PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 05: Isaiah Pead #23 of the Cincinnati Bearcats runs with the ball against the Pittsburgh Panthers on November 5, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
It's hard to know what to expect from players in their first season in the NFL. Unlike baseball, where clear statistical trends point the way, football players are dependent on the team and the individuals around them. With that in mind, I was curious about what the St. Louis Rams might expect from rookie running back Isaiah Pead.
With an established guy like Steven Jackson on the roster, Pead's work will be limited to a degree. The key to understanding Pead's role lies, first and foremost, in determining how many snaps he will play this season with Jackson in the fold.
There's an easy comparison, one I've talked about before, in Fisher's experience in Tennessee.
In 2008, Jeff Fisher's Titans selected East Carolina running back Chris Johnson with the 24th pick in the 1st round of the draft. They had LenDale White on the roster, just 24-years old and a 2nd-round pick from 2006.
White was a different player than Johnson. The USC product fit the mold of a between-the-tackles guy, a 240-pound bruiser hearkening back to running backs of a different era. Johnson was the smaller burner, a guy adept on the outside and a very good pass catcher.
In 2008, Johnson carried the ball 251 times, 49.4 percent of all Titans' rushing attempts. White got the ball 200 times, 39.4 percent of the team's carries. Johnson caught the ball 43 times, which was the second-highest total of any player.
White was just coming off a 1,100-yard season when the Titans drafted CJ2K.
Two big differences here: Jackson is much better than White was at that time, and Pead does not have the same bona fides as Johnson did coming into the NFL.
Jackson was still a very effective runner last season. He averaged 4.4 yards per carry dealing with an early season injury and a playing in an offense to inept to score more than 12 points per game. This is not the same Steven Jackson fans saw in 2006, however. Jackson can still cut well and his power is still the envy of most running backs in the league. I think his second gear is diminished, which is one reason we haven't seen his break off many long runs in recent years.
That's where Pead comes into the picture. Pead will pick up more of the passing work. He can line up in the slot, and could be the Rams' most elusive slot receiver. He adds a deadly element to the screen game as well. As a runner, they can route him outside on draws and sweeps, and don't rule him out working in the middle if the blocking proves to be more effective this season.
Pead is a space player, the kind of guy that New Orleans has used with aplomb in recent years.
Look for Pead and Jackson to have something like a 60-40 split in the running game, with Jackson still doing the heavy lifting. Pead will see the field plenty.