Brent Lancaster makes his Rams 101 debut today. During the season, Brent will be breaking down the Rams' performances and looking beneath the surface to give Rams' fans unique perspectives.
Looking at the state of the St. Louis Rams’ roster before training camp, the sheer youth and inexperience is striking. This isn't an accident, however. The Rams' brain trust is clearly being intentional about revitalizing the roster.
Two numbers immediately surface as indicators of a calculated approach to building lasting success:
- The number of rookies (36) and 1st/2nd year eligible players (27) make up 70% of the current 90-man roster. Seven of ten players were not around when Sam Bradford donned his first Rams hat in April 2010, effectively opening the door for him to assume a stronger leadership role in 2013 and beyond.
- The average experience of Rams players that started (or regularly contributed) in 2012 games, and are still on the roster, is right around four years (with a median of three years). For a team under “remodeling”, as CB Cortland Finnegan stated in training camp last year, ending 2012 with a 7-8-1 mark, including 4-1-1 in the NFC West, getting younger provides the fanbase with the tantalizing prospect of continued improvement.
While the relative youth of the Rams has been discussed in the past year (and they again look to be one of the youngest projected rosters in 2013), it is nonetheless important to recognize the purposefulness with which Jeff Fisher and Les Snead have created the roster. They are are not afraid to bring in talented, younger players, coach them up and throw them into the fire.
Never played in an NFL game? No problem, now go cover Calvin 'Megatron' Johnson.
It's the polar opposite franchise philosophy of George Allen, who coached the Los Angeles Rams and the "Over-the-Hill" gang in Washington to great success utilizing grizzled veterans. Fisher seems more keen on emulating his mentor, Mike Ditka, who surrounded veteran leader Walter Payton with a bunch of kids named McMahon, Gault, Singletary and Wilson and created one of the most powerful NFL teams in history.
Most importantly, the Rams' leadership does not appear to concern themselves with where the player was drafted or how much he makes.. In other words, it’s going to be a battle and may the best man win.
These battles will be clearly on display in three key positions. Today's focus will be on the running backs.
Lead Horses: Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead, Zac Stacy
Richardson (5’10 196, 2012 7th round pick) and Pead (5’10 197, 2012 2nd round pick) are extremely similar both in stature, speed and moves, with Richardson ultimately winning the backup job behind Steven Jackson (to the surprise of many) after the completion of 2012 training camp. Stacy (5’8 216) enters the picture as a 2013 5th round pick, and will challenge for the job.
Richardson had a bit of a head start on Pead from the get go, as Pead was forced to miss valuable OTA activities due to an NFL rule prohibiting him from participating until his school had held commencement exercises. It became quickly apparent that Richardson (and Coach Fisher) did not care where he was drafted: he would earn the backup role and never relinquish it.
Richardson ended 2012 with 98 carries for 475 yards (4.8 ypc), with an additional 24 catches for 163 yards, and showed both burst and a leg-churning style that indicated he was a certified late-round steal for GM Les Snead. Rotoworld’s Evan Silva and NFL Network’s Mike Mayock both believe Richardson has a bright future:
"I kinda like this kid, Mayock said. "Seventh-round pick, not a lot of publicity generated about him. Richardson has consistently outplayed Isaiah Pead to the point where he's getting almost equal snaps in the backfield now with Steven Jackson. … And he's a lot quicker than Steven Jackson is at this point in his career. He's got burst to him."
Richardson is certainly the Lead Horse, and I expect him to start camp as such.
Pead ended 2012 with 10 carries for 54 yards (5.4 ypc) in limited game action, also seeing time on kickoff returns (10/212, 21.2 ypr). While sparsely utilized in his rookie year, Pead showed flashes of why he was taken with the 50th overall pick in the 2012 draft: elite acceleration, “shake and bake” and improved aggressiveness in late-season runs provided confidence that he could be “the guy."
Pead’s style is much better suited to a wide-open spread offense, which was prominent at the University of Cincinnati and which the Rams appear to be adopting. If the Rams involve Pead further in the passing game, he could add another weapon in Sam Bradford’s arsenal.
Pead is therefore also a Lead Horse, and will again ultimately battle Richardson for the job, I believe. His major hurdle will be the one game NFL-imposed suspension he must serve at the beginning of the season. No matter how much Pead might impress in preseason, not being able to compete until the season is already underway puts Pead at a disadvantage. That leaves the door open for…
After the departure of Steven Jackson to the Atlanta Falcons, it was clear the Rams needed another power back option. In the 2013 NFL Draft, Les Snead and Jeff Fisher traded back into the 5th round and used the 160th pick to nab Vanderbilt RB Zac Stacy, a thickly built (5’8 216) back who was a total workhorse for the Vanderbilt offense (back to back 1000+ yard seasons against SEC competition) Stacy reminds some of Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin. If he comes anywhere near matching Martin's productiveness his rookie season, the Rams will have a pleasant predicament on their hands when Pead returns.
Stacy, who averaged over 5.5 ypc over his final two NCAA seasons, figures to be an NFL-ready rookie due to experience in the pro-style system run at Vanderbilt (an offense stressing complete RB play, including pass protection assignments). This led some pundits to anoint Stacy as the eventual successor of Steven Jackson.
Stacy deserves to be a Lead Horse as well, and I would be surprised if he does not receive some first team looks. This will be an interesting battle for sure.
We'll next break down the battle at the safety position.