Come with me, and let’s explore the everlasting fantasy football confusion that is the St. Louis Rams backfield, courtesy of Jeff Fisher’s sorcery. Hop aboard the Zac Stacy hype train at your own peril.
The Stacy train has been an overcrowded place throughout the offseason, with the fifth-round pick whispered about as this year’s Alfred Morris, the running back who was selected in the sixth round last spring before emerging from the preseason pile of steaming mediocrity the Redskins had at the position, and then finishing as the league’s second best rusher with 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns.
What made for especially great fun was that if your league drafted in early August before the ‘Skins backfield situation sorted itself out, Morris may have been available late as he still battled with Roy Helu and Evan Royster. Stacy will be that guy again this year early in the process, but his competition is much more…well, not horrible.
Pead will sit out the Rams’ first game after he violated the league’s substance abuse policy, giving Stacy and Daryl Richardson an early-season opportunity. But there’s still a lot of mud here, with clarity a foreign concept. Pead’s absence will be brief, and he was a second-round pick last spring because there’s an obvious belief that he has second-round talent. At 5’10″, he’s a little smaller, but the open field speed he showed throughout his four collegiate years at Cincinnati when he averaged 6.0 yards per carry bring the sort of burst that the departed Steven Jackson was lacking.
But Richardson is nearly the exact same kind of runner, and he’s now spent a season being held in a much higher regard by the Rams coaching staff after platooning with Jackson. He’s small, shifty, and explosive too (and he’s also 5’10″), a combination which led to 4.8 yards per carry in 2012, and three runs of 30 yards or more (highlighted by a 53 yarder in Week 2). He was also capable as a receiver, recording two chunky +20 yard plays through the air.
If we ended our story here, there would already be a potentially dynamic backfield with a lot of pass catching potential for an offense that’s just loaded up on targets through the draft and free agency (Jared Cook, Tavon Austin, and Stedman Bailey were added, while Brian Quick and Chris Givens will continue to develop). But Stacy complicates matters, making this a three-way dead heat to be the top back in an ideal situation to post RB2 production consistently.
Right now, there’s little clarity to be had, with Pead’s suspension giving Stacy and Richardson a marginal advantage. The lack of direction and overall confusion can be seen in the current ADPs of the three Rams running backs. At Fantasy Football Calculator, Richardson leads by a wide margin (ADP: 74.6), but then Stacy (103.6) is followed closely by Pead (111.7). However, over at Fantasypros the cluster is much closer, and it’s led by Stacy (100), then Richardson (102), and Pead (117).
If a three-way battle continues late into camp, those close values are setting up a scenario where at least one of the three could fall into ideal late-round flier territory. Despite the perceived speed of the Stacy hype train now, Richardson could easily come off the board first in most leagues simply due to conservative thinking. We know and have seen him do at least, well, something, while Pead and Stacy will remain mysteries outside of scattered presason action.
But after that, you’ll be left to either choose between either a suspended player who could be left behind quickly if a hot hand emerges in Week 1 in Pead, or Stacy, who’s contrasting running style with more straight line power (Stacy is about 20 pounds heavier than both Pead and Richardson) is better suited to be featured in a platoon. And more importantly, to be handed goal-line carries after he had 24 touchdowns over his final two seasons at Vanderbilt, along with 2,334 rushing yards.
Right now, though, there’s a whole lot of uncertainty, with a whole lot of guessing going on. This is usually when I’d close by saying something about this being an example of why we wait to hold drafts until late August, but I’m not so sure we’ll have much more clarity even by then.
Here’s what I can be reasonably certain about: one of the three will rise and be bought far too soon, while another will fall and provide great value. That’s why if I’m picking a late-round Morris type now — still about six weeks away from training camp — it’s Stacy.