In a flurry of preseason prediction making, fans and pundits put Tavon Austin on their ballot for Rookie of the Years. I did. Halfway through the season the St. Louis Rams are leaning on a different rookie, one who came to the league with a much different set of expectations than Austin.
Running back Zac Stacy has become the team's most important offensive contributor over the last four weeks. With quarterback Sam Bradford out for the rest of the season, it's not a stretch to think that Stacy's role will only get bigger over the second half of the season.
"We're pleased with the way that Zac Stacy's running the ball," quarterback Kellen Clemens said. "Zac's doing a great job seeing the holes, making the cuts and then getting yards after contact."
Stacy is getting a bundle of his yards after contact. According to Pro Football Focus, 213 of his 348 rushing yards, 60 percent, this season have come after contact. He had 71 yards after contact last week against Seattle, and he also broke five tackles.
The rookie's average yards after contact per attempt is a whopping 2.8 yards, better than Marshawn Lynch's 2.6 yards. That's good enough for the fifth-best total in the league.
And don't overlook his broken tackle total or 15 in just 76 rushing attempts so far this season. That's the 10th most broken tackles of any running back in the NFL right now.
You can see why Stacy led the SEC in rushing last season.
None of this comes as a surprise to Jeff Fisher.
"We didn't have any concern about his learning ability," the coach said. "We all felt like the physical ability was there. I'd say I'm not surprised, while I'm very pleased right now with what he's been able to do."
Unfortunately, the Rams offense got a late start in deciding to make the running game an equal partner this season. That's changed now, especially with the backup quarterback taking over the offense.
"That starts with the coaches and how they're game planning and goes into the offensive line, tight ends, the wide receivers and how they're all able to block and open up holes," Clemens said.
With eight game left to go, the Rams' offensive hopes ride on a healthy Zac Stacy. That could put Stacy in the mix for some hardware. Only Green Bay's Eddie Lacy has more rushing yards than Stacy, with 446, among rookies. Lacy also has three rushing touchdowns, whereas Stacy and the Rams have yet to cross the goal line on a rushing attempt. Lacy also has 36 more rushing attempts. Stacy has him beat so far in yards per carry, though, 4.6 to 4.0.
This year's rookie quarterback class is underwhelming. Their inconsistency is taking them out of the ROY race. Ditto the receivers.
Considering the injuries and just how deep of a hole the Rams put themselves in with their early season struggles, a playoff run looks unlikely. But that doesn't mean there isn't plenty to watch for over the season's second half. For the first time since 2010, the Rams have a bona fide Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate.