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Falcons Release Steven Jackson; Devonta Freeman Sitting Pretty
The Falcons released veteran running back Steven Jackson, the team announced Thursday, a move that will save the team $3.75 million against the salary cap. It will also clear the path for some fresh, young legs to move up in the rotation, which seems like good news for fantasy football owners.

As's Vaughn McClure explained, incoming offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan brings with him a zone-blocking scheme where running backs are expected to thrive with a one-cut-and-go mentality. "Although Jackson still runs with power," McClure wrote, "his older legs are not the ideal complement for such a system."

The Falcons now proceed with second-year player Devonta Freeman as the primary running back. The status of both Jacquizz Rodgers and Antone Smith are unclear as they head for free agency, although the team has prioritized bringing Smith back. The Falcons could add another veteran running back and are expected to check into Justin Forsett from the Ravens if he reaches free agency.

But Freeman is the guy to watch.

Speaking at the NFL Scouting Combine last Thursday, incoming head coach Dan Quinn said he has "high hopes" for Freeman, last year's fourth-round draft pick.

"My first impression: I can feel the quickness," Quinn said of Freeman. "In our outside zone scheme I thought this is tailor-made for a guy who can really explode off the edge. I love this guy's competitive spirit."

Quinn's high praise came just minutes after general manager Thomas Dimitroff expressed confidence that the smallish Freeman can handle the featured role in Shanahan's offense. The week before, Shanahan revealed that he "loved" Freeman coming out of Florida State last year.

Freeman finished his rookie season tops among all Falcons running backs with 30 receptions for 225 yards while adding 65 rushes for 248 yards.

Bottom line?

According to, Freeman is the favorite to open 2015 as the starter even if Dimitroff adds a between-the-tackles complement in free agency or the draft

Worth noting, Quinn and Shanahan already have preached having more offensive balance for what has been a pass-happy offense.

Last year, the Falcons ranked 24th in the NFL with 93.6 rushing yards per game. Jackson had the team's lone 100-yard rushing game with 101 in a 29-18 win over the Arizona Cardinals.

The only Falcon running back who averaged better than 3.8 yards per carry last season was Smith, who averaged 6.3 yards on 23 carries before suffering a season-ending broken leg.

Meanwhile, Jackson, who turns 32 in July and had one year left on his contract, originally signed a three-year, $12 million deal with the Falcons that included $4 million guaranteed. Jackson spent his first nine seasons with the St. Louis Rams after entering the league as the 24th overall pick of the 2004 NFL draft.

Jackson gained 1,250 yards on 347 carries with 12 touchdowns in 27 games with the Falcons. He averaged a career-low 3.5 yards per rush in 2013, his first season in Atlanta.

Jackson did, however, achieve a milestone while with the Falcons. He surpassed 11,000 career rushing yards last season, becoming the 19th player in NFL history to accomplish that feat and joining the likes of Hall of Famers Walter Payton, Emmitt Smith and Barry Sanders.

Jackson has 11,388 career rushing yards on 2,743 carries with 68 touchdowns.

He also has no plans to retire.

"Make no mistake: I can still punish a defense," Jackson said in a statement. "There are 1,000-yard seasons left in these legs."

He joins Reggie Bush, Chris Johnson, DeAngelo Williams and Peyton Hillis on the list of veteran running backs looking for new jobs.