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Falcons Back Like Fine Wine?

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New Falcons RB Steven Jackson is no spring chicken. Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images.
New Falcons RB Steven Jackson is no spring chicken. Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images.

For Week 1 of the upcoming NFL regular season, the Atlanta Falcons plan to take the field with a 30-year-old as their starting running back. 

That strategy worked out just great for the Falcons last season with Michael Turner, didn’t it?  

In the NFL, the magic number of 30 for NFL running backs isn’t all that magical. It’s more like a year-by-year venture towards the league’s version of the guillotine. Once you reach it, consider your usefulness as a featured runner over.   

In need of a featured runner, the Atlanta Falcons signed former St. Louis Rams star Steven Jackson to a free-agency deal this offseason. Jackson has been productive in the NFL since entering in 2004, rushing for more than 10,000 yards while also receiving for more than 3,300 yards. But, since 2009, Jackson has seen his rushing yards fall in each successive season.  

The 2013 Falcons are looking to be the anomaly, as they are seeking production from a running back over 30 years old. Since 2009, there have been 63 running backs who have rushed for over 1,000 yards during the season. Only two of those running backs were over the age of 30. The odds on the Falcons getting a 1,000-yard season from Jackson aren’t quite as farfetched as trying to escape your current way of life by winning the lottery, but they aren’t exactly comfortable either.  

Since 2009, only Thomas Jones as a New York Jet and Ricky Williams as a Miami Dolphin were able to eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark after reaching the age of 30. Jones’ year was outstanding, as he finished third in the NFL in rushing with 1,402 yards while Williams ran for 1,121 yards. But both Jones and Williams fell in 2010 rushing for 896 and 673 yards, respectively.  

Entering the 2013 NFL offseason, Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff analyzed the available free-agent running backs as well as the backs available in the NFL Draft. It was decided that the best option for the team was to take a shot at the Super Bowl with Steven Jackson in free agency. The Falcons will commit nearly $3 million of cap space to Jackson in 2013. For some teams, committing cap dollars to free-agent running backs is bad business. Redskin Alfred Morris, Buccaneer Doug Martin and Patriot Stevan Ridley were all drafted runners playing on their rookie deals last season. In 2012, they accounted for 4,330 yards rushing and 36 touchdowns. The trio combined to cost $2.3 million in cap space.  

The 2013 Atlanta Falcons are hoping that Steven Jackson can be another anomaly and have a successful season after the age of 30. Unlike wine, NFL running backs don’t get better with age.