The St Louis Rams have one of the better running backs in football in Steven Jackson, but they have struggled to find an adequate backup to compliment the Pro-Bowler.
Players such as Kenneth Darby, Chris Ogbonnaya, Samkon Gado, Antonio Pittman, and Brian Leonard have all failed to make any sort of an impact during their time In St. Louis, and the Rams have found themselves once again searching for an answer.
Here are the rushing stats from the past few seasons by Ram running backs not named Steven Jackson:
Antonio Pittman: 117 attempts, 435 yards, 3.7 YPC, 0 TD
Kenneth Darby: 95 attempts, 408 yards, 4.3 YPC, 2 TD
Brian Leonard: 88 attempts, 310 yards, 3.5 YPC, 0 TD
Chris Ogbonnaya: 11 attempts, 50 yards, 4.5 YPC, 0 TD
Travis Minor: 30 attempts, 97 yards, 3.2 YPC, 0 TD
Keith Toston: 19 attempts, 54 yards, 2.8 YPC, 0 TD
Samkon Gado: 16 attempts, 30 yards, 1.9 YPC, 0 TD
Stephen Davis: 40 attempts, 177 yards, 4.4 YPC, 0 TD
While some of these players have a nice YPC average, we can all agree none of them was an ideal backup.
All of them lacked play-making abilities and most found themselves in St Louis for no longer than a season or two. To be honest, the last dependable backup the Rams had was when Jackson himself backed up Marshall Faulk in 2004.
While some teams can get by without having a reliable second-string back, the Rams are going to need one in 2011.
I'm not questioning the toughness of Jackson—he has played through countless injuries with as much heart and desire as I've ever seen, but that doesn't make him invincible.
Since being drafted by the Rams in 2004, Jackson has missed 12 games due to injury. His physical style of play causes him to wear down throughout a season, and he isn't getting any younger.
While I do believe 2011 will be a successful year for Jackson, it never hurts to have someone waiting in the wings in case of emergency.
It also would be very beneficial to Jackson and the Rams if they could give Jackson a break here and there and know the production in the running game will not take a dramatic hit from it.
So let's get down to brass tacks here. Who are realistic options for the Rams at the position?
2010 Stats: 50 rushes, 267 yards, 59 receptions, 520 yards, 2 TD
The undersized (5'6", 190 lbs), electrifying running back from San Diego is the favorite for the position amongst experts and fans alike. In Sproles' six seasons in San Diego, he found the end zone 21 separate times via rushing, receiving, kick returning, and punt returning.
His effectiveness in the rushing game took a hit in 2010, but he is still a dangerous receiver out of the backfield, amassing 520 receiving yards on 59 catches.
Sproles is the kind of player opposing teams must always keep tabs on. His speed and agility make him a threat to create a big play at any point, and his small stature often causes defenders to lose him in the backfield.
2010 Stats: 158 rushes, 655 yards, 18 receptions, 194 yards, 8 TD
Although this would be an unlikely signing, Bush deserves some sort of mention here.
Bush is a big, bruising running back that plays even more physically than Steven Jackson. At 6'1", 245 lbs he is an absolute terror in short-yardage situations and was a play-making force in Oakland in 2010.
However, I can't see him fitting in with the Rams simply because he does all the same things Jackson does in the running game—just to a lesser extent—and he doesn't provide much upside in the passing game, something that will be valued in Josh McDaniels' spread offense.
2010 Stats: 116 rushes, 495 yards, 19 receptions, 124 yards, 4 TD
Addai will not be returning to Indianapolis next season, and his recent struggles have caused his expected value to diminish rapidly. He won't come incredibly cheap, but the contract should be manageable and Addai would bring some solidification to the backup spot.
Addai's biggest problem in Indianapolis was that he wasn't capable of shouldering a full load and he has struggled to hold up an entire season as a starter.
Addai could find his place in the NFL to be a backup for a team in need, possibly St. Louis.
2010 Stats: 36 rushes, 150 yards, 34 receptions, 208 yards, 1 TD
A month ago I wrote an article explaining how Bush could be an asset for the Rams in 2011 (article: here). I wrote that shortly after the Saints had drafted RB Mark Ingram, and Bush had given every sign that he was on his way out of New Orleans. It now appears the the Saints are showing interest in keeping Bush around, but with as crowded of a backfield as they have, it isn't too far-fetched to say a Bush move is possible.
The former Heisman-winner would bring an excellent change of pace to compliment Jackson and, if he can stay healthy, could be a very beneficial pick-up for a Rams offense in need of play-makers.
Kenneth Darby (Last Resort)
Darby wasn't completely useless in 2010, and he even had a couple nice highlights when Jackson was held out for a half with injuries. Darby shouldn't be the kind of running back the Rams shoot for in free agency, but should all else fail, Darby should definitely be considered for a return to St. Louis.