old job was do-everything, hope it's enough. The new role is less clear, because the team has been kicking the tires on a collection of free agent backs ? Ronnie Brown and Jerious Norwood for sure, possibly Jason Snelling and Jerome Harrison. It sounds as if the Rams are no longer content to back-up Jackson with a Kenneth Darby-type, to be used only in emergencies. They're instead looking at credible players for rotational use, perhaps in a Kevin Faulk-ish role.

So we have a long list of things to consider when valuing S-Jax for fantasy. Among the positives are the addition of Dahl and McDaniels, plus the improved forecast for the team as a whole. (A rising tide lifts all skill players, or something like that). The negatives include the fact that Jackson rushed for a career-low 3.8 yards per carry in 2010, and the team is looking to bring in legit backs to assist the offense.

Jackson is currently slotted at No. 13 in my preseason RB ranks, but I'm about to erase the entire board and start fresh, now that the post-lockout transaction binge is slowing. Jackson is on the watch-list for a downgrade ... but there's probably an upgrade argument to be made, too. So he's trouble.

S-Jax is going ahead of Matt Forte, Shonn Greene and Ryan Mathews in early Yahoo! drafts. At the moment, I'm not prepared to approve the price tag. At Jackson's ADP (27.4), you can veer away from his position entirely and select a high-end QB or receiver ? Rivers or Romo, Wayne or Austin. If we're drafting today, that's my move. But this is meant to be a conversation, gamers, not a lecture. Let's sort this thing out via comments...

Update: So the Rams settled on Norwood, which is not the most threatening of all the possible signings. We'll see if that's the last of their backfield tinkering. Norwood is coming off a right ACL tear and doesn't seem like a strong candidate to manage Jackson's workload, in the event of an S-Jax injury. Ronnie Brown, meanwhile, has signed a one-year deal with Philly, where the Wildcat possibilities are now ridiculous.


Photo via US Presswire


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