By Matthew Asher
With an extra week off before Atlanta heads to Tampa Bay to try to stop their five-game losing skid, good stories are hard to come by. However, during Atlanta’s 22-21 loss to the Detroit Lions, Falcons running back Steven Jackson became just the 19th player in NFL history to have more than 11,000 career rushing yards.
But before Jackson became the newest member of the 11K club, he needed to surpass another former Falcons running back: Warrick Dunn. Dunn finished his career with 10,967 rushing yards. Coming into the London game, Jackson needed just 2 yards to pass Dunn. On Jackson’s first carry of the game, he picked up 7 yards, giving him the Atlanta edge. By halftime Jackson had 38 yards and one touchdown. By the end of the game, Jackson ran for 60 total yards, giving him 11,026 in his 11-year career.
What’s next for Jackson? At his current pace this season, averaging more than 43 rushing yards per game, he would finish with 11,371 yards, moving him into 17th place all time. This would place him above Hall of Famer O.J. Simpson (11,236) and Corey Dillon (11,241).
With Jackson’s former mentor and Hall of Famer Mashall Faulk currently at the number 10 spot with 12,279 yards, it’s a good goal to have, but ultimately it will be difficult for Jackson to move into the top 10 of two main factors: health and use. While in St. Louis, Jackson averaged 18.3 carries for 77.4 yards a game. Since coming to Atlanta, a much more pass-happy team, he’s averaged 12.6 carries and 44.4 yards per game, a drop of 30 yards. In addition to his rushing numbers declining, injuries become much more prevalent the older a player gets.
Before last season, Jackson had recorded at least 1,000 yards in every season, except for his rookie campaign back in 2004 when he was Faulk’s backup. He still finished that season with 673 yards, 130 more yards than he gained last season. Part of it had to do with Jackson missing 4 games thanks to an injury he suffered early in the season against his former team, the St. Louis Rams.
Jackson currently needs another 1,253 yards to equal his mentor. As his current Atlanta pace, Jackson would need to play another 29 regular season games. Currently 31 years old, it’s not likely that Jackson will stay Atlanta’s starter for the next two seasons. However, since Atlanta is currently giving four different running backs several carries each game, Jackson may be able to crack the 12K number.
Weather or not Jackson breaks into the Top 10, he’s had a great career. Of the 18 running backs with more yards than him, only 5 of them are not in the NFL Hall of Fame and two of them (LaDainian Tomlinson and Fred Taylor) aren’t eligible yet. If Atlanta wants to salvage this season, giving Jackson the ball more often seems to be a smart move. Here’s hoping he continues his success.
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Matthew Asher is a freelance journalist. From an early age, sports have played a major role in his life. He graduated from Emory University with a B.A. in Journalism. After college he spent 2 years working with CNN Sports and still occasionally writes sports articles for several publications both in the United States and Canada. His work can be found on Examiner.com.