Matt Waldman’s RSP NFL Lens: The Trinity of RB Justin Jackson’s (Chargers) Game

Matt Waldman’s RSP NFL Lens showcases three runs of RB Justin Jackson that reveal a trio of common characteristics of a competent NFL running back. 

Justin Jackson was arguably the most underrated running back in the vaunted 2018 NFL Draft class. This is not a popular opinion. Still, I’ll show you three runs representative of Jackson’s game that reveal why my side of the debate has merit.

A common perception among those scouting the running back position is that successful prospects require great speed or a certain degree of size. Whenever I see naysayers of Jackson’s game broach the topic on social media, height and weight and a lack of great speed are the prevalent supporting arguments.

The reason the RSP process has identified underrated players like Ahmad Bradshaw, Joique Bell, Spencer Ware, Alex Collins, and Jalen Richard is that I’m valuing different skills that don’t automatically place speedsters with the most desirable physical dimensions ahead of skilled options. Although not defined this way, what I value is related to J. Moyer’s Sleeper Archetype for Running Backs.

Here are three of the most important qualities:

  1. Short-area quickness.
  2. The sight and processing of information that falls under the area of vision.
  3. Footwork to translate what the back sees and understands.

When a back possesses these three characteristics, he can play fast, efficient, accurately, and creatively. It translates well to the field because these runners can produce in a variety of alignments and turn difficult situations into productive plays.

Here are three plays against the Steelers last year that illustrate these characteristics of Jackson’s game that evaluators should value with a higher priority when studying college runners.

Note how efficiently Jackson uses space between the time he takes the exchange until he finds an open crease. He’s not running forward 2-3 yards and forcing himself into traffic. Instead, he scans the field with good depth and breadth and only buys a yard of space from the exchange, at most.

It’s mature judgment and the maximization of his quickness because he doesn’t waste steps. It also decreases the amount of unnecessary contact that other backs incur because they lack this refinement of vision and footwork.

Runners with these skills avoid big hits, maximize creases, and buy space and time to find alternate solutions to plays where the primary design fails. These players are productive and have viable NFL careers.

How good Jackson’s NFL career will be, remains to be seen. However, the reason the team is excited about Jackson and not panicking (yet) about Melvin Gordon is that they believe Jackson and Austin Ekeler comprise a deep depth chart at the position.

It doesn’t mean Gordon won’t be missed but based on my film study, I agree that if the Chargers had to work without Gordon, they could find a third back to fill a role that might remain vacant if Gordon holds out.

And note, I said might. 

For the most in-depth analysis of offensive skill players available (QB, RB, WR, and TE), get the 2019  Rookie Scouting Portfolio. If you’re a fantasy owner the Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 – 2018 RSPs at no additional charge.

Best, yet, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse. You can purchase past editions of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio for just $9.95 each. You can pre-order the 2019 RSP now (available for download April 1).

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