Steven Jackson’s departure left the St. Louis Rams with more questions than answers at the starting running back position. Three tailbacks have their reasons to assume the primary ball-carrying duties in 2013, but they have combined to take just 108 carries as professionals.
That’s 4.5 percent of Jackson’s career 2,395 rushes.
With 98 career carries, Daryl Richardson is by far the most experienced of the trio, which also includes Isaiah Pead and Zac Stacy. He averaged 4.8 yards per carry as a rookie and produced the Rams’ biggest running play of the 2012 season: a 53-yard sprint against the Washington Redskins in Week 2.
Big plays are in the sophomore’s repertoire. He just hasn’t scored a touchdown yet.
Neither has any other Rams rusher, though. At least Richardson has a two-point conversion to his credit.
Maybe he is just a change-of-pace back, as plenty of analysts seem to believe. Alabama’s Eddie Lacy was even mocked to go to St. Louis in the first round—but the Rams didn’t take a running back until the fifth, and Lacy was selected in the second. The prevailing thought was that someone needed to replace Steven Jackson, and the guys on the roster were too small or inexperienced to do so.
Funny how a rookie was supposed to fix the latter problem.
Besides, Richardson’s two biggest runs in 2012 came in his only two appearances during which he received double-digit carries.
This wasn’t the case of inflated production due to lopsided scoring.
Both were three-point contests: Week 2 against the Redskins and Week 6 against the Miami Dolphins. In the nine games that he received six or more carries, Richardson averaged 3.0 yards per tote. In the seven that he took seven or more, he averaged 5.8 yards per carry.
At the very least, he deserves a shot at the starting job.
If physique is any indication, Richardson’s role may be in direct competition with that of Pead, a 2012 second-rounder. Pead struggled to see the field in his self-described “miserable” rookie season: Despite leading St. Louis with 5.4 yards per rush, the sophomore only had 10 opportunities to carry the football.
He played 15 games.
Of his 54 yards, 32 came on three carries against the New England Patriots. That's 52.9 percent of his yards on 30 percent of his carries. St. Louis lost that matchup in London by 38 points, and Pead fumbled twice the next week against the San Francisco 49ers, losing one.
Nevertheless, Pead has a clearer path to more touches in Brian Schottenheimer’s offense with Jackson out of the picture. Stacy may be second in line behind Richardson by virtue of the coaching staff’s excitement about the fifth-rounder and the alleged contrast between his game and Daryl’s.
Physically, Stacy is expected to pummel potential tacklers at 5’8”, 216 pounds. He can move a pile, but he’s also pretty shifty between the tackles.
Zac tossed up 225 pounds 27 times at the NFL combine. He also took 24 or more carries in four games as a senior. Three were against the SEC, and the fourth was in a bowl game.
He scored seven TDs in his five appearances with 20 or more rushing attempts, including at least one each time he eclipsed the mark. Stacy should figure to get the first crack at the big-back touches ahead of Terrance Ganaway, who never touched the rock for St. Louis in the regular season as a rookie.
He rushed for 17 yards on seven carries in the preseason for the New York Jets.
If undrafted rookie Benny Cunningham from Middle Tennessee State is going to make the Rams' roster, it will most likely be on special teams. While St. Louis has plenty of questions regarding the hierarchy of ball-carriers this fall, the volume of running backs should prove that inserting oneself into the offensive rotation would be a long shot, barring injury.
Injuries seem to strike running backs the most, though, so a number of capable rushers is a welcome “problem” in the NFL.
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