2014 Report Card: Running Backs

Does Steven Jackson have anything left in the tank?




Here are report cards for the 2014 Falcons running backs.

NAME: Steven Jackson
2014 STATS
707 yards on 190 rushes, 3.7 yards per rush, six touchdowns
BEST GAME
November 30, 2014 vs. Arizona: 101 yards on 18 rushes
WORST GAME
October 19, 2014 at Baltimore: 22 yards on eight carries
NOTES
Steven Jackson had eight straight 1000-yard seasons for the St. Louis Rams before joining the Falcons prior to the 2013 season. In two years, Jackson has only 1250 yards in 27 games. He’ll be 32 years old in July, and one has to wonder if Jackson would retire after his struggles. However, he is under contract for next season. Jackson’s contract in 2015 has a base salary of $3.75 million with a cap figure of $4.916 million. The Falcons probably don’t have much confidence in Jackson moving forward, and he’s given them no reason to believe he can come close to the 1000-yard rusher he once was. Don’t be surprised if the Falcons cut Jackson and go after another feature running back, whether in free agency or the draft.
FINAL GRADE: D


NAME: Devonta Freeman
2014 STATS
248 yards on 65 rushes, 3.8 yards per rush, one touchdown
BEST GAME
December 21, 2014 at New Orleans: 36 yards on five rushes with a 31-yard touchdown
WORST GAME
September 18, 2014 vs. Tampa Bay: 12 yards on 11 rushes
NOTES
One of the many mistakes the Falcons made in 2014 was not giving Freeman more opportunities to show what he can do as a feature running back. They stuck with Jackson too long and abandoned the running game, with the excuse being the remodeled offensive line was not able to sufficiently run block. But Freeman deserved the chance to show more. The fact his highest number of carries in one game was 11 is awful. There were 10 games where Freeman got four carries or less, so we still don’t know what he can do as a NFL running back. Freeman may not have shown enough to get more carries, but considering how bad Jackson was it’s not like someone else was in Freeman’s way. Will the Falcons be tempted enough with what they saw to stick with Freeman, or will he simply become another name on the depth chart?
FINAL GRADE: C


NAME: Jacquizz Rodgers
2014 STATS
217 yards on 58 carries, 3.7 yards per carry, one touchdown
BEST GAME
December 28, 2014 vs. Carolina: 44 yards on nine carries
WORST GAME
November 9, 2014 at Tampa Bay: one yard on one carry
NOTES
This was year four in Atlanta for Rodgers, who is going backwards statistically. With Freeman on the roster, Rodgers’ carries were dramatically down from 2013 – from 96 to 58. Rodgers will be an undrafted free agent this offseason, and he gave the Falcons little reason to bring him back for a fifth season.
FINAL GRADE: C


NAME: Antone Smith
2014 STATS
144 rushing yards on 23 carries, 6.3 yards per carry, two touchdowns – 222 receiving yards on 13 catches, three touchdowns
BEST GAME
October 5, 2014 at New York Giants: three catches for 83 yards and a 74-yard touchdown catch
WORST GAME
November 9, 2014 at Tampa Bay: limited to four rushing yards on three carries
NOTES
Smith broke his leg in Atlanta’s win at Carolina and missed the last six games of the season. He’s had some remarkable touchdown runs and catches, but the Falcons refused to give him more touches to see what he could do in a more expanded role. Smith is an undrafted free agent, so he could leave. But as long as his rehab is going well, the Falcons would be nuts not to try and bring him back. It is doubtful any team would get into a bidding war over Smith considering his injury. But some team might be tempted to see what he could do with more touches. But would he believe another team would at least give him a shot at being a feature back? The broken leg complicates matters significantly. Smith had an explosion not many players have when they get into an open field, but how will the leg injury impact that skill?
FINAL GRADE: B


SUMMARY
The Falcons were 24th best in the NFL this season with 93.6 rushing yards per game. It was an improvement over the 2013 season when the unit was last in the league. But it still was not good enough. The once-proud running game for the Falcons has turned into a disappointment and a huge issue on the offense. Steven Jackson looks done, and the Falcons erred in not giving Devonta Freeman more chances to show what he can do. So this will be one of the main question marks for the new coaching staff to figure out. The Falcons should cut Jackson and find a new main option. Will they be tempted by anyone in free agency, or do they wait until the draft and go after a Todd Gurley or Melvin Gordon? Either way, this position is broke and needs to be fixed before the start of next season.


Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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