Mailbag: Steven Jackson best back?

Jason from Philadelphia writes: Sando, I typically stick to the AFC South but am never afraid to move out of my comfort zone. It's a tough argument, but I think Steven Jackson is all-around the best running back in the NFL.

Adrian Peterson is great, but he isn't nearly the receiving threat Jackson can be. Chris Johnson can break it loose on every play, but if he doesn't get around you, he certainly isn't going to run through you.

Out of the three, Jackson has the most balance and pulled a 1,400-yard season (highest in NFC) behind an awful offensive line on a team with virtually no passing game.

Mike Sando: Good debate. I'll answer this one by hitting on a few points below.

  • The Rams' offensive line wasn't awful until injuries and other issues -- Richie Incognito's departure -- siphoned off depth to a degree that prevented the team from building on the improvement it showed by midseason.

  • In looking at Jackson last season, I cannot remember another active player running the ball with such passion and toughness so consistently. It was inspiring and the most impressive individual wire-to-wire performance I saw last season, taking into account circumstances.

  • Jackson is coming off back surgery and he has had some injury issues over the years. He showed exceptional toughness last season. Can he hold up?

  • No back in the league can match Jackson's combination of size, speed, power, running ability and versatility. He is 6-foot-2 and 236 pounds. Stand next to him and you'll realize this isn't a typical back.

  • The debate gets much more subjective from here. What do you like it a back? Johnson can do things Jackson cannot do, and vice versa. There's a lot to like about Peterson even though he fumbles too frequently.

I'll gladly take Jackson's side in any argument about which running back is best, but a lot of it will come down to what each person likes in a runner.

Kevin from Sylmar, Calif., writes: Hey Mike, I was watching SportsCenter and they were talking about Brett Favre's ankle surgery. Herm Edwards made an interesting comment. He said great quarterbacks can be expected to win you four games or more throughout the season. If you believe what he says, what is your opinion of the NFC West QBs? In other words, how many games can each of the quarterbacks in the division be reasonably expected to win for their teams?

Mike Sando: Very few quarterbacks are great enough to be the difference that frequently. Peyton Manning arguably accounts for eight victories at his best, based on how the Colts are set up and what Manning can do. Think of all the close games the Colts won last season. They set a record for fourth-quarter comebacks. Much of that was on Manning.

When assessing how many victories a quarterback is worth, we must ask, "Compared to what?" The drop from Manning to his backup is huge. The Colts might not win three games if an injury sidelined Manning. That is an extreme case.

In Arizona, what is the drop from Matt Leinart to Derek Anderson? One game? No games? Two games? Minus-three games? Tough to say. But the difference might not be much.

The drop from Alex Smith to David Carr might be a few games based on Carr's relative lack of experience in the offense, and the fact that Smith might arguably be better.

I just don't think the NFC West quarterbacks have shown they're good enough to transcend bad things happening around them. They aren't difference makers the way a great quarterback such as Manning would be.

Tim from Ballard, Wash., writes: With all of the discussions about the Seahawks' receivers and who would start opposite T.J. Houshmandzadeh -- Deion Branch, Golden Tate, Mike Williams -- I've heard nothing about the progress of Deon Butler.

I thought he had a promising rookie season, but haven't heard anything about him since. Has he done anything to impress the new coaches, or is it an assumption that he's just going to have to take a back seat to Tate as the third receiver this coming season?

Mike Sando: This one is a question of fit. The previous personnel and coaching leadership drafted Butler to fit the previous offense. I've wondered how well Butler would fit the new offense based on his slightness of frame. I also asked Pete Carroll about Butler on draft day. He gave a glowing answer, but it didn't quite compute. Upon checking later, I confirmed that he thought I had asked about Deion Branch. Never did get his thoughts on Butler. I've got questions about whether he fits.

Avi from Bellevue, Wash., writes: It's become clear to me that for any team to have any chance of winning a championship, there simply cannot be ANY one single glaring weakness on the team because teams in this day will exploit it.

It seems like every team in this division has atleast one weakness like this. For the Seahawks, the defensive line/pass rush. For the 49ers, cornerbacks. For the Cardinals, linebackers/pass rush. For the Rams, quite a few such as the secondary and defensive line.

When you look at the previous championship teams such as the 2008 Steelers or 2009 Saints, you really can't point out one specific area that teams can just go out there and constantly exploit, forcing changes on from the coaching staff. What do you think of this?

Mike Sando: Teams can sometimes compensate for weaknesses in one area by being exceptionally proficient in another area. The 2000 Ravens defense comes to mind.

I don't necessarily agree with your characterization of the weaknesses in the NFC West. The 49ers are not necessarily weak at corner. Shawntae Spencer and Nate Clements could be fine back there. There are question marks, but that is not an automatic weakness.

Quarterbacks are the key variables for every team and especially for NFC West teams, each of which faces question marks at the position.