The St. Louis Rams’ Jeff Fisher and Les Snead laid low in the weeds on draft day, allowing several running backs to come off the board. They always knew, though, that they needed to pick a running back to compete with second-year players Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead in the wake of Pro Bowl running back Steven Jackson’s departure.
The Rams got limited production from Richardson in 2012 (475 rushing yards and 24 receptions for 163 yards). Pead was behind the 8-ball coming into camp, missing all of 2012 OTAs because of Cincinnati’s graduation date and an NFL rule that doesn’t allow rookies to participate until their class has graduated. He had only 13 touches from the line of scrimmage in his rookie season, and a few kickoff returns.
The Rams waited patiently, until the fifth round in April’s draft. There, they zeroed in on Vanderbilt product Zac Stacy. The SEC’s fourth-leading rusher in 2012, he posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons with versatility and production that jumped off my big screen when breaking down each and every carry and reception last fall. The question is not why did the Rams pass on 13 other running backs who came off the board prior to Stacy at No. 160, but rather, what is their plan for this talented, explosive and productive runner?
His height at 5-8 made teams say no, even in the later rounds; regardless of round, 5-8 is still 5-8. If you’re going to be short, you’d better have a lot of big-time positional attributes and skill set, and Stacy does. Starting with size, Stacy boasts the girth in both his upper and lower body; he is a muscled-up, tight-skin running back who is well-defined in his chest and arms (27 reps on the bench press at the combine) with large, powerful thighs. Like many, I didn’t like his hand size coming out of the combine at 8 5/8; however, upon evaluating his receiving skills, I came away with a high grade in mind. I kept writing down the words “natural receiving skills,” over and over. His 30 ¼ arm length doesn’t limit his willingness to attack defenders in pass protection with success.
The Rams drafted a competitive, tough and aggressive downhill runner with the quickness to bounce outside. There is no wasted movement when Stacy squares his shoulders – he gets downhill now. His compact frame allows him to gain the tough yards between the tackles with natural body lean, balance and leg drive to finish falling forward on a consistent basis. He has very good vision and great feet to make that backside cut or stay play-side with the patience to float and survey the landscape behind his blockers before displaying burst to open space. His explosive 6.70-second 3-cone drill at the combine? You see the same nimbleness on each and every carry in all films evaluated, as it is a major part of this players DNA.
After Monday’s practice, I asked the rookie about the prospect about competing for the No. 1 running back spot.
“Really I just want to come in and do whatever I can to help this organization, help this team, this offense be successful,” Stacy said, brimming with confidence and humility. “Coming out here each day being productive, being consistent – everything else will take care of its self. Obviously we have a lot of great backs right now with Pead, Richardson and (Terance) Ganaway … other guys as well. Right now my mentality is to come in, just be productive and consistent at the running back position week in and week out, and everything else will take care of itself.”
On the subject of transitioning from college to the NFL, Stacy said, “The playbook is the biggest thing from a rookie standpoint; getting the playbook down, terminology and concepts. Luckily for me, one advantage I feel that I have is we played a similar pro-style offense at Vanderbilt, so I’m familiar with the concept, familiar with the terminology, and it shows. I’m getting a grasp of the playbook.”
An explosive runner, Stacy honed his skill set in arguably the toughest conference in all of college football. To that end, his preferred running style should surprise no one.
“I always want to get north-south,” Stacy said. “That is the name of the game, especially at this level. I played in the SEC, so that was a great internship for me for the next level. Being able to break tackles, being versatile catching routes out of the backfield, but really pass protection … you have to be a complete back at this level. You have to be able to run the ball, pass protect (and) keep guys off the quarterback, and be versatile. That is what I try to emphasis my game into.”
According to Fisher, Stacy and all the rookies passed the initial conditioning test with flying colors.
“It’s a 300-yard shuttle test,” Stacy said. “It’s two of them with a five-minute rest. It was a little harder than I thought it was, but I’ve been training for it in the offseason to get in shape to get in tune with it; a great way to get in shape for training camp.”
This little big man weighed in at the combine at 216 pounds, but showed up at camp weighing 222. (Coaches wanted Stacy to report at between 220 and 226 pounds.) Stacy had weighed as much as 226 pounds during OTAs, though he said, “There was not a lot of conditioning … I wanted to drop down a little bit for camp.”
A three-sport athlete in high school (football, basketball, baseball), Stacy has made a habit of defying the odds throughout his athletic career. He has made scouts take notice of his talent and ability to be productive – regardless of his height, or lack thereof. This level of competition will be no different, with Fisher and Snead having done an exceptional job in a short amount of time of creating competition within every position. On the 2013 Rams, players are pushing one another to get better or to be the best, and the running back position won’t be any different. Zac Stacy fits right in, if not at the top of the heap.