This is the 45th in a series of opinionated fantasy football columns that will be posted daily in July and August, providing fantasy owners with some insights to consider as they prepare for their drafts. You can get an in-depth preview of the upcoming fantasy football season with the purchase of the Yahoo! Sports / Pro Football Weekly Fantasy Football Guide 2010, available now in newsstands and bookstores, or online at PFWstore.com.
It's hard to be overly excited about a running back who (1) has played all 16 games just once in six NFL seasons; (2) is the centerpiece of an offense that could start a rookie quarterback; (3) had 375 touches last season and (4) played through a painful back injury in the second half of the campaign — and comes off back surgery.
And, I must add, the aforementioned running back likely will be a first-round pick in most formats.
In short, there are many reasons to pass on the Rams' Steven Jackson, and especially if you hold a top-four pick. In that case, choose from Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew and Ray Rice and start planning for Round Two.
But if you don't have one of those picks, you're going to have to find another No. 1 running back. And Jackson, despite the red flags I've detailed above, still fills the bill.
Let's go over the concerns with Jackson. The big one is durability; note that he missed four games in both 2007 and '08. However, he missed just one game last season, when the Rams had nothing to play for, and he played without practicing at times toward the end of the campaign as he dealt with a herniated disc. He had surgery to repair the problem in April, and he has participated in training camp.
Those considering drafting Jackson will have to be up-to-date on his health. They will also have to be familiar with the progress of rookie QB Sam Bradford, the No. 1 overall pick in April's draft. Veteran backup A.J. Feeley and Bradford are competing for the starting job, and fantasy owners have to hope the ultra-accurate Bradford wins the job and keeps his growing pains to a minimum.
No matter who the Rams' quarterback is, he'll be looking frequently for Jackson on swing passes, screens and check-downs. Jackson caught 51 passes for 322 yards a season ago and is an ideal safety valve for a quarterback.
The catches are also a bonus for owners in PPR leagues, and owners who draft Jackson in yardage leagues know that even if he doesn't score as much as other elite backs (18 TDs in the past three seasons), he'll rack up some points in other ways.
On the surface, there is plenty of reason to be leery of spending a first-round pick on Jackson, and owners are advised to wait until the later part of the round to take him, if possible. But upon further review, he looks capable of having another very productive season. Note that the Rams' early-season schedule is loaded with favorable matchups, with games at Oakland (Sept. 19), vs. Seattle (Oct. 3), at Detroit (Oct. 10) and at Tampa Bay (Oct. 24) in the first seven weeks.
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