Rams’ fans across the world have heard the news of their all-time leading rusher voiding the final year of his contract, but that was to be expected. In all fairness, this doesn’t mean his return to St. Louis is improbable, it simply means he will test the waters of free agency.
Recent reports have linked the all-pro to Super Bowl contenders such as the Atlanta Falcons, New England Patriots and New York Giants. His name was also connected to the Detroit Lions to provide a boost to a weak running back group and to reunite him with his former coach, Scott Linehan. If Jackson departs—and I still think St. Louis is the number one suitor—the Rams’ will undoubtedly lose leadership, productivity, intellect and toughness.
But I won’t be the least bit surprised if he doesn’t take another carry in St. Louis.
Last off season, the Rams made a drastic overhaul by wiping out wasted draft picks and underachieving free agents that led to them becoming the youngest team in the NFL (age average 25.32). This was neither a mistake nor coincidence, I see the Rams continuing this trend.
Jackson turns 30 in July, the death sentence for running backs in this day and age. For a team that is looking to add explosiveness to their offense, the aging Jackson may have already lost his burst. Last season, The Rams were one of only two teams that failed to have a touchdown run longer than 10 yards.
According to ProFootballFocus, Jackson’s breakaway percentage, which defines as runs of 15+ yards, was 20.4 last season. He ranked 19th among running backs that played 50 percent of the snaps. This resulted in Jackson ranking 33rd among running backs that played at least 25 percent of their team’s downs.
Though the Rams are scouring the combine and free agency for playmakers on offense, they may not necessarily look to address the RB position. Seventh round draft pick Daryl Richardson was one of the big surprises for St. Louis as he beat out 2nd-rounder Isaiah Pead and spelled Jackson.
Besides the preseason finale ( 11 car. 52 yds) , Pead was a no-show. He repeatedly took every run to the outside and failed to find a crease in the hole. He also saw limited action in the regular season finale against the Seahawks rushing for 21 yards on five carries.
But at the NFL combine, Rams head coach Jeff Fisher said Pead was drafted not just to be a change-of-pace back spelling Jackson, but to be The Guy.
Here are three different scouting reports on Pead coming out of the University of Cincinnati:
Inside: North-south runner with quick feet to feel his way through creases. Makes small, quick cuts through creases and side-steps defenders in or past the hole to find room to get into his stride. Does not run over defenders often, but keeps legs moving near the goal line to make his way in. Holds the ball low at times, but has generally good ball security (no fumbles in 2009, two in 2010). Does not always show a burst in the box, anticipates contact. Quick draws make him run with shoulders not square to the line. Outside: Excellent straight-line speed makes him a legitimate breakaway threat anytime he finds open field. Lowers his pads to create contact at the second level when seeing defenders coming straight-on. Usually switches the ball to his outside hand when cutting to his left side. Inconsistent power in his cuts, stops on a dime at times to allow defenders to run him by but will round on stretch plays or take a couple of steps to change directions.
Quick, competitive, creative back with terrific open-field ability and good hands who would be best utilized complementing a power back — should be effective running stretches, draws and screens. Concerns regarding his character, maturity, dependability and football aptitude could affect his draft status.
A 400-meter champion in high school, Pead’s north-south style of running and threat to burn rubber in the open field may have had people whispering his name in the first place. However, it’s his intangibles and well-rounded contributions to the offense that are allowing him to climb draft boards once again. Pead is an willing blocker that will stand up against oncoming defenders in the pocket, or he will lay out to extend to the opposite flow of the pass rush. His fair hands help him secure screen passes in traffic, and he can shake off the linebacker as he executes his route. Whether he is struggling for a few extra yards or has been ripped out of the play, his legs keep churning and he continues to spin, stiff-arm, and fight on every down…Many of Pead’s shortcomings are swiftly followed by a “yeah, but”. He holds the ball too low – yeah, but he rarely fumbled during his collegiate career. He doesn’t run over defenders – yeah, but his balance and constant moving of his legs let him brush through one-arm tackles and barrel past the goal line. He lacks elite strength, and he’s missing initial burst in the box as he’s tripped up on first anticipated contact – yeah, but his determination and natural quickness could prevail when teamed with higher-up coaching. Pead’s only major concern is the lengthy amount of time it takes for outside stretch runs or actual changes of direction to develop, considering his ascertainable speed and presented possibilities once he reaches the second level.
When I assess Pead’s strengths and weaknesses, they remind of 2011 Hall of Fame inductee and catalysts on the Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf” era, Marshall Faulk
SPORTSILLUSTRATED Scouting Report on Marshall Faulk:
Positives: Athletically gifted skill player that produced whenever he handled the football … Incredibly elusive with the ability to make several defenders miss in the course of a single run and create yardage when seemingly nothing was available … Possessed enough speed to beat defenders into the open field and then run to daylight … Exceptional pass catcher out of the backfield and a true receiving threat in the underneath coverage or down the field … Played smart, tough football, showing great instincts on the field besides getting quality results when called upon to block.
Negatives: Not a pounder inside or very effective in short yardage situations … Was never a running back that could consistently handle 20 carries a game.
Now, I’m not saying Pead is the reincarnation of the Rams’ legend, but I can’t ignore the alarming comparisons. With his elusiveness, vision, instincts and catching ability out of the backfield, it’s difficult to deny Pead’s talent. St. Louis even deployed a Pead-Package when they would flex him out wide. The jury is still out on Pead. He didn’t show a whiff of Faulk-like-skills on the field, but with the success of the Rams’ 2012 draft class, it’s hard for me to argue against the minds of Fisher and Rams’ GM Les Snead.