Last year it was Alfred Morris, a running back picked in the 6th round out of Florida Atlantic by the Washington Redskins that came out of nowhere to become a major contributor and a major factor in Washington’s run to the playoffs. This year, if you’re looking for a rookie running back that comes out of nowhere and makes a big impact, look no further than Zac Stacy, who the St. Louis Rams drafted in the 5th round out of Vanderbilt.
Stacy certainly fits the mold. Just like Morris, he’s undersized, he comes from a college that’s easy to overlook, and without high-end speed or athleticism it’s easy to dismiss Stacy as a potential playmaker, but with his track record and skill set there are plenty of reasons to think he can become a valuable player in the NFL. Also like Morris, Stacy will become an impactful player during his rookie season.
Stacy comes to the NFL from the SEC, a conference where running backs are king, and over the past two seasons he was the most consistent and productive running back the league had, outperforming several talented backs, including Colts running back Vick Ballard. In 2011, he rushed for 1,193 yards and 14 touchdowns, averaging 5.9 yards per carry, and in 2012 he rushed for 1,141 yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging 5.5 yards per carry. Stacy did all that while facing some of the best defenses in the country and running behind one of the smallest offensive lines in the SEC. After achieving such high levels of success in the SEC at a place like Vanderbilt, the NFL is not as much of a step up as it might be for other players, which makes Stacy more than capable of making an impact as a rookie.
What stands out about Stacy physically is his strength. Despite not having ideal size, he is well built and a powerful runner between the tackles. The fact that he was so consistent in the SEC the past two seasons is a testament to his ability to run up the middle, take hits, and gain yards after contact. His willingness to be physical will play well in the NFL and that style of running will help offset his lack of size. Stacy isn’t going to break free for a lot of long touchdown runs, but he’s going to consistently get positive yards, which helps to set up play action and helps his team move the ball.
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In St. Louis, Stacy will definitely get an opportunity to earn significant playing time as a rookie. With Steven Jackson leaving in free agency, the other running backs on the Rams roster are Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead, but neither is an established back in the NFL. After the Rams lost a power back like Jackson, Stacy could be the perfect power back to replace him, as well as complement all the speed that St. Louis has at wide receiver, giving their offense a nice blend of power and speed.
Even though there were more than a dozen running backs chosen in the late rounds of the draft, and many more signed as undrafted free agents, all with a chance to surprise the league the way Morris did last year, Stacy may be the most likely back to do so. He has a track record of success against high-level competition, he has the right kind of skill set, and he has an opportunity play as a rookie. It all adds up to Stacy replicating the kind of success out of the backfield that Morris had for the Redskins last season.