The St Louis Rams said goodbye to the franchises all-time leading rusher in the offseason when Steven Jackson signed a free agent contract with the Atlanta Falcons. With SJ39′s departure came a huge opportunity for one of the young running backs on the Rams roster to earn the job. Following the 2013 Draft it appeared it would be a 3 back race between second year backs Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson, and 2013 5th round selection Zac Stacy. The Rams backfield is one of the many units on this 2013 squad that is brimming with potential but lacks experience or a proven track record. The stage was set for a fierce competition for the starting role, with Richardson having the most NFL experience, Stacy having the “every down back” build, and Pead often described as the most gifted all-around runner.
I have been quietly pulling for Pead to finally put it together and play up to his talent level. Some player comparisons I have seen in regards to Pead are a combination of Lesean McCoy and Jamaal Charles. So far in the preseason the run blocking hasn’t been very impressive, and the running backs have struggled to find consistent running room across the board. Pead has had a few nice runs, but has mostly underwhelmed when given the chance to run the ball. Even worse he fumbled his first preseason carry to kill a promising Rams drive against the Cleveland Browns. The one area that Pead has performed better than any of the other backs has been in pass protection, having made some very nice blitz pickups.
Zac Stacy hasn’t really been healthy enough to add much to the competition, which is unfortunate because he definitely brings a power back element that Richardson and Pead lack. Richardson and Pead are both smaller, speedier backs that aren’t exactly known for their power. Hopefully Stacy gets a chance to get healthy and put some quality reps in over the final two preseason games and stake his claim to some regular season carries.
News broke today that Terrance Ganaway has decided to leave the Rams in pursuit of a graduate degree, so best of luck to Terrance in his studies! That leaves Benny Cunningham, the undrafted free agent out of Middle Tennessee State, as the only other serious threat to make the final 53 man roster as a RB. Cunningham has shown some flashes in the preseason, and has also had some nice kick returns which could be where he earns his roster spot as Jeff Fisher announced that Tavon Austin wouldn’t be handling those duties. Cunningham has also drawn praise for his blitz pickup abilities, which is something that could earn him reps as a 3rd down back in the regular season.
So as training camp and the preseason wind down I would expect to see quite a few reps for Pead and Stacy (if healthy) to see if either of them can challenge Richardson for top of the depth chart. A best case scenario for the Rams would be for Pead and Stacy to put together an impressive final two weeks and really push for regular season playing time. The days of the every down workhorse running back are nearly over in the NFL, and if the Rams stable of young backs can push each other for playing time it can only be a good thing for the team as a whole. Depth at the running back position has been an issue for the Rams for nearly a decade, while they may not have the same talent level in the first slot as in the past, the position appears to have quality depth with varied playing styles. The battle for the top of the depth chart may be over, but the battle over playing time just may rage well into the regular season. Thanks for reading and as always, Go Rams!!!