Jacquizz Rodgers played the first four years of his career in Atlanta, primarily as a third down back, and he was a pretty steady contributor, especially as a receiving threat out of the backfield.
He caught 105 passes in his second and third seasons in the league combined and looked to be a guy on the rise heading into his fourth year. But his fourth year in the league happened to be 2014, which is also when the Falcons selected Devonta Freeman in the fourth round. So his numbers actually went down in his fourth season.
When he signed with the Bears in 2015, I'm sure Rodgers was hoping to get more opportunities as a running back and maybe even start there. His time in Chicago didn't go at all as planned, however.
In his first season in Chicago, the Bears didn't give him very many touches over the first five games of the season. Then, he landed on IR after breaking his arm in that fifth game. He looked to bounce back last preseason, but then the Bears ultimately released him before the regular season started after talking him up most of last offseason.
I'm sure his head was spinning at that point. He was two years removed from looking like he was about to really break out. Instead, here he was two years later not even on an active roster for the first week of the season. And that is important because veterans who aren’t on the active roster in Week 1 can be cut at any point after they do sign, and the team won't owe them the balance of their salary for that season.
Sometimes misfortune itself can turn into opportunity, however.
Luckily for Rodgers, his old offensive coordinator with Atlanta, Dirk Koetter, was now the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and he happened to be in need of a running back or two after losing Mike James for the season to an injury. As fate would have it, Rodgers, who was signed as mostly an emergency running back, would end up carrying the load at times as the usual starter, Doug Martin, battled a hamstring injury for much of the season.
Unfortunately, Rodgers himself ended up battling an injury which hampered him from fully taking advantage of the opportunity that Martin's injury afforded him. But when he was healthy and being fed the rock, Rodgers looked like a starting-caliber running back.
I mean the Bucs lost three games in a row where he had a total of 13 carries and two catches, but then over the next three weeks he got 30 carries against Carolina, 26 against San Francisco, and 19 against Oakland. Call it a coincidence, but all I know is the Bucs also went 2-1 over that same span.
Rodgers hurt his foot and missed the next four weeks only to come back to limited touches again in Weeks 12 and 13 after Martin had already returned to the lineup. Rodgers finished up the season by notching 32 carries and three receptions in weeks 15 and 16.
His season was basically a bad roller coaster ride.
Regardless, Rodgers made the most of the opportunities that he did get, to the extent his health allowed him to, after signing with the team last season. In the process he also showed that he could carry the load again if Martin ever faltered.
Then Martin faltered.
As you probably know, Martin was suspended for four games at the end of last season for a violation of the NFL drug policy. He subsequently checked into rehab this offseason. On a personal level I'm happy for Martin; he sought out help to address his issue. But there is no denying that, from a football standpoint, his suspension has now opened the door to him getting replaced as the starter by Rodgers.
You have to understand that no matter how impressed you are with Rodgers’ 560 rushing yards and 4.3 yards per carry average last season (both career highs for him), you ought to be even more impressed by how he got them.
I can't tell you how many times I watched Rodgers on film having to dodge defenders in the backfield when toting the pill last year. And yet somehow he found a way to still make sugar out of shit on a lot of those plays by juking one guy right in his face and then getting north and south in a hurry with good body lean so he could get as much yardage as possible.
I mean, the more I watched his film, the more I realized Rodgers isn't just some fill-in type. That dude is nice running the rock. He has real good patience on zone plays and knows how to follow his blockers.
Rodgers definitely has quite a bit of wiggle to him and can shake a defender out of his socks in the open field. His jump cuts are also nasty and saved him many times from being tackled for a loss immediately after taking the hand off. I am pretty sure he would dust Martin in a foot race so he has plenty of speed.
But let me tell you, the most impressive thing to me about Rodgers' film was that this guy, who is all of 5'6 and 205 pounds, liked to be the hammer rather than the nail when it comes to contact. As good as he was at making people miss, Rodgers also had no compunction about trying to run cats over on occasion, too.
Considering his ability to catch the football, I feel like Rodgers is just a much better all-around back than Martin, regardless of the suspension. If not for the suspension, Rodgers probably wouldn't have been afforded another opportunity at this point in his career to show what he could do as a starting running back in the league.
I am betting that Rodgers will be as motivated as he has ever been, and in the first three games he's going to try to nail down that starting position for at least the rest of this season, if not longer.
No matter how Martin plays when he gets back, I expect that Rodgers will still get starter's touches and his production will skyrocket. That's why I chose Jacquizz Rodgers as my choice to be Tampa's breakout player for 2017.