NFL Soup|Tuesday, May 21, 2013

2013 Fantasy Football Draft Strategy: Steven Jackson vs. Matt Forte 

The running back position is a huge part of fantasy football. While the quarterback position typically scores more points, the running back position is more dynamic and thinner, so it arguably is more valuable.

With less and less truly elite running backs, fantasy owners are forced to scramble early in drafts to get the best back they can. That even means often reaching for that second running back so you have a solid one-two punch at the most important position. But heading into round two, sometimes it’s tough to gauge if going RB yet again is the right move – or you’re not sure which back is the one you need to grab.

A common issue for fantasy owners in the second round this year is deciding between Steven Jackson of the Atlanta Falcons and Matt Forte of the Chicago Bears. Both guys are in new offenses, both are versatile and involved in the passing game, and neither is what we would consider an elite touchdown producer.

In other words, they’re neck and neck in drafts and rankings for a reason – because they’re similar and both have upside. So, there’s the question: which one do you draft? Taylor Smith and I tackle this very question with each of us taking a side and arguing why one back is the better pick than the other. Here we go:

The Case For Steven Jackson (by Kevin Roberts)

Michael Turner was a plodding mess in his last two seasons with the Atlanta Falcons. Yet, despite being a slow, contorted version of The Thing, Turner benefited from Atlanta’s sound offensive line and elite passing game, finding his way to 10+ touchdowns both years. In fact, Turner has never rushed for less than 10 scores in Atlanta, having posted five straight 10+ TD seasons, including a 17-TD year back in 2008.

Steven Jackson hasn’t really been a touchdown king, but you can’t put it all on him. After all, his St. Louis Rams teams were among the worst in the league for the better part of the last decade. He wasn’t blessed enough to have an elite quarterback at his disposal, as he only had a marginal Marc Bulger for a couple of seasons, and then had a washed up Bulger for 2-3 others. After that, it’s been musical chairs and then an inconsistent Sam Bradford.

Still, through it all, Jackson hasn’t dropped under 1,000 rushing yards since his rookie season, which was way back in 2004. That’s almost nine years of straight up 1k production – on a bad team most years.

Jackson has also been tough as nails, missing just two games through the past four seasons, despite dealing with rib and back injuries, among other ailments. Despite the wall of bad luck rising against him, Jackson also remained a part of the passing game, catching at least 38 passes in every season after his rookie year.

But what does any of this mean for S-Jax as a Falcon? We probably could have stopped at the glowing numbers for the plodding Turner. Turner was probably done two years ago and was definitely toast in 2012, yet he still put up 2,100+ rushing yards, and 21 rushing scores in his final two “mediocre” seasons in the ATL.

Needless to say, a fresher, more explosive and beyond belief more versatile Jackson is primed for a huge season. It’s worth noting that Jackson has topped 10 rushing scores just once in his career and hasn’t topped 1,200 rushing yards in two years, but Jackson is going to need to do a major face-plant to not thrive in this offense.

The most important thing to remember is that Jackson hasn’t been under-whelming because of his talent. He has aged and slowed down a bit, but you won’t find many bruising backs with his speed and versatility. And it’s his former team/offense that kept him from being an elite option for so many tears.

He’s durable and proven and this offense is perfect for him. He’s not going to explode for a career year in rushing yardage or receptions, but he’ll get you 10+ scores and enough yardage to make him a rock solid RB2, if not a low-end RB1.

The Case For Matt Forte (by Taylor Smith)

Matt Forte has been one of fantasy’s most versatile running backs since he came into the league back in ’08. While he doesn’t eat up massive amounts of rushing yardage (1,238 as a rookie is still his career-best), he helps make up for that by catching tons of passes out of the backfield. He set a career-low with 44 catches last season, but that was still good for the ninth-highest total from a RB in the entire league, and he missed a game, to boot. He’s been nicked-up here and there in the last two years, but not nearly enough to where you’d consider him “injury prone” by any means.

The touchdown totals are a bit of a concern, as he also peaked with 12 total scores during his rookie campaign. Forte has found the end zone a total of just 10 times in the last two seasons combined, so he leaves much to be desired in the scoring department. Much of this can be blamed on notorious TD vulture Michael Bush, whom the Bears picked up prior to last year. Bush has 13 total scores in the last two seasons, including five in ’12.

Chicago hired the offensively-minded Marc Trestman as head coach with the hopes that his reputation as a “quarterback guru” will help Jay Cutler finally make the most of his massive potential. While the Bears have some intriguing pass-catching prospects like Alshon Jeffery and the talented-but-inconsistent Martellus Bennett, the only true established threat in Cutler’s arsenal is Brandon Marshall, who is coming off of a phenomenal inaugural season with the Bears. As this is the case, one would imagine Forte will continue to be heavily involved in the passing game, and should certainly improve on his subpar 2012 from a receiving standpoint.

Forte has looked strong as a runner throughout the preseason, and he appears to have trimmed some weight, as well. He’s the rare talent that can do damage between the tackles, but also make people miss out in the open field. He’s consistently touching the ball over 300 times per season, and that kind of role is something you covet in your fantasy running backs. Just 27-years-old, Forte has far less mileage and wear-and-tear on his legs and body than does the older Steven Jackson. While he’s never been my favorite fantasy back, I think the upside of Matt Forte beats-out that of Jackson this season.

About the author: Kevin Roberts

Kevin Roberts owns and operates NFL Soup and heads the fantasy football division of the site. In 2012, Roberts finished 16th overall in Fantasy Pros expert fantasy football rankings. In addition to running the fantasy football section of the site, Roberts contributes to NFL Soup’s NFL Draft coverage and breaking news reporting. Follow Kevin on Twitter @NFLSoupKevin

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