Leading up to this year's NFL Draft, scheduled to take place April 23-25, theRams.com will revisit notable draft moments in team history. In the third installment of the four-part series, we take a look at 2004 when the Rams traded up to get their running back of the future, Steven Jackson.
One of the centerpieces to The Greatest Show on Turf, starting running back Marshall Faulk just finished his sixth season with the the Rams in 2003. He posted a respectable 1,108 total yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns at age 30 that season, but he had also entered what is historically considered the "line of demarcation" for a running back's production, according to a June 2003 story by Peter King in Sports Illustrated.
Given that context, it likely would not have been a surprise if the Rams used a high draft pick on an eventual successor in the 2004 NFL Draft with Faulk turning 31 in February.
Per Football Outsiders' Sean McCormick, Oregon State's Steven Jackson was a consensus No. 1 running back in that year's class "who was considered a franchise back and worthy of a high first-round pick." One look at Jackson's credentials, and it wasn't difficult to see why.
NFL scouts first took notice of Jackson after he rushed for 1,690 yards and 17 touchdowns in 13 games as a sophomore in college. He followed it up with 1,545 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns as a junior, then decided to forgo his senior season and declare for the draft.
According to a story posted on Jackson's website, he underwent minor knee surgery to clear up some discomfort after his junior season. Although the procedure forced him to miss the 2004 NFL Scouting Combine, the 6-foot-2, 233-pounder later ran a 4.45-second 40-yard dash at his pro day.
A video on Jackson's YouTube channel from 2011 said he was expected to be a top-five pick. One mock draft had Jackson going as high as No. 6 overall to the Detroit Lions, another No. 17 overall to the Denver Broncos.
And yet, surprisingly, he fell out of each of those ranges. The Dallas Cowboys – which, according to that same video, were Jackson's father's favorite team – even passed on him, trading their first round pick to the Buffalo Bills, who used the No. 22 selection on Tulane quarterback J.P. Losman.
"I mean, it was like being punched in the stomach. I couldn't believe it at that point," Jackson said in the video. "I scrambled, looked back to see what teams were still drafting. In my opinion, the teams that were left in the first round didn't really need a running back."
Ultimately, his doubts would be erased and things would work out for him. Two picks later, the Rams traded the No. 26 overall pick and their fourth-round pick to the Bengals for the No. 24 overall pick, scooping up Jackson.
"To me, there's not too many franchises that have had the success at running back like the St. Louis Rams or the Rams franchise when they were in L.A.," Jackson said in the video. "So many great backs have worn that helmet."
Jackson made an immediate impact as a rookie in 2004, rushing for 673 yards and four touchdowns while playing behind Faulk. The Rams earned a spot in the playoffs that season, defeating the Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card round.
From 2005-12, he posted eight-consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons, highlighted by winning the NFC rushing title in 2009. Perhaps coincidentally, one of the best games of his career came against the Cowboys – 25 carries, 160 rushing yards and three touchdowns in a 34-14 Rams win in Week 7 of the 2008 season.
That string of success paved the way for Jackson to become the Rams' all-time leading rusher with 10,138 yards in 131 games, and he is also tied with Eric Dickerson for second on the franchise's career rushing touchdowns list with 56.