If last summer, when fantasy owners were at the peak of their draft preparation, you had predicted a St. Louis Rams running back would finish the season with over 1000 total yards and 8 total touchdowns, most would not be surprised. Some might have even said you were being too conservative.
Fantasy footballers were getting hyped up about all the potential fantasy goodness that could come from the Rams offense. OC Brian Schottenheimer promised to use his tall and fast skill position players in a spread offense that took advantage of individual mismatches on the field. The most hyped of all these players in draft rooms was RB Daryl Richardson, who was projected by many to be the bell cow of the offense. It was a packed backfield at the time, but Isaiah Pead seemed to take himself out the picture with a one game suspension and rookie Zac Stacy was never viewed as a serious threat for carries despite high praise from within the organization. Drafters continued to propel Richardson up their fantasy draft boards and picked him as a RB2 with upside. Little did they know Zac Stacy would be the one who finished with 276 touches for 1,114 total yards and 8 touchdowns.
Like owners predicted, Richardson did begin the year as the starting running back. Despite only 96 total yards in his first start, owners were happy with his 25 touches, confirming thoughts that he would be a workhorse back. Unfortunately, that Week 1 win would be the high point for Richardson and the Rams as a whole, as Richardson could not get anything going and Schottenheimer’s spread offense was just not working as his play-calling was sub-par at best and the running backs and pass catchers could not win their matchups when they needed to. After receiving only one carry in the season’s first four games, Stacy emerged out of nowhere in a Week 5 win versus Jacksonville and out carried (14 to 13) and out rushed (78 yds to 48 yds) Richardson, cementing him as the new starting running back. Richardson was mildly involved in the next three games but an eventual ankle injury made him sit out the final eight games, giving Stacy the opportunity to eat up carries and feast on defenses, and feast he did.
Zac Stacy Game-by-Game Stats
In Stacy’s second start, the Rams offense undertook a dramatic change as QB Sam Bradford tore his ACL in a Week 7 loss to the Panthers. Despite being 3-2, Schottenheimer and Head Coach Jeff Fisher knew that back-up QB Kellen Clemens couldn’t possibly continue to run the offense that Schottenheimer wanted. So from Week 8 on, the Rams began to look like a Jeff Fisher team, a team that pounded the rock to set up the pass, and that change ignited the Zac Stacy coming out party. In a tough loss on Monday Night Football, Stacy led the way with 127 rushing yards on 26 carries, sparking a three game stretch in which he had at least 26 carries in every game, gaining 375 total yards and scoring 3 rushing touchdowns. Stacy played at an elite level from that Carolina game on, as he had 100 yards and/or a touchdown in 8 of the following 10 games. Stacy’s week-to-week consistency was the main reason he was so valuable for fantasy owners. He did have upside as seen in his two games with over 130 total yards and at least a touchdown, but from Week 5 on, Stacy had only one game with less than 7 fantasy points, a meaningless Week 17 loss to the Seahawks. He was able to maintain this consistency due to his massive workload amount. From Week 5 on, Stacy averaged 20.8 carries per game, one of the highest in football, giving him more chances to give owners fantasy points than low-touch backs. Stacy finished the season as the 18th highest scoring running back in fantasy but if you prorate his production from Week 5 on into a 16 game season, he would finish with 209.3 fantasy points, which would put him as the #6 running back in fantasy, right ahead of fellow rookie Eddie Lacy.
Despite seeming like a clear cut elite running back for the 2014 season due to his production form last season and his clear workload opportunity, there are some red flags that fantasy owners need to be aware of. First is the previous performances of sophomore running backs. After finishing as top-10 fantasy running backs in their rookie year, Doug Martin and Trent Richardson fell down to earth in their second seasons with truly dismal campaigns. Richardson’s 2013 needs no defense, but while Martin did miss the final 10 games of 2013, he was playing way below first-round expectations before his injury. While this shouldn’t be heavily weighted when considering Stacy in drafts, it is of note that Stacy, a fifth rounder, is less talented than the previously mentioned backs, both first rounders in the NFL Draft. Another worry for Stacy is his surroundings in the 2014 season. Schottenheimer will be back, but the offense they will run is still up in the air. If the Rams bring back Bradford, they could try the spread offense again given that they still have the same potential playmakers that they did last season when the offense was originated. If the Rams release Bradford and draft a QB, they could continue the low-risk, ball control offense where Stacy succeeded in order to take pressure off the QB.
The Rams might also have a large turn-over in their offensive line, which was their best unit in years in 2013. Jake Long may miss the beginning of the year while recovering from his torn ACL, Rodger Saffold is a free-agent and Harvey Dahl and Scott Wells could become cap-casualties. The Rams could realistically begin Week 1 with five different starters on their O-line than they ended with last season, which would definitely be a boon to Stacy. Lastly, while Stacy does look like he will begin training camp as the starter, he will look to have a lot of potential competition. Richardson is still around, Isaiah Pead is a talented former second rounder who can potentially earn some touches and Benny Cunningham, who ended 2013 as the number two back, could make some noise after impressing in limited time during the season.
There are many reasons to expect a repeat or increase in production from Zac Stacy’s fantasy value this year, but there are also many reasons to suggest that Stacy could instead take a step back in his sophomore season in the NFL. The only thing certain is that there are a lot of missing pieces and unanswered questions on the Rams that would change the outlook on Stacy’s 2014, and those need to be resolved before a reasonable projection can be placed on him.