The NFL's active leading rusher and one of the league's Top 20 most productive players ever at the running back position, Steven Jackson made the most of his NFL opportunity in a way few but Steven himself could have predicted.
But before No. 39's rise to NFL greatness came a precipitous fall in the 2004 NFL Draft, one that could have knocked SJ down, but instead motivated him to get back up. He's continued to do so ever since, on the way to an incredible 11-year career.
After tallying more than 4,000 all-purpose yards and 45 total touchdowns in three years at Oregon State University, Steven was the consensus top running back in the 2004 draft, being touted as a potential Top 5 selection. However, that didn't come to fruition. Every draft seems to have one player who slides back further than expected, and S-Jax was that player 11 years ago this week.
"So many people talk about that one person who falls in the draft, and everyone knows it's possible," Steven remembers. "It just so happened it was me."
Steven first arrived on the radar of NFL scouts in 2002, his sophomore year in Corvallis, Oregon. He amassed 1,690 rushing yards and punched in 17 touchdowns in 13 games. The following year, he played all 13 games once again and led the nation in carries (350) while racking up 1,545 yards and 22 scores.
From there, with his stock rising, he elected to forgo his senior season at Oregon State and enter the NFL Draft. He was tabbed immediately as the top running back in his class, primed to carry on the legacy of the NFL workhorse back.
However, after the season he went under the knife to have some work done on his knee—minor surgery to clean out some discomfort that followed him while at OSU. The operation wasn't serious, but it did cause SJ to miss the 2004 NFL Combine.
He went on to have a very successful Pro Day where, at a bruising 6'2", 233 pounds, he ran an excellent 4.45-second 40-yard dash. And, of course, his game film spoke for itself.
Steven had it all: Strength, speed and exceptional blocking and receiving skills for a back. Despite the surgery, he was still a unanimous choice as the top running back available.
On draft day, when he began falling during that nerve-wracking first round, he saw a potential destination: the Dallas Cowboys. Not only did America's Team need a running back, but it was Steven's father's favorite squad.
"I just thought, ‘How cool would that be? It's my dad's favorite team, I could be the star running back there. Life doesn't get much better than that,'" SJ recalled. "They decided to pass on me."
Dallas had the No. 22 overall pick, but rather than pull the trigger on the Oregon State star, the Cowboys traded back. They dealt that first-round selection to the Buffalo Bills, who used it to take Tulane quarterback J.P. Losman. The Cowboys then used their second-round pick to take Julius Jones out of Notre Dame.
"It was like being punched in the stomach," SJ said of being passed up by Dallas. "I couldn't believe it."
Just two picks after the Bills took Losman, the St. Louis Rams made a deal of their own to take S-Jax. They traded up from their slot at No. 26, and took SJ39 at No. 24 overall.
While it was a frustrating fall and the experience of being passed up time and again was an agonizing one initially, it simply ended up being a little added motivation for Steven. He repsonded to the doubters with his performance on the field and after a solid rookie season playing behind another NFL great, Marshall Faulk, in St. Louis, No. 39 took the torch and ran with it, posting consecutive 1,000-yard rushing campaigns for the team that drafted him. Jones had just one for the Cowboys.
But ultimately, SJ was able to look back at draft day and smile because he was able to add to the incredible legacy of the running back position with the Rams.
"There aren't too many franchise that have had the success at running back as the Rams," SJ explained. "So many great backs have worn that helmet. I look back at the situation and I'm satisfied."
Steven's draft day story is one of perseverance that all potential draft picks can learn from, that it does not matter where you're selected on draft day. Your career, regardless of whether you're the fourth overall pick, the No. 24 overall pick like SJ, or a fourth round pick, will become what you make of it.
Since being drafted No. 24 overall in 2004, SJ has made three Pro Bowl rosters, been named All-Pro twice, and he wore the NFC's rushing crown in 2009.
SJ39 currently holds the moniker of the NFL's leading active rusher, and he is one of just 20 players in the history of the league to tally more than 11,000 yards. As he gets ready for his 12th NFL season in 2015, he is just 612 yards away from the 12K club, another chance to prove that while the day of the draft is a big one in a player's career, it's what that player makes of each day that follows that will determine how successful that career will be.