Secret Superstars 2014: Rams
The St Louis Rams finished with seven wins for the third time in four seasons in 2013 and couldn’t get out of the bottom spot in the tough NFC West. Among last season’s challenges was replacing long-time Ram Steven Jackson, who voided the final year of his contract and departed for Atlanta last offseason. Jackson’s departure left the biggest hole at running back since the pre-Marshall Faulk era, circa 1998.
Their attempt to replace Jackson started out unsuccessful, but a few games into the season they found their man, rookie Zac Stacy. The Rams’ fifth-round pick in 2013, Stacy came into the league after setting numerous Vanderbilt records, including single season and career rushing yardage records. He entered training camp as one of a few possibilities to take over for Jackson but his professional career started off rough.
Stacy had some minor injuries in the preseason that caused him to miss some time. When he was on the field, his production amounted to 68 yards on 23 carries and a long run of 7 yards over three preseason games. Running behind a second-string offensive line may not have helped, but he did little to help himself by averaging an unspectacular 1.6 yards after contact in the preseason. Stacy did not look strong on pass plays either. He dropped two of his six pass targets and allowed three pressures on 17 pass blocks. Albeit on a small sample size, his overall grade of -3.6 in the preseason ranked 110th out of 120 running backs.
Stacy failed to make a case for playing time and fell behind starter Daryl Richardson and undrafted rookie Benny Cunningham heading into the regular season. Low on the depth chart, Stacy played eight snaps in Week 1. He was handed a single carry for 4 yards and was beaten for one hurry on three pass blocks. The coaching staff kept him inactive for the next two games in favor of second-year player Isaiah Pead, and Stacy played just one snap in Week 4.
Receiving an Opportunity
With the other three backs proving ineffective and Richardson putting forth a dreadful performance in Week 4, Stacy was given the opportunity to start in Week 5 and did not disappoint, gaining 78 yards while splitting time with Richardson. Stacy had just scratched the surface, though. He continued to receive the majority of touches and earned +5.7 rush and +7.3 overall grades over his first five starts. In Week’s 8 and 9 against the Seahawks and Titans, respectively, he picked up a combined 307 rushing/receiving yards on 60 touches, two touchdowns, and forced 13 missed tackles.
Second Half Roller Coaster
Week 10 marked his third straight game with 26-plus rush attempts, but he performed poorly compared to the preceding games. He gained just 62 yards, was unable to force a missed tackle, and dropped a pass en route to his lowest-graded game of the season (-2.6 overall). In the next game against the Bears, he began to bounce back but a concussion ended his day early at 12 attempts for 87 yards and a touchdown.
The final five games of the season were up-and-down and for the most part, nowhere near his early season production. He averaged less than two yards per carry against the Cardinals before posting a 133 rushing yard performance against the Saints, in which he gained 110 yards after contact. His resurgence was short-lived and he earned a -1.8 rush grade in consecutive weeks to end the season. Stacy didn’t fare as well against the Seahawks the second time around with just 15 rushing yards on as many carries.
Even though Stacy’s season ended on a down note, he was easily the most productive back on the team. He exceeded expectations as a late-round rookie and showed he was capable of shouldering the entire workload. Stacy finished the season just shy of 1,000 yards in roughly 12 games and had the eighth-most yards after contact. Although his consistency left something to be desired (he forced 21 of his 29 missed tackles in a four game stretch), he clearly showed the ability to perform at a high level.
The Rams cut Richardson two weeks ago and Stacy enters the 2014 season atop the running back depth chart. He will likely receive the bulk of the playing time once again, but third-round draft pick Tre Mason should also figure into the equation. Stacy’s playing time shouldn’t be affected too much because of their difference in running style. If the Rams indeed utilize Mason as a change-of-pace back, Mason’s playing time will probably come at the expense of Pead and Cunningham instead of Stacy. Regardless, Stacy will be an important part of the Rams’ success on offense.
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