Its interesting how the addition of one player can make a team look totally different. Thats the case with the Atlanta Falcons signing of running back Steven Jackson.
Everyone knew Atlanta needed a running back. The Falcons released Michael Turner two weeks ago, mainly because of his age and his deteriorating production the past few seasons.
They could have waited around for next months draft, but thats a huge gamble to trust a rookie. So instead, they signed Jackson, who is only 18 months younger than Turner but has more skills that fit what Atlanta offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter likes to do with his offense.
Yes, Jackson is close to that magic number of being a 30-year-old running back. Hell turn 30 in July. Theres no doubt hes not the star he was a few years ago, but there are plenty of reasons to believe Jackson still has gas left in the tank.
First, it is obvious Jackson signed with the Falcons to try and win a Super Bowl. He seemed desperate to play for a winner, and who could blame him? In his nine years with St. Louis, the Rams never had a winning season. They were 44-99-1 and never made the playoffs.
That almost sounds like Tony Gonzalez, who joined the Falcons four seasons ago after having never won a game in the postseason with the Kansas City Chiefs. The Falcons, thankfully, cant drive Gonzalez into retirement because of his never-ending thirst for a championship.
Those are two veterans who are with the Falcons for that one specific reason. This wouldnt have happened 10 years ago, 20 years ago and certainly not 30 years ago. Players usually left this franchise to go find playoff bliss somewhere else. But now, Gonzalez and Turner want to wear the Falcons uniform to play in early February on the biggest stage in football.
Jackson, like Turner, has seen his rushing yards decrease the past few years. In fact, during the past four seasons Jacksons rushing totals have gone from 1,416 yards to 1,241 yards, then to 1,145 yards and last season down to 1,042 yards.
Chances are that number will decrease again this season with Atlanta, but it wont necessarily be because Jackson is finished. Statistics might not tell the whole story of what Jackson will be able to do for this Atlanta team.
Jackson is 3 inches taller than Turner, who was built more like a bowling ball than the upright Eric Dickerson-type body that Jackson has. Jackson should be able to go between the tackles a bit better than Turner did last season, when it was painfully obvious he simply couldnt do that anymore.
But the biggest difference between the two is Jacksons ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Jackson has averaged 369 receiving yards per season in his nine years, while Turner has averaged only 66 yards in his eight seasons in the NFL.
And while Jacksons rushing yards have gone down, his receiving yards have stayed steady. He continues to be a threat to catch the ball, and whether those numbers stay at the same level or not, teams know he can do it, which is half the battle in trying to scare a defense.
Jackson simply becomes one more threat that will scare many defenses this season. Matt Ryan is one of the best quarterbacks in the league. He has the best tandem of wide receivers in the NFL with Julio Jones and Roddy White, along with a future-Hall of Fame tight end in Gonzalez who hasnt really lost a step.
Good luck stopping that juggernaut of an offense. If the Falcons had simply waited and drafted a running back, that threat would not be as severe. Jackson brings a whole new dynamic and another weapon for Ryan.
As for the draft, now that the offense has been taken care of, the Falcons can simply prepare to stress defense in the early rounds. Its easy to believe this team will just outscore everybody, but lets not forget why this team lost to San Francisco in the NFC championship Game.
The Falcons have to replace defensive end John Abraham (unless he comes back). They need another linebacker. And they need another cornerback if Brent Grimes does not return. So theres still a lot of work to be done.
But for now, the offense seems ready to go once again. Jackson makes an already dangerous offense look even better.
Listen to The Bill Shanks Show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at hwww.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.