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Back in December, when Steven Jackson became just the 26th member of the 10,000-yard club, my reaction was somewhat celebratory, but mostly, I was just depressed. For almost the entirety of Jackson’s time as the starting running back in St. Louis, the Rams were the epitome of NFL ineptitude, and it left Jackson, clearly one of the best running backs in football, to toil on terrible offenses for the whole of his prime. It might be too late to get those years back, but it’s not too late to see what even a lesser Jackson can do in the right situation.
Attention, shoppers: The bargains have finally started to make their way into the NFL free-agency marketplace. After two days of average players getting premium contracts, Thursday was really the first day when teams were able to sign players on significant discounts from both the reported expectations of those players and the actual value of their performance. It's a trend that should continue into and through the weekend before becoming even more obvious next week. The flooded-market model is really beginning to take hold.
The best deal of the day came out of Seattle, where general manager John Schneider is having a pretty wonderful offseason. Faced with the possibility of having a limited Chris Clemons for most (or all) of the 2013 campaign after Clemons tore his ACL on the substance-resembling-a-field in Washington during the playoffs, Schneider has made two bold moves to restore his front four. On Wednesday, he gave a very credible deal to Lions defensive end Cliff Avril, who signed for $15 million over two years. Yesterday, he topped that contract with a one-year, $5 million deal for Buccaneers end Michael Bennett, who had nine sacks last year despite serving as the only viable edge rusher in Tampa Bay for most of the season. Combined with 2012 first-round pick Bruce Irvin, who was a terrifying pass rusher in a situational role last year, the Seahawks should be able to rotate at least two above-average and fresh pass rushers in on every play. They can even move one of these guys to the interior on obvious passing downs and try to create pressure against a slow guard up the gut. Schneider has turned a weakness into a strength while spending just $20 million over two years, which is just a little more than what the Chiefs gave tight end Anthony Fasano. It's impressive work from a general manager who's quickly gaining recognition as one of the best in the league.
For Steven Jackson, everything about Sunday afternoon was fitting. With 1:47 left in the third quarter, and with his team trailing Minnesota 33-7, Jackson took a delayed first-down handoff and went for nine yards up the middle. With those nine, Jackson’s career total was 10,002 — a plateau reached by only 26 others. The crowd in St. Louis rose to its feet, gave a short ovation, and then watched as an incomplete pass and Jackson getting hit in the backfield made it fourth down. As Adrian Peterson’s continuing pursuit of history was cause for celebration, Jackson’s came and went without much notice.
Each of Jackson’s 10,000 yards has been gained while he was a member of the St. Louis Rams, and it’s that part of it that makes his accomplishment even more impressive than it already is. There have been plenty of NFL players whose talent has been squandered on bad teams in the past decade, but Jackson deserves to be near the top of the list.
In Jackson's seven years as the Rams’ starting running back, St. Louis has tallied 23 wins, roughly 3.3 wins per season. Over the same span, the Rams have been outscored by more than 1,000 points. Since 2007, the highest finish for a St. Louis offense in total yards is 22nd. In total points, it’s 24th. For the majority of Jackson’s career, St. Louis has defined awful in the NFL, and the question as Jackson nears 30 and his career enters its twilight is just how good he might have been.
Each week, the Fantasy Island contestants will submit a preview for each of that weekend's games. The best preview from each game will be selected and combined with the others into one comprehensive guide, and points are awarded based on how many individual previews from each writer are selected. Get it? OK. We sorta do, too.
Cardinals at Falcons
Player to Start: Larry Fitzgerald
If you have other options, you’ve probably thought about benching Larry Fitzgerald lately. Facing the Atlanta Falcons in Week 11, there’s a good chance you’ll have Fitzgerald on your bench until 12:55 EST, when you come to your senses and take T.Y. Hilton out of your lineup. Look, the Falcons have allowed the eighth-highest YPA of any team in the NFL, and the Cardinals are quietly one of the most pass-heavy teams in the league. Only the Raiders, Saints, and Jaguars have rushed less frequently than Arizona. Fitzgerald isn’t automatic like he once was, but that last-minute Fitzgerald-Hilton swap needs to be made. Just make sure you hit "Submit."
Each week, the Fantasy Island contestants will submit a preview for each of that weekend's games. The best preview from each game will be selected and combined with the others into one comprehensive guide, where points are awarded based on how many individual previews from each writer are selected. Get it? OK. We sorta do too.
Buccaneers at Cowboys
The Bucs are legit. They fell victim to a little Eli magic this Sunday, but I think we all know Tony Romo is about as magical as David Blaine. (Sorry, buddy. Standing in an ice cave for two days isn't magic.) The 'Boys haven't been able to stop anyone, so I like Doug Martin a lot this week; I think he finishes as a top-10 RB. Vinnie Jackson is always a boom-or-bust play, but an interesting sleeper in this game is Dallas Clark. America's Team of 1992 has given up TDs to TEs (that's a weird phrase) in two straight weeks, and Clark is better than either Martellus Bennett or Anthony McCoy (my apologies to the McCoy family, who may be the only people who knew who Anthony was before this week).
I have an open wager to anyone on Grantland Fantasy Island: If you start Blaine Gabbert against me and beat me, I’ll tattoo "I <3 Gabbert" on my chest. I’ll wait to make my Tim Tebow wager until after Mark Sanchez implodes.
Since I’m writing this on Monday afternoon, I’ll just assume I won two weeks in a row in the Fantasy Island league. (Eric Decker needs a 2010 Michael Vick performance to beat me.) It’s also safe to assume I outscored everyone in the league for the second week. (Barring something insane from Tony Gonzalez or Julio Jones.)
Why am I such an unequivocal success in this league? Unlike everyone else, I have a mullet, and with it, I gain Samson-like powers. When I’m sitting by the pool, drinking PBR and reviewing fantasy stats through my cracked-screen phone, my mullet keeps my neck cool under pressure. That’s why my waiver wire pickups are guaranteed to be winners — like every team playing the Jaguars in 2012.