A team devoid of talent at skill positions, the St. Louis Rams were aggressive on draft day.
Their first pick, Tavon Austin, was the first non-lineman drafted in April, selected 19 spots ahead of the next receiver. Their last pick, Zac Stacy was the 13th running back off the board, despite being one of the more polished runners in the class.
However, regardless of where these rookies were picked, they’ve been thrust into the spotlight. For Stacy, that’s meant 25-plus carries in each of the last three games. For Austin, it took a breakout game against the Colts to show how dynamic he can make Jeff Fisher’s offense. And for both, it’s up to them to carry the load of this offense for the remainder of this season and beyond.
On draft day, here’s why we had to say immediately after Tavon Austin and Zac Stacy were selected:
"The Rams move up aggressively to land this undersized but special speedster, whose ability to stretch the field is tailor-made for the fast track of their dome”
“Stacy is one of our favorite late-round backs. He makes up for his lack of size and speed with elite vision and patience in the hole. He could step in and be a starter for the Rams.”
Coming from a wide-open West Virginia offense that consistently put him space, Austin struggled early when in terms of production at the pro level.
While part of that stems from the offense not finding enough ways to properly utilize him, Austin has struggled to adjust to the multitude of routes NFL receivers need to run. Outside of vertical and drag routes, Austin still lacks ideal route-break timing and short-area footwork to gain NFL-caliber separation.
Since he can’t rely solely on his speed, it may take a few years before he can execute those routes up to par.
Against the Colts, however, Austin was able to make an impact before he made his first catch. The dynamic playmaker unwisely grabbed a bouncing punt at the 2-yard line instead of letting it roll into the end-zone, and turned a questionable decision into a 98-yard score. Notice just how quick and decisive Austin is as a short area runner, navigating in tight spaces as well as any in the NFL and accelerating once he has an opening to the end zone.
Despite his route-running concerns pre-draft, the Rams were able to utilize the two routes Austin runs well.
His first receiving touchdown came on a vertical route against Vontae Davis, separating himself initially and utilizing his speed for a long catch and run courtesy of Kellen Clemens. His second touchdown, below, was off of a drag route, where Austin was able to catch the ball cleanly with five yards of separation from any defender, and use his elite acceleration and field vision to turn a five yard catch into an 81 yard touchdown.
As for Stacy, the newly-minted at running back has succeed thanks to his low center of gravity in traffic and plus vision.
Without overly impressive speed or open field quickness, Stacy relies on timing of cuts in traffic and patience behind his blockers to succeed. With decisive cuts in the lead up to attacking the hole, Stacy stays low, balanced, and ready to initiate contact, especially in short yardage situations.
While the Colts were successful in collapsing would-be holes against the Rams offensive line, Stacy was able to capitalize in the redzone on a hard fought run in traffic. In the play below, notice the patience Stacy exercises in waiting for the hole to open. But even after he finds his gap and realizes it’s been filled by two defenders, he still cuts powerfully upfield, stays low through contact, and finds the end-zone through the tackler.
Outside of a handful of big plays, the Colts actually contain the Rams offense better than many have in recent weeks. However, four combined touchdowns by the rookies Austin and Stacy and a stout defensive effort resulted in a blowout of one of the best teams in the AFC.
With five of their next six games against playoff contenders, the Rams can’t afford to slow down offensively. As they head into their bye week, they should look further into getting Austin more consistently involved and keeping Stacy productive as a runner.
Now, they’ll be asked to shoulder the load for the Rams offense, as leaders on a young roster.
Because where they were drafted isn’t relevant anymore. All that matters is how they can guide this the Rams productively into the future.