Following what has widely been considered to be a great draft, there has been plenty of hype surrounding the St. Louis Rams this off season. Plenty of that hype has been in anticipation of what Tavon Austin will bring to the field this season. But the changes that dynamic wide receiver will provide won't be the only differences Rams fans will see this year.
Gone is longtime running back Steven Jackson, and in his place are three largely untested backs in Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead, and Zac Stacy. In what's sure to be one of the most competitive training camps across the league, these three backs will be battling for carries in what should be an explosive offense. Who will come away with the lion's share?
To get an idea of just how drastic a change will be occurring in the St. Louis backfield, you just need one look at the stats. In his career, Jackson has carried the ball 2,395 times. In comparison, Richardson, the most experienced back left in St. Louis, has heard his named called just 98 times. That's likely to be a cause for concern for many that follow the Rams, but it's more than possible that added big play ability will more than make up for the lack of experience in the back field.
As the player with the most experience, Richardson just might be the favorite to win the starting job. Even though he still hasn't found the end zone in the NFL, Richardson is no stranger to making big plays. His most memorable play last season was a 53 yard run that led to a Rams touchdown. With a 4.8 yards per carry average, it's clear that he can be productive when he touches the ball – but will his 5'10, 196 pound frame allow him to be more than the change of pace back that he was in 2012?
Richardson isn't the only back that may be best suited as a change of pace player in St. Louis. Pead's rookie year didn't go as he planned – he described it himself as a miserable one, and he only ended up carrying the ball ten times. To win consistent playing time in 2013 he'll not only have to overcome that, but he'll also have to earn trust back from coaches now that it's been announced he'll be suspended for the first game of the season due to a violation of the league's substance abuse policy.
Pead clearly will be fighting an uphill battle to win playing time early in the year, but there's no denying he's a talented player. He was one of the better running backs in the 2012 draft class, and he certainly proved while in college that he's got a unique ability to make big plays. However, even though he was presumably drafted to be “the guy” in 2012, he still has a long way to go before he earns that job. Not only will he have to prove his rookie season was an aberration, but he'll also have to prove he can be more than just a change of pace back.
That leaves, of course, rookie Zac Stacy. Stacy was a darling of many draftniks leading up to the draft, but he still ended up falling to the fifth round. That doesn't mean he doesn't have a shot at winning the starting job, however. Stacy doesn't possess the same sort of big play ability that Richardson and Pead do. However, he's got the strength and power that teams typically look for in their every down back. He proved himself to be a consistent rusher at Vanderbilt, and he was one of the most decisive backs in the draft.
Stacy has a skill set similar to Doug Martin and Alfred Morris, two players that proved elite elusiveness isn't necessary for a rookie to have an extremely successful season carrying the ball. A compact and decisive running style clearly can still be productive in the NFL, and Stacy does just that. With no clear starter in St. Louis, there's plenty of opportunity for Stacy to take hold of the starting job from week one. Will he take advantage of that opportunity?