Top offseason needs: NFC South
The most pressing holes to fill for Falcons, Panthers, Saints and Bucs
Welcome to the 2013 version of Insider's offseason staple series: Plugging the Holes. This marks the last of an eight-part examination in which Football Outsiders identifies the biggest needs for every NFL team, division by division, going into the 2013 offseason.
The series finishes Thursday with Outsiders' look at the NFC South.
Atlanta Falcons: Running back
At Football Outsiders, our primary statistic is called defense-adjusted value over average, or DVOA (explained here). It measures not only a player's ability to pick up yardage but also his consistency, ball security, ability to convert in the red zone or on third downs, and many other factors. There were 42 running backs with at least 100 carries in 2012, and among that group, Atlanta's Michael Turner ranked 41st in rushing DVOA. The Falcons' top rusher averaged only 3.6 yards per carry and fell below 4.0 yards per carry in 13 games, and Atlanta was the league's worst team on short-yardage runs. By the end of the year it was clear that Turner was a liability. In two playoff games, Turner had just 22 carries, and backup Jacquizz Rodgers had 20. As a duo, they gained only 62 yards on 18 carries in the season-ending playoff loss to San Francisco.
Turner turned 31 just before Valentine's Day, which qualifies him for senior citizen status among NFL running backs. Although a bounce-back season is still possible, it's nearly certain that his best days are behind him. Rodgers just turned 23, but it's not realistic that he'll be any kind of long-term solution at only 5-foot-6. No player that short in league history has gained more than 1,000 yards on the ground in a season, and since the 1970 merger with the AFL, only three have managed even 500 yards. Rodgers has 151 career NFL carries and is averaging just 3.8 yards per rush.