Yesterday we dealt with the perplexing problem of a backfield that’s come straight from the depths of hell over the past few seasons. But alas, with word that Jonathan Stewart likely won’t be healthy for the beginning of training camp, there’s fleeting hope that at his current draft price, DeAngelo Williams may actually provide some flex value. Hope, it’s all we have.
But now we move on to another backfield which is equally confusing, though there’s a difference in our feelings towards this particular quagmire. In St. Louis, the man who earns the title of backfield headmaster has an opportunity to be very productive, very quickly.
According to an official release from the team, that man is projected (please note that word…over and over) to be Daryl Richardson, and not Zac Stacy or Isaiah Pead. That’s the safe decision, and likely the right decision.
However, you’ll recall that not so long ago, Rams head coach Jeff Fisher dropped a strong hint regarding Pead that we probably read far too much into, because that’s what we do in March. He said this in response to a question about whether or not Pead will be used in the return game:
“Probably not. 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.”
“One of your top backs” but maybe not the top back.
It’s natural that Richardson would have the edge going into training camp, and his name being listed among the projected starters on the team’s training camp media guide indicates that yes, he is indeed in possession of an edge of some sort. Rotoworld’s Evan Silva recently evaluated Richardson as part of his second-year running back series, and raved about his explosiveness while concluding that he’s the best option to receive the bulk of the carries in 2013.
But Richardson’s grasp on the top job is still weak right now. It’s easy to connect the dots between a running back deemed worthy of a second-round pick as Pead was just a year ago, and that running back ascending after a veteran departs. Steven Jackson was released partly due to both his age, and the depth in the Rams’ backfield which made him expendable. Now, the Rams will explore that depth thoroughly, and in an offense which is jammed with receiving talent between Jared Cook, Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Brian Quick, and Chris Givens, the back who occupies the captain’s seat should have a significant fantasy impact.
Richardson makes sense after he accumulated 638 all-purpose yards last year despite limited time behind Jackson (475 rushing, 163 receiving), and he averaged 4.8 yards per carry. He also flexed his breakaway muscle with carries of 53, 44, and 32 yards. Pead’s one-game suspension to start the season is a minor hindrance for his starter aspirations, though it isn’t helping matters. He’s the same outside runner that Richardson is, with after the catch ability in the open field.
Since we last took a scary plunge into Fisher’s running back funhouse a month ago, the outlook has changed only slightly with Richardson given the nearly meaningless title of training camp starter, but the difference in valuations has led to a troubling decision. Often, Richardson is being selected nearly 30 picks ahead of Pead around 75th overall, in the same area of the draft when you can target a quality late-ish round quarterback like Andrew Luck or Tony Romo, or risky but high ceiling WR2/WR3 options like Cecil Shorts, Miles Austin, DeSean Jackson, and Danario Alexander.
There’s maybe, likely, and probably more value and upside in those other names at other positions, even with the inherent injury risk involved with selecting, say, Alexander or Austin. If Richardson either splits evenly with Pead or Stacy, or worse, loses the job entirely, you’re left with both a failed pick and a wasted roster spot at a still relatively early area of the draft when you should already have two running backs, and options to address other core needs are abundantly available. There’s the potential for a serious burning if Pead impresses during camp before missing one game, and then going all Alfred Morris on us.
So basically, this is why we hold drafts in late August or even early September, kids. The Rams’ backfield is still a draft time bomb, so if you’re drafting early, let it explode in someone else’s groin. Or better yet, let’s wait and see how training camp plays out, hoping this ADP confusion corrects itself. Cool?