ST. LOUIS — On the morning of April 27, Zac Stacy went fishing. He found some worms, found some water and cast a line. But his big catch came via phone call later that afternoon.
Stacy calls it an opportunity, but he’s being modest. If the 5-foot-8, 222-pound bowling ball of a running back had brainstormed the best potential teams to select him in the NFL Draft, the wide-open backfield in St. Louis surely would have shot the Rams to the top of his list.
Here was a team with a Steven Jackson-sized hole. The featured bruiser who thundered through nine seasons in blue and gold — racking up 10,135 yards, 56 touchdowns and three Pro Bowl berths along the way — had left for Atlanta. Left behind were Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead, two 200-pound, change-of-pace backs fresh off rookie seasons that had existed in Jackson’s shadow, along with Terrance Ganaway, whom the Rams claimed off waivers in September 2012. Richardson, who carried the ball 98 times for 475 yards, surely had the inside lane on the starting job. But the competition would be as open as a rookie could hope.
“Regardless of what team I would have got drafted to, I would have had the same mentality, which is go in and compete,” Stacy said. “For the most part, I just want to come in, be productive and consistent.”
Signs point to Stacy getting that chance sooner rather than later.
“Any time you lose a guy like Steven Jackson, who has been here for such a long time, and really the other guys are unproven,” Rams running backs coach Ben Sirmans said. “If I’m looking at that as a rookie coming in, I’m saying to myself: ‘I think I’ve got a great opportunity, and a chance to compete for playing time.'”
While the knee-jerk reaction to Jackson’s departure created a clamor for another big-name back, the Rams let 12 players at that position get drafted before trading two sixth-round picks to snag Stacy at No. 160. The move was well-researched, one based on the strengths Stacy could immediately offer the existing group in St. Louis.
Stacy was a four-year player at Vanderbilt, but he bloomed during his junior and senior seasons under new coach James Franklin and offensive coordinator John Donovan. When the Rams drafted Stacy, Donovan wasn’t surprised.
“Sometimes, you get picked, and you get picked by somebody that didn’t show a lot of interest,” he said. “They showed a lot of interest. They definitely did their background checks on him, and talked to a lot of people.”
Stacy had the numbers. He compiled a total of 2,334 rushing yards during his final two seasons, more than any other SEC running back totaled from 2011-12. His rushing touchdown total in that time period, 24, tied for first with Eddie Lacy, the former Alabama back the Green Bay Packers selected with the 61st pick. Stacy also averaged 5.7 yards per carry in that span.
“He just played in the toughest conference in the country,” Sirmans said. “And this is not a slight on Vanderbilt, but it’s not like they had Alabama’s offensive line. He was still able to generate a lot of big yards.”
Two other facets of Stacy’s game also piqued the Rams’ interest. In the pro-style system he played in at Vanderbilt, he developed as a strong pass blocker, an asset Jackson took with him to Atlanta. Stacy also showed the ability to catch screen passes out of the backfield. In his junior and senior seasons, he caught a total of 30 passes for an average of 10.4 yards per grab. Combine this — along with the successful interview and workout the Rams conducted with Stacy in Nashville leading up to the draft — and the team felt Stacy fit its needs.
“With losing Steven Jackson, you lose an element of having a pretty strong runner,” Sirmans said. “Him having the ability to do that, to be a strong runner inside, being able to catch the ball out of the backfield — which he can do — and being able to pass protect. If he can blend all three of those things, that definitely puts him in a situation where he can be on the field to help us.”
Rams coach Jeff Fisher has explained multiple times this offseason how his team’s on-ground success will be a sum that is greater than its parts.
“We’re not just going to have a one-man rotation thing where we give one guy the job, and let the others watch,” he said. “They all have different skills, so we plan on using them differently.”
For Stacy, this is good news. He adds something unique to the mix. It’s why the Rams went fishing for the Vanderbilt running back, and why he has a chance to make an impact now. Follow Ben Frederickson on Twitter (@Ben_Fred), or contact him at email@example.com