Whilst it may be easy to gush about Julio Jones, after his incredible week 9 performance. I want to look at our other offensive rookie that has made a big impact on our offense.
Wind back 12 months and Jacquizz Rodgers’ college career was coming to a close. As the norm for most running backs now, is come out after their junior season, due to the short career span for running backs. Jacquizz was no different, deciding to enter the draft after an illustrious 3 year career at Oregon State.
Despite not being heavily recruited by the major schools in the FBS, mainly because of his small size, he elected to join his brother, James at Oregon State. He made a huge impact for the Beavers the minute he arrived, being awarded Pac-10 offensive player of the year as a freshman in 2008. He continued to light up the Pac-10 for the rest of his time that he was on campus. Finishing with 3,887 yards off 788 carries (4.9 average a rush) for 46 touchdowns! Also add in his 1,056 yards off 151 catches for 5 touchdowns and he has over 50 touchdowns in 3 years!
All these stats recorded from a player deemed not big enough at 5″5 to be able to play at the highest level of college football.
After this illustrious highly productive career, you would think that personnel executives would downplay the size issue. However that was not the case and the usual things came out when discussing Rodgers such as durability questions, that we always hear about with small running backs.
Even with these concerns Mike Mayock (in my opinion the best analyst in the media) had Jacquizz listed in his top 5 running backs for the 2011 draft. However this didn’t last for long, the killer blow for Rodgers’ draft stock was his 40 time registering 4.64 at the combine. This dealt a hammer blow to Rodgers as the general consensus is when prospects are short and “slow” they have very little future at the professional level.
On draft day, the Falcons were in the market for “a change of pace” running back, that could make the offense more explosive. The Falcons had just given up on Jerious Norwood due to ongoing injury problems and most fans were expecting a player similar to Norwoods style such as a Taiwan Jones (Drafted in the 4th round by the Raiders), who had the explosive speed and more of a prototypical body for a running back.
However, the Falcons had a different target in mind. When the 5th round came around and the Falcons saw that this highly productive back was still available, they couldn’t resist. They traded an 7th rounder to get up the order in the 5th for the right to select Rodgers. They made the trade and selected Rodgers 143rd overall. The move was praised immediatley by NFL Network’s Charles Davis who said that Rodgers could well be the steal of the 3rd day of the NFL Draft.
Despite not having most of the offseason workouts with the Falcons, Jacquizz was still able to make an impact in the first half of his first NFL season. Being active for all the game and being involved on selected plays. His size has proven not be an issue in the slightest, in fact it seems to be helping him, as Defenders are struggling to locate him, behind the offensive line. Jim Mora was spot on with his color commentary during the Colts game, when he said that “Rodgers isn’t small, he is just short”. I really enjoyed that distinction because despite his “short” frame, he still packs a punch and can put the hurt on defenders.
Against the Colts, he got an opportunity to get a few carries with the game already in hand, getting 10 carries for 44 yards. While he may not have had the type of breakout performance that Julio Jones had, he is slowly becoming a bigger and bigger part of the Falcon offense. At some point this season, I have no doubt that breakout rushing performance is just around the corner for Rodgers.
However he doesn’t need to prove to me that he can play in the NFL, I have seen it already on just one play against the Lions. It was a long first down after a penalty, and the Lions blitzed on the right side of the offensive line as Matt Ryan was dropping back to pass. The O-Line was forced to move over to the right leaving a one on one matchup with Jacquizz Rodgers in pass protection against Kyle Vanden Bosch, one of the biggest Defensive Ends in the NFL. Now most running backs would struggle with this type of mismatch. Rodgers however didn’t even flinch and attacked Kyle Vanden Bosch and took him out low, bringing the bigger guy to the ground, allowing the pass to be completed to Harry Douglass. Although this effort went relatively unnoticed by the commentators it showed me that Rodgers has a huge heart possibly even bigger than his smaller frame and is not afraid of taking on anyone.
Not only is Rodgers “a change of pace” running back, he could well be the successor to Michael Turner and a full time starter. Don’t be distracted by his size, it hasn’t seemed to bother other dominant small running backs around the NFL such as Ray Rice and Maurice Jone Drew.
The future is very bright for Rodgers, and with the exciting development of young offensive Falcons Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. The future is also very bright for the Atlanta Falcons.