When running back Steven Jackson opted out of his contract with the St. Louis Rams to become a free agent and ultimately sign with the Atlanta Falcons, it created a gaping hole in the Rams’ backfield; a 6’2’’ 240 lbs hole to be exact. The Rams have spent much of this offseason overhauling their corps of wide receivers with the addition of rookies Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, and Emory Blake, but St. Louis also has to figure out a way to replace Jackson and the more than 1,000 yards rushing he’s given them in each of the last eight seasons.
The loss of Jackson does allow the Rams to get younger at the running back position, as Jackson is entering his 10th NFL season, but it also gives them little certainty heading into the 2013 season as they don’t know which players they’ll be able to rely upon. Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead are the most likely candidates to fill the void left by Jackson as the only running backs to carry the ball for the Rams last year aside from Jackson.
Richardson rushed for 475 yards and nearly five yards per carry last season in addition to 24 receptions, but he may be best utilized by staying in his role of speedy change-of-pace back off the bench which means the Rams still need someone to take a bulk of the carries.
The Rams are hoping that Pead will be able to take over that spot, after drafting him in the second round of the 2012 draft. However, Pead had just 10 carries last year and he has a long way to go to prove he can be a starter and a consistent producer in the NFL, especially if he’s asked to replace a bruising back like Jackson.
The player to look out for may be former Vanderbilt Commodores running back Zac Stacy, who the Rams selected in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Stacy doesn’t have the kind of size (5’8’’) associated with durable, every down backs in the NFL, but he handled over 200 carries in the SEC each of the past two seasons and was arguably the league’s most consistent rusher over that time. He doesn’t have the kind of speed that’s usually associated with the SEC, but he’s surprisingly powerful and possesses great quickness and vision. The Rams are lucky he was still available in the fifth round, as he could outperform his draft spot.
There’s no doubt that replacing Jackson will be one of the toughest tasks the Rams face this season, but a combination of Richardson, Pead, and Stacy may be enough. None of them have the size, physicality, or experience that Jackson gave the Rams, but all three have the potential to be productive running backs and make up for the yards the Rams won’t be getting from Jackson this season. There’s a good chance that these three backs give the team the running game they need to go with their new-look aerial attack, but if not, St. Louis will be left scrambling for answers in the backfield and regretting that they let Jackson get away.
Bryan Zarpentine is a New York Mets writer at RantSports.com. He also writes frequently about the NFL, College Football, College Basketball, and International Soccer. Follow him on twitter @BZarp and add him to your network on Google+.