Less than a month after he touched down in Atlanta, expectations are already mounting for Steven Jackson, and his new teammates.
The Falcons have emerged over the last several years as one of the top tier NFL teams and SJ39 hopes to be a key ingredient in getting the Atlanta to the next level as an organization.
In SJ39, the Falcons are getting one of the strongest, most consistent running backs in the NFL. After falling just short of an NFC Championship in January, the Falcons have the look of a team poised to come back bigger and better than ever.
“I still believe the Atlanta Falcons have a lot of talent on this roster,” Steven said recently. They have the experience of being in the playoffs some years in a row, and I believe falling short in the championship game will bring them back even hungrier.”
As a team in 2012, Atlanta ranked just 29th in the NFL in rushing yardage. But with the arrival of Steven, the Falcons can become a true dual-threat offense.
“Having this opportunity to join something that has already been built into something special, it means a lot that they opened the doors to me.”
For nine years S-Jax has exhibited his elite work ethic and ability to shoulder a heavy load. Now suiting up with an Atlanta team that figures to be in the hunt for a Lombardi trophy, Steven gets a chance to exhibit yet another aspect of his repertoire: the undying desire of a winner.
“I have a never die attitude,” he said, “That’s something I plan on bringing to this team. They don’t need much, they’re already a good team. I try to bring leadership and that relentlessness to this team, and hopefully continue in their winning ways.”
SJ39 also brings a running style to the Falcons that should have opposing defenses shuddering all season long. At 6’2 and 240 lbs., Steven is one of the most powerfully built rushers in the league. But it’s his “above the shoulders” approach to the game, combined with raw power and excellent vision that truly separates him from the rest.
“I take great pride in being patient and having good vision. I try to explain it like taking a photograph. I take one photograph before the ball is snapped and the second one as I’m getting the handoff from the quarterback. I’m reading the defensive line first, seeing if there’s a particular stunt going on. If they’re running a stunt, naturally you react and go the opposite way, but you have to get a feel for how the linebackers are playing you.”
With 10,135 yards, S-Jax is the NFL’s active leader in career rushing yards, and one of only six players in league history to notch 1,000 yards for eight-straight seasons. His arrival in Atlanta gives the Falcons a true embarrassment of riches they haven’t often enjoyed. Atlanta fielded its share of talented backs in the past—but they may never have had one at SJ39’s level.
In 2013, Steven will be picking up the mantle left by departing back Michael Turner. Turner is the franchise’s all-time rushing touchdown leader (60) and second in rushing yards (6,084). But Turner isn’t the only excellent back that has called Atlanta home.
Warrick Dunn spent six successful seasons sharing the backfield with Michael Vick in Atlanta and tallied nearly 6,000 yards, including three 1,000 yards seasons. Prior to Dunn was Jamal Anderson, who famously gifted Falcons nation the “Dirty Bird” dance.
Anderson led the NFC in rushing in 1998 to earn his only Pro Bowl appearance and his excellent season helped push the Falcons to Super Bowl XXXIII, where they lost to John Elway and the Broncos. The Falcons had never before been to the big game, and haven’t been back since.
With Steven lining up, in the backfield this season for a team that was just one win short of that feat last year, there’s good reason to believe that might change in the near future. Even before signing with the Falcons, SJ39 told ESPN, “They’re one good running back away from winning the Super Bowl.”
Steven brings to the Falcons the qualities of a good running back, and then some. Among the many honors Steven has earned over the years, perhaps most telling is his franchise rushing record as a member of the Rams.
The Falcons record is held by Gerald Riggs, who carried for 6,631 yards over six seasons in Atlanta from 1982-88. But Steven is already more than 2,000 career yards ahead of Riggs and has much more in common with a certain former Falcons running back that doesn’t even appear in the top 25 list of Atlanta’s all-time rushers.
After establishing himself as one of the game’s foremost rushers with the then Los Angeles Rams, Eric Dickerson eventually settled in with the Falcons at the end of his career in 1993.
SJ39 and Dickerson will forever be tied as the greatest running backs in Rams history and it was Dickerson’s franchise mark that SJ39 shattered back in 2010. Dickerson earned six Pro Bowl appearances over the course of his 11-year career and to date is the only running back in Falcons’ history to earn enshrinement at the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Time will tell if that fact will change now that Steven Jackson calls the Georgia Dome home. In the meantime Steven and his new squad will fix their eyes on the ultimate prize: bringing the Lombardi Trophy to Atlanta.
While ED and SJ39 may share some commonalities, the echoes will likely end when it comes to their respective tenures in Atlanta. Dickerson spent just one season in Atlanta. His Falcons managed just a 6-10 finish, good for third in the NFC West.
Fast forward 20 years, and the times have surely changed. The Falcons now call the NFC South home. Matt Ryan and the three-headed receiving monster of Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez have made the Atlanta offense among the most prolific in the league.
Enter SJ39 into the fray, and the Atlanta Falcons are knocking on the door of NFL greatness.
Considering the possibility of S-Jax as one of the greatest running backs in Falcons history before he puts on a helmet may be slightly premature. But football fans everywhere know what Steven Jackson is made of. They know how dangerous this Falcons team can be. They know that as long as Steven Jackson keeps making history, the future is looking bright in Atlanta.