After Ryan Grant's big injury, it left a lot of us wondering how we are going to fill his shoes. Grant added a dimension to the Packer offense that kept opposing defenses honest with his big play ability. He pounded the rock for 1253 yards in 2009, 1203 yards in 2008, and 988 in 2007 (he started in 7 games and carried the ball for the most carries in 10 games). So naturally Packer Nation had a reason to worry and wonder who would take over the rushing game...
Brandon Jackson, second-round pick out of Nebraska in 2007, would be the next in the apparent line of readily available options on the team. Not many felt like he was ready to take on the full load of a 16-game NFL schedule. We had our doubts and rightfully so. Jackson was exclusively a third-down back, excelling in pass catching and blocking duties. He never had a season over 100 touches or 300 yards carrying the ball. Fans wanted to look for outside options because of Jackson's relatively unknown abilities being a feature-type back.
Jackson started off rather slow in his first four games. Averaging 11.2 carries a game, he managed to rush for 137 yards (3.04 ypc) with 1 TD and a long of 18 yards. He had his season high attempts in the first week against Philadelphia with 18, yet only managed 3.5 yards per carry. During that time, he was only mustering 34.25 yards a game. With those types of performances, there was cause for concern with the rushing game and the outlook for the rest of the season.
But over the next three games, it seemed like Jackson found his comfort zone despite McCarthy's lack of commitment to the ground game. Jackson over that time period, which included games against Washington, Miami, and Minnesota, carried the ball 35 times for 226 yards. He rushed for more than 4 yards per carry all three times for a three game average of 6.46 and a stout 75.3 yards a game. That brought his season total to 80 carries for 363 yards at a 4.54 yards per carry clip including a nice 71 yard run to start off the game against Washington.
While Jackson may not be the long-term answer to our running back woes, he has been serviceable this year. He ranks 20th in total rushing yards just behind Washington's Ryan Torain and ahead of Carolina's DeAngelo Williams, Chicago's Matt Forte, and the Jet's Shonn Greene. Now looking at attempts per game, Jackson comes in at 34th while he comes in at 27th for yards per game. Interestingly, his 4.5 yards per carry ranks him at 17th in qualified leaders just ahead of Michael Turner.
Based on his seven-game performance, Jackson would project out to roughly 183 carries for 830 yards. Now if we want to baseline him off his last three games played as more of an indicator how he would perform the rest of the season, Jackson would only get 2 more carries (185 for the math deficient), but hit the 1000-yard mark with 1041 yards. Pretty impressive, but I don't know if that is possible considering some of the more difficult games coming up.
With that said, I would like to see Brandon Jackson get more carries as the season goes on. He seems to be coming into his own and straying away from the dancing behind the line. Jackson is making decent reads and cutting up when the hole is there. He still has the ability to catch passes and pick up blitzers well, but now he seems to be adding a credible running attack.
Now, I can expect to be picked apart by the Packer faithful! I don't really expect Jackson to do well given that McCarthy wants to pass first, ask questions later. Five of the last nine defenses we face are ranked in the top 10 in rushing yards allowed (Giants, Bears, Jets, Falcons, and Patriots with the Vikings on the outside looking in). So how do you feel Jackson matches up with the rest of the league? You can go to the various websites that carry the NFL stats and look who he is compared with or outperforming.