There is a question that has been on my mind for a while: is Steven Jackson's health and productivity at risk by allowing to have so many touches?
Below is a list of RB's that you should remember (see: recent) that have had continually high-workload seasons. Do those workloads actually tend to give them a slump? Or is it a bunch of bull? Let's find out...
*Note* I'll be taking a look at strings of heavy-workload seasons throughout different players careers. There are plenty of factors that go into how well a running back plays, but I'm specifically trying to see if a constant heavy-workload will accelerate their decline. All those other factors, like age, coaching changes, offensive line quality, etc. I won't be taking a look at, because it's just impossible to correlate all of them and still maintain and ounce of credibility (unless you decide to take this study on as a full time job).
It's important to also understand that all these backs are from the last few years. Football has definitely evolved, and I wouldn't think it fair to compare the running backs of old with the running backs of new. That is why everyone is from the late 90's to 2000's- but hopefully you can draw that conclusion for yourself... Below is a look at six running backs who had heavy-touch workloads:
First up is LaDainian Tomlinson. His first five years he had 398, 451, 413, 392 and 390 touches respectively. Most people will say that is simply too much, and that anything approaching 400 touches is too tough a workload for one single person, or so it's been said. His productivity over those five years you can judge for yourself (9753 all purpose yards with 80 touchdowns thrown in for good measure).
Did a heavy workload affect him? In short- not at all. After five heavy workload seasons, he had his career year (2323 all purpose yards with 31 touchdowns). It appears as if the only factor that limits Tomlinson is his age, as he has always had heavy to moderate touch seasons throughout his career.
Next up is Eddie George. He had also had some extremely heavy workloads during his career. His first 5 seasons, he had 358, 364, 385, 367, 453 touches, respectively. Throughout those five seasons of his, he had 8321 all purpose yards with 50 touchdowns.
Did a heavy workload affect him? Yes it did- albeit slightly. George never had an amazing Y/A value (his career was 3.6) but 2001 was his lowest rushing total of his career, unless you count the 2004 season in which he was on the Cowboys. In 2001, he had 1218 all purpose yards with 5 touchdowns. Those numbers aren't horrible but it was a drop in production.
I'd like to include Ricky Williams, but I can't considering his self imposed hiatus from football (unless you count his marijuana use as a heavy workload). He sure had a lot of touches though... In his stead will be Shaun Alexander. I remember watching him in 2007, his last year with the Seahawks. It was pretty sad to see someone who had played so well do so bad, but he simply had nothing left in the tank...at all. From 2001 to 2005, he had 353, 354, 368, 376 and 385 touches, respectively. Throughout that span, he had 8850 total yards with 98 touchdowns (that's 18 more then Tomlinson in his prime).
Did a heavy workload affect him? It sure did. Alexander's Y/A dropped by 1.5 yards. In 2006, he had less then half of the rushing yards he did in 2005 (although he did have 944 all purpose yards and 7 touchdowns, which isn't horrible). He was never the same back however, and the Seahawks dumped him two years after.
Next is Shaun Alexander's twin brother, Tiki Barber. Tiki's heaviest workloads came at the end of his career, from 2002 to 2006, where he had 373, 347, 374, 411 and 385 respectively. Through those five seasons, Tiki had 10,274 all purpose yards with 45 touchdowns. For those who are too lazy to figure that out, that's a whopping 2055 yard average per season. Where is the CJ2K madness right now?
Did a heavy workload affect him? Not in the slightest. In fact, the best way to describe Tiki is like a fine wine- he only got better with age. His last two years were the heaviest of his career, and he responded by not only putting up more yards then he ever did before but he also had a 5.15 Y/A value, which is something most running backs can only dream of.
Second to last is Curtis Martin. He was always a favorite of mine; he constantly produced. The years in particular I'm taking a look at are pretty much the breadbasket of his career, 1998, '99, '00, '01 and '02. Difference in playing style aside, these years in his career parallel to Steven's well- he's around the same age and time in his career. Those five years, Martin had 412, 412, 386, 386 and 310 carries, respectively. Those five years accounted for 8376 all purpose yards and 42 touchdowns.
Did a heavy workload affect him? Once again, no. In 2003 and 2004, he had very productive seasons (read: 4.1 ypc and 4.6ypc, respectively, 3512 yards total). In 2005, his last in the NFL, he had a smaller role, but still put up decent numbers.
I saved the best for last. Marshall Faulk, as you (hopefully) can remember, was pretty much the main reason why the Rams won the Superbowl. I'm going to be taking a look at his Indianapolis years. While it wasn't a given that he would have a heavy workload, he did have a few years where he was busy. From 1994 to 1998, he had 366, 345, 254, 311 and 410 touches. In those 5 years, he had 8124 all purpose yards and 51 touchdowns. Granted, it isn't the heaviest workload, but their seems to be a 400+ touch barrier that teams try to shy away from, and he passed it that last year.
Did a heavy workload affect him? The next year was 1999, the year he was traded to the Rams. Superbowl victory, Greatest Show on Turf. You be the judge.
As it appears, having a heavy workload doesn't seem to affect too many players. It's easy to point to Shaun Alexander, or Larry Johnson (someone who didn't appear on this list because of his lack of continuous heavy workload seasons) as examples. But for the players that constantly put up 350, 375+ touch seasons, it doesn't seem to matter too much.
Steven Jackson's health is the main concern. He's had problems, and I don't know if the reason he is having those issues is the fact that he is a workaholic (mucho-touch seasons) but rather the fact that he get's an injury and simply decides to tough it out, most of the time making it worse considering it takes about 500 lbs. of force to take him down. I'm not saying that's a problem, as any time SJ39 plays, he makes the Rams twice as good, but from a health standpoint, sometimes it isn't a good idea to tough out a sore back.
The point is that their are plenty of examples of players pushing through heavy seasons and just are able to constantly produce. If Steven can stay injury free, there is no reason to think that he can't continue to produce, no matter how many touches he gets. The problem however, is being injury free, which on this team is no small feat on its own.