While most teams are nearly a week into OTAs, the St. Louis Rams have just started rolling, opening up their camp on Tuesday. Like every year, the most intriguing aspect of offseason workouts is the position battles. With the drafting of Tre Mason at the end of Day 2 of the 2014 NFL Draft, there might be no position that will be entertaining to watch than running back. However, intra-roster competition aside, the offseason is also prime time for predictions; pre-ranking teams and players, estimating teams’ win-loss records, and making way-too-early playoff guesses.
Recently, Bleacher Report writer, Matt Miller, posted his view of the leagues running backs in his article, ‘Power Ranking NFL RB Depth Charts’. The rankings attempt to decide “which team has the most talent at the position” and “which team has the game’s best depth chart at running back?” With a near-1,000 yard rusher and arguably the top running back prospect in the 2014 class manning the Rams backfield, one would suspect that the St. Louis depth chart would project nicely into the upper-tier of the rankings. So, where did they finish?
23. St. Louis Rams
Projected Depth Chart: Zac Stacy, Tre Mason (rookie), Benny Cunningham, Isaiah Pead
Look at the St. Louis Rams’ depth chart and you can easily fall in love—especially if you’re a believer in Zac Stacy, and many are.
Stacy burst onto the scene in 2013 when he rushed for 973 yards and seemed to emerge as the Rams’ go-to back. But then the team added a running back very early in the 2014 draft (Round 3) in Tre Mason from Auburn. A two-headed approach is good when you have diversity, but both players are very young and largely untested here. The Rams are in a Catch-22 in attempting to go young in replacing veteran Steven Jackson while sacrificing a proven commodity.
Take a moment to calm yourself back down. For one, that “sacrificing” of Steven Jackson came prior to the 2012 regular season, and the St. Louis Rams managed just fine without him last season…
Anyways, while Miller doesn’t necessarily specify how these rankings are being formulated, there doesn’t seem to be any logical, objective measure that would rank the St. Louis Rams depth chart out of the Top 20. For one, they finish last season ranked 19th overall in team rushing yards and T-17th overall in yards per attempt. Moreover, those numbers came in, essentially, only 12 regular season games, with Brian Schottenheimer not unleashing Zacy Stacy until Week 5, after the ailing Daryl Richardson failed to gain any traction to start the year. Zac Stacy, by himself, ranked 14th overall in rushing yards last season, including ranking Top 15 in total rushing touchdowns, despite only starting 12 regular season games.
The one wrench in the system might be “depth,” which is, to be honest, a relatively subjective term. Depth in the offensive backfield is somewhat of a nonsensical concept for running backs considering that most teams still heavily rely on a single running back to take the majority of the snaps. In fact, last year, 22 teams (i.e. 68% of the league) employed a single back that took 60% or more of the total offensive snaps; 31 teams (i.e. 97%) had a single running back take, at least, 50% of the team’s snaps. Even those numbers are somewhat low, considering that injuries forced a number of those teams to use other running backs. That 60% or more of snaps figure number is actually significantly higher than the average since 2007 (9.7 teams), which suggests that teams are still just-as (if not more) reliant on a single running back as they were in the mid- to late-2000’s.
Regardless, in terms of depth, the St. Louis Rams are not necessarily struggling after their starter. Tre Mason has already made it known that he will be competing for the starting role in the backfield; which is telling of his talents, considering the year that Zac Stacy had in 2013. Writing off rookie running backs, in this case, is simply a cop out, especially considering the success that top college prospects have had recently. Last year, Eddie Lacy managed 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns as a rookie, followed by other solid performances from Zac Stacy, Le’Veon Bell, and Giovani Bernard. In 2012, Trent Richardson and Doug Martin were both considered top running back prospects and both ended the season as Top 10 running backs. Even in what most would consider a “down year,” players like DeMarco Murray and Mark Ingram made noticeable impacts on their squads in 2011.
What is most interesting about the rankings might be the teams listed above the St. Louis Rams. At No.22, the San Diego Chargers made the cut, despite Mathews significant history of injury and the fact the Danny Woodhead, a situation player at best, would be second in line to take the reins. At No.20, the Houston Texans, minus Ben Tate, made the list, even with Arian Foster’s inability to stay healthy the last couple of years and having no genuine backup, aside from Andre Brown. At No.18, the Cleveland Browns fall into the rankings, even with long-time “backup,” Ben Tate, as their starter, and the talented, yet inexperienced, Dion Lewis as their safety valve. The list goes on…
If the only argument against ranking the St. Louis Rams running back depth chart higher on the list is “youth” and being “untested,” then teams like the Green Bay Packers (No.11) and Pittsburgh Steelers (No.10) should not be ranked so high. If the argument is about pure depth, then a team like the Chicago Bears (No.14) shouldn’t be anywhere near the Top 15. If the ranks are, in any way, based off production from last season or “recent history,” then Ray Rice and the Baltimore Ravens (No.3) should be on outside, looking in, at the Top 20. Instead, a backfield that contains the running back that lead the league in rushing yards for a majority of last year after Week 5 (Zac Stacy) and the arguable top running back prospect in the 2014 Draft Class, who that led the SEC in rushing yards and touchdowns in 2013 (Tre Mason), gets inexcusably dropped to No.23 on the list.