Last season was yet another strong year for Steven Jackson as he had his second highest rushing total ever at 1,241 yards, played in all 16 games for the second time in his career, and caught 46 passes for 383 yards. On the downside, Jackson averaged his lowest yards per carry number (3.8), carried the ball over 320 times for the second year in a row (wear and tear), and scored just six rushing touchdowns. So where do all of these numbers leave Jackson as we head into next season? Is he worthy of being a keeper going into the 2011 NFL season?
Some people contend that Jackson is going to be used a little less next year, which certainly has to alarm some fantasy owners. One thing that raised suspicion for the Rams' future offensive plans was that they dumped fullback Mike Karney, who had little value other than his ability to pave the way for Jackson.
Another thing that makes people wonder about Jackson's future is that the team brought in Josh McDaniels as the offensive coordinator. If you're familiar with McDaniels' career, he has mainly been involved with pass-heavy offenses such as the Patriots and Broncos. And with McDaniels as the offensive coordinator, don't expect Jackson to get another 330 carries.
One more thing that adds some uncertainty to Jackson's role next season is the emergence of rookie quarterback Sam Bradford. Bradford had an up-and-down first part of 2010, but he came on strong later in the year. From Week 6 on, Bradford threw for 12 touchdowns against 7 interceptions. Overall, Bradford passed for 3,512 yards, completed 60% of his passes, and threw for 18 touchdowns against 15 interceptions. And he's only expected to get better!
Of course, the biggest change to Jackson's role with the Rams will come if they are successful in picking up a good, change-of-pace backup. The Rams have openly been shopping for a backup who could bring more speed and/or some great receiver skills to passing game. Sure Jackson is pretty good in the passing game, but he hasn't scored a receiving touchdown in three years, and he lacks the explosiveness of most backs. One candidate for this role has been Bradford's Oklahoma teammate DeMarco Murray, who is going to be in this year's draft.
In any case, there seem to be a lot of different variables in place that could affect Jackson's status as an automatic keeper for next year. Sure he's expressed interest in getting more involved in the passing game, but a lot of this will depend on what the Rams decide to do in regards to a backup. So don't expect Jackson to make up for a lack of rushing attempts with an increased role in the passing game.
As far as the fullback situation goes, I wouldn't read too much into this because Karney was largely regarded as a disappointment by the Rams' coaching staff. And if the Rams do decide to run Jackson a lot, they'll likely bring a tight end into the backfield to help create some holes for Jackson.
In regards to the emergence of Bradford, I do think this will affect a lot of Jackson's productivity - especially if the Rams bring in a third-down back. Bradford is a potential franchise player, and the Rams are starting to move towards his direction; the addition of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is a good sign of this movement.
If you're in a keeper league and can only keep 1 or 2 players, I wouldn't recommend Jackson assuming you have talent in other areas. For instance, if you're trying to decide who to keep between Jackson, WR Calvin Johsnon and QB Joe Flacco, you are going to experience much better upside with Johnson and Flacco.
Now this isn't to say that Jackson isn't worthy of a high draft pick next year - like say a 2nd or 3rd rounder; however, there are a lot of uncertainties with him as we head into next season. In any case, keep on eye on the headlines and how the Rams expect to use Jackson in 2011 to see if he's worth keeping in regards to your team's overall talent level.