Training Camp Battles: The St. Louis Running Backs

Jacob Feldman

peadTraining camp is upon us which means football is finally back! For some of us it feels like forever since the Ravens won the Super Bowl and Ray Lewis cried with hundreds of cameras pointed at him. Since then we have had free agency, the draft, and some OTAs, but we still have an awful lot of questions about what might happen when the games matter and who the true breakout stars might be. In order to help draw your attention to a few different training camp battles that could have a long lasting impact on your fantasy roster, we are kicking off our Training Camp Battles series.

We will give you an in-depth look at several training camp battles and give you the strengths and weaknesses of each player involved. We will also break down what they need to do in order to win the battle and what the upside is for the winner.

Our series starts with a look at the backfield of the St. Louis Rams. For nearly a decade there hasn’t been any question about the position because Steven Jackson has been the man. With Jackson trading in the blue and gold of the Rams for the black and red of the dirty birds in Atlanta, it leaves a massive vacuum at a position that has been a big fantasy producer for years and years. We’ve been waiting for Jackson’s heir to step up, but instead we have been left with a very muddy backfield. Let’s take a look at the players in this battle.

Isaiah Pead

The former Cincinnati Bearcat and 2012 early second round pick of the Rams didn’t live up to expectations in his rookie season. In fact, he had only ten carries the whole season to go along with three receptions – definitely not what you hope for out of an early second round selection at the running back position.

Strengths: Pead’s greatest strength is that he has the physical tools to be a star at the position. He has legit 4.47 speed in the forty yard dash and displayed one of the fastest first steps in all of college when he was at Cincinnati. His game resembled that of LeSean McCoy with acceleration and agility being the main weapons with nice speed to back it up. He also catches the ball very well and his plus vision allows him to see the holes opening before he gets there. This lead to a career 6.03 yards per carry in college.

He is the best talent in the backfield out of the options available. He is also the highest draft pick, which means he may be given a little bit more of a chance than the others in the battle.

Weaknesses: The biggest knock on Pead is he didn’t seize the chance he had last year. When you combine that with his one game suspension to start the 2013 season and the drafting of Zac Stacy, there are some that say his window has closed. His size and the fact that he never topped 240 carries in a season during college beg the question of if he can handle a lead back role.

What he needs to do: If Pead is going to be the lead back in what is most likely going to be at least a partial committee situation, he needs to wow people in training camp and during the pre-season games. He is going to miss week one with the suspension and it is a definite competition for touches. He needs to do enough in training camp, flash his agility and quickness as well as show good hands and improved pass protection so people are excited for him to come back week two. Running backs typically don’t get a third season to try to earn a role so this year is a make or break for him.

Upside:  If he earns the lead role and only comes off the field in short yardage situations or to take a brief break, he could put up RB2 numbers as soon as this year, especially in PPR leagues. The bigger the split is the lower his upside. As long as he is a main part of the committee and at least the home run hit as well as primary pass catcher out of the backfield he should be flex worthy in PPR leagues.

Daryl Richardson

The 2012 rookie out of small school Abilene Christian was drafted in the seventh round. He was expected to be fighting for a roster spot in 2012 but instead he went on to be the primary backup to Jackson and rushed 98 times for 475 yards along with 24 receptions. He definitely outplayed the higher drafted Pead during their rookie seasons.

Strengths: As much as Pead’s failure last season is a knock against him, Richardson’s success last season is in his favor. While he didn’t exactly light the world on fire, he did flash from time to time and ended up with a respectable stat line for a rookie backup running back. He has the speed to be a homerun threat and showed he can be a part of the passing game last season. He is also enters camp as the most experienced running back on roster and the starting running back on the depth chart which definitely can’t hurt his chances.

Weaknesses: Size and history are definitely two knocks against him. Richardson is a little bit smaller than Pead, who is already pretty small. When I talk about history, I’m talking about Richardson’s injury history and college production. He had some issues with nagging little injuries and he didn’t light up his small school competition like you would hope to see out of a future NFL star. He had a 4.9 yards per carry average in college and never topped 200 carries in a season. His three fumbles in 122 NFL touches are also a concern.

What he needs to do: He needs to fix the fumbling issue and show he can run between the tackles and not just around them. He needs to do this well enough that a gap between him and Pead doesn’t form during the pre-season. If he can keep it close and then go out during week one and perform, he should stay on top as long as he stays healthy.

Upside: Richardson isn’t as talented as Pead and probably couldn’t handle being the primary back in a committee. His best case would be as the third down back and homerun threat in a committee which would lead to very boom or bust numbers in fantasy. I’m not sure you could count on him as more than a flex play.

Zac Stacy

The 2013 fifth round pick out of Vanderbilt is one of the highest character guys in this year’s draft. He is a natural leader off the field and on it. He walks into a great situation where he is the clear power back on the team. The question about him is how big of a role he can carve out.

Strengths: Outside of his character and leadership, Stacy’s main strength is his size and power. At 5’8” and 216 pounds, he has the ideal build to be the power part of a committee and the short yardage specialist.  In addition to his power, he also has more speed and agility than people expect with a 4.55 second time in the forty yard dash. He isn’t going to run away from anyone, but he does have the ability to bounce a run outside and make some people miss if needed.

Weaknesses: The lack of explosiveness is a bit of a concern, but it isn’t going to sink him. He does have some injury concerns with a nagging ankle issue as a freshman and then a concussion as a sophomore. The bigger concern for me is the trend that developed in his college production. He played in the SEC and saw some high quality defenses as well as some terrible ones. The problem is he very rarely produced against any team with a quality defense while he destroyed bad defenses. It is tough to tell if it was just because his offensive line was outclassed or if his talents don’t translate very well to bigger and faster defenses like he’ll see in the NFL.

What he needs to do: Stacy simply needs to come in and show off his power while making sure that he hangs on to the ball. If he can do that, he’ll lock himself into at least some kind of role since there isn’t much competition for the short yardage role. How big of a role might depend more on what Pead and Richardson do than what Stacy does. The Rams want to have a one-two punch of speed and power, but it isn’t clear which part will be the major role.

Upside: As mentioned earlier, Stacy isn’t a home run hitter – that means he will most likely be paired up with someone else, limiting his upside. If the Rams offense can take the next step forward this year, he could be looking at a season much like Mikel Leshoure’s 2012 season, which should make him a decent RB2/flex play. I expect Stacy’s fantasy value to be largely touchdown based though, which is a bit of a concern for me since it will require the Rams offensive to becoming high scoring.


Pead will win the lead job and Stacy will be the power compliment and short yardage specialist. Richardson will be little more than someone who gives Pead a breather from time to time. Pead will be a decent RB3 with his value based on yards and receptions while Stacy is about the same but with his value coming more from touchdowns.

jacob feldman