St Louis Rams: A Crowded Backfield

Scott Cunningham

With the addition of Vanderbilt RB Zac Stacy in the 2013 NFL Draft, the St. Louis Rams backfield just got a little a more crowded...

The St. Louis Rams rushing attack - dating back to the Greatest Show on Turf era - has consistently proven to be a strong suit for the team. Now Hall-of-Famer Marshall Faulk exhilarated fans as we entered the new century, then handed the torch to future Hall-of-Famer [now Falcon] Steven Jackson.

A new generation is about to commence. The Rams roster currently has four RB's who have totaled 108 rushing attempts in their combined NFL careers. 98 of those attempts belong to a player who was the next to last selection in the 2012 draft; Daryl Richardson. The remaining depth from last season is comprised of 2nd round [50th overall] RB Isaiah Pead, and a player the Rams claimed off waivers [from Jets], 6th rounder Terrance Ganaway.

It’s fair to say that there’s a bit of uncertainty about who the Rams starter is, or how the carries are going to be dispersed amongst the group this season. Based on how high the Rams took Pead - despite the lackluster results - the coaching staff drafted him to be ‘the guy,’ so he should expect to see more than the 10 carries he amassed in the entirety of his rookie season.

Richardson proved to be a viable backup option to spell Steven Jackson, and established his role in the Rams offense as early as Week 1 of the regular season. He displayed flashes big play ability, most notably in the Redskins game where he broke off a 53 yard run down the sidelines, which ultimately lead to a Rams touchdown.

Ganaway was a non-factor. He brings something to the backfield that Pead and Richardson do not: Power. All of 240 lbs., Ganaway possesses the size and strength to punch it in at the goal line. There was not a single snap in 2012 where the Rams attempted to exercise either of those measurables.

Enter Zac Stacy. With the 160th overall selection in this most recent draft, the Rams traded two 6th round picks to move up into the 5th round and take the Vanderbilt running back. In doing so, the Rams made Stacy the only Vanderbilt rusher to have been drafted within the initial seven rounds of the NFL Draft in the modern era. He’s the only running back in school history to run for back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons. At 216 lbs, he also possesses the strength and toughness that the Rams rushing attack could use. And though he’s not known for having elite speed, his character is as strong as his legs, and his ability to break tackles oftentimes turns plays for losses into 2-3 yard gains.

As you can see, it’s become a bit crowded in a backfield ripe with youth and potential. The pertinent question is how the coaching staff intends on utilizing each. I think there’s no question that we’re going to see a running back by committee approach this season. But who gets the starting carries in the timeshare?

Pead recently noted that he’s ready to put a ‘miserable’ rookie campaign behind him. And though opening up about his struggles to transition from college to the pros is comforting to some, I seriously doubt that Daryl Richardson is willing to step aside and simply hand over a role he worked very hard to earn in 2012. Not to say that he’d be the heir apparent simply because he toted the rock more often than Pead last year, but there’s little to room to argue in regards to who was taking the field when Jackson needed a breather.

Ganaway appears to be the biggest question mark at this point. The Rams carried four rushers last season, with Ganaway rounding out the bottom of the depth chart. I wouldn’t think that he’s in jeopardy of being cut from the team at this point, but the addition of Stacy [who’s most certainly a lock] and the complete absence of playing time for Ganaway in 2012 makes you wonder what [if any] role there is for him in this offense.

It’s going to be interesting to see how the depth chart rounds out as we move through the remainder of the spring and summer. The rushing game has been a crutch the Rams have relied on for several consecutive years now. The draft provided Sam Bradford with a few new toys to throw to, so maybe the offense won’t rely as much on rushing for offensive efficiency. Or maybe one of the aforementioned backs will be utilized as another receiving threat for this offense.

There are few certainties about exactly how each of these running backs are going to be utilized this fall. One thing that is definite, though, is competition. These RB’s are going to be involved in a roster battle from the time spring training starts. When the dust settles, one will be named the team’s starter.

Figuring out how - and how often - to use each of their talents is going to be a challenge. If locating the bright spot amongst the gray proves difficult, I suggest they simply hand the ball off to Tavon Austin.
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