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The St. Louis Rams will likely, probably, almost definitely add to their running back depth chart during the draft. That happens when the team in question just lost a running back who had been with the franchise for 10 seasons, nine of which ended with at least 1,000 rushing yards (Steven Jackson), and the other two guys in line have a combined 108 career carries (Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson).

But unless a gift falls to them in the perfect spot, it’s unlikely that a running back will be an early focus after some expensive draft real estate was spent on Pead last April when he was a second-round pick. Which is nice, because that gives Pead an opportunity, and it’ll give us a chance to capitalize on another late-round fantasy sleeper. I love me some discounted running backs.

We always need to proceed with caution while reading too deeply into quotes from head coaches in late March. But Jeff Fisher is dropping some serious hint bombs about Pead, and how much he’ll be favored over Richardson after receiving only 10 carries during his rookie season.

While speaking at the NFL’s owners meetings yesterday, Fisher said that Pead’s limited use in 2012 was the product of both Jackson’s status as the trusted veteran and incumbent starter, and Richardson’s hot hand early that eventually faded (335 of his 475 total rushing yards came over the first eight games). Now Pead has an opportunity to start, with Fisher telling the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he’ll be given a chance to “make a lot of big plays.”

But the most important indicator of his increased role came when Fisher was asked about using Pead on special teams, which is generally foreign territory for a starting running back. They sustain enough body whacks without being subjected to the car wreck that is kickoff and punt returns.

“Probably not,” Fisher said. “If at all, it would be in the kickoff (returns) as opposed to punts. But if things work out, you typically don’t use one of your top backs as a returner.”

Throughout his four-year college career at Cincinnati, Pead averaged six yards per carry, while finishing with 4,009 yards from scrimmage and 33 touchdowns. Right now, that’s the sample size and example of upside that we have, as Pead hasn’t really provided any sample size of note in the NFL.

There will be natural, lingering uncertainty around Pead then even though he’ll likely lead the Rams’ backfield committee. If he can demonstrate any sort of proficiency while pass blocking — which is always a major hurdle for young running backs — he’ll then come at a nice, late-round sleeper discount, much like Mike Goodson.

Comments (3)

  1. I am definitely in agreement, Sean. This guy will be a great pick if you can get him. Nowadays, however, with so much media coverage and analysis I’m not sure we can toss around the term “sleeper” anymore. I think we need to reserve the “sleeper” term for people in various fantasy leagues (a number of my friends) who don’t do any research and have no clue who guys like Pead are. A few years ago, I drafted Arian Foster (pre-breakout) much higher than people like Michael Fabiano suggested…and I’ll take this guy early too…give me a player in a situation that promotes production over a big name any day of the week…and for people who don’t read articles like this…keep sleeping!

    • Agreed, I may be catering to the masses a bit with my liberal use of the “sleeper” tag. It’s a term that’s almost become a cliché in fantasy football discussions, especially in August during the heart of draft season when everyone is a sleeper. To me, it simply means good value found in the later rounds.

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