Months ago, I decided to bore the RotoViz readership with a series of articles on the St. Louis backfield. And just to clarify—I didn’t actually drill holes in you. I merely wearied you with dullness . . . case in point.
Anyway, I started the series with a piece on Terrance Ganaway, suggesting that Ganaway can become a valuable member of the Rams backfield in 2013 and beyond—if he manages to stick on the roster. He’s in a small cohort of runners that features Arian Foster and Michael Turner, but that cohort also sports John Clay and Anthony Dixon, so . . .
Next, I wrote two pieces on Daryl Richardson. In the first article I looked at Richardson’s prospects through an analysis of prior non-FBS RBs to enjoy top-30 seasons in the NFL, and I noted that Richardson does not have the collegiate production or physical attributes generally associated with the top-30 non-FBS cohort. Basically, coming out of college, Richardson looked like a younger, less-productive Bernard Scott, whom most people don’t consider the model of RB success.
Then, in the second of these Richardson pieces, I looked at the careers of prior rookies who either shared some of Richardson’s physical attributes or produced first-year seasons similar to his, and I noted that Richardson’s status as a seventh-round selection, especially when combined with his small size, does not speak well for his future. If you think that Richardson has a chance of prolonged top-30 success, you are asking yourself to believe that 1) he was massively under-drafted and that either 2) he can succeed with Chris Johnson’s frame even though he lacks CJ?K’s pure speed or that 3) he can succeed by changing his body, just as Ray Rice did early in his career. All of that is possible, but it’s a lot to ask for from a second-year sub-200-lb.almost-undrafted small-school RB who wasn’t even originally intended to be his team’s backup.
Next, I wrote a piece on Isaiah Pead in light of his size, his draft position, his performance as a rookie, and Jeff Fisher’s RB-usage patterns as a head coach, ultimately arguing that Pead’s usage as a rookie suggests that he will not be made the 2013 starter, despite the probability that he would be successful if given the job. At his best, Pead now seems to have the upside of Tatum Bell—who played below 200 lbs. but weighed much more than 200 lbs. when he entered the league, according to NFL Draft Scout—and, let’s face it, if you’re hoping a guy turns into Tatum Bell, you’re probably not doing well in a lot of fantasy leagues.
Finally, I wrote a piece—before the draft—on the strong likelihood that Fisher would draft another RB, someone who (compared to Richardson and Pead) was a big runner, and I ultimately came pretty freaking close to calling it on Zac Stacy—“And let’s assume that maybe Fisher takes a guy like Zac Stacy in the fifth round or so to replace Ganaway”—and I also suggested a way of playing the St. Louis backfield, “The Shanny Moneyball Strategy,” whereby you draft all the St. Louis RBs (at depressed ADPs) and then use the eventual starter as a low-end RB2 or flex option.
The reaction on Twitter to my suggested strategy was . . . mixed. If you want, go to my twitter page and look at 18 April 2013. Some guys I respect were skeptical. One guy who did agree with my general perspective—if you like these guys at their ADPs and they fall to you in drafts, then take them—was Salvatore Stefanile, who cared enough about this idea to write a follow-up article looking at the strategy’s opportunity costs.
After this series, I thought that I wouldn’t need to write a follow-up piece, because I had basically given all the relevant information, and I thought that people would apply it in whatever way suited them. For instance, if you liked the ADPs for these players but felt certain that Richardson would not be the starter, then you could just draft Pead and Stacy. In fact, I assumed that by the time the season rolled around I would probably draft only two of the St. Louis runners, not all three, just based on how much I would like them at their ADPs. And, remember, I wrote these pieces in March and April—before the draft. When the Rams actually drafted Stacy I felt somewhat vindicated and as if no follow-up piece would be necessary. What else could I really say?
But since then some people on Twitter have asked me about my updated thoughts on the Rams backfield. And then Evan Silva did a piece on second-year RB Daryl Richardson and had this to say:
I think Richardson stands a legitimate chance to be the foundation of St. Louis’ rushing attack, if given that opportunity. I think he can be a go-to, lead NFL runner in a spread-type offense the Rams are expected to implement this season. [. . .] Save arguably David Wilson, Daryl Richardson is the single most explosive second-year back I’ve reexamined for this series, superior in this area to Lamar Miller, Bryce Brown, Ronnie Hillman, and Bernard Pierce. He runs with urgency, high energy and suddenness, and displays outstanding first-step burst. [. . .] What I found even more encouraging than Richardson’s straight-ahead burst and speed was his toughness between the tackles. His sheer velocity on inside running plays was outstanding and extremely impressive for a back his size
Silva’s article is one of the most bullish assessments of Richardson’s prospects that I’ve read, and it provides me with the opportunity to say what I’ve really been thinking for the last couple of months about the Rams.
So here it is: D-Rich is going to be the guy in 2013, Stacy is going to be the guy in 2014, and Pead is going to be Tennessee Chris Henry in 2008. If I end up doing the Shanny Moneyball Strategy in the Rams backfield this year, I’ll draft D-Rich and Stacy, and I’ll pass on Pead, because at his ADP I won’t want him.
If you want, you can read all the articles and basically see how I came to this conclusion. Really, I recommend you read them. But right now I’ll try to give you some insight into why I’m (sort of) high on D-Rich and Stacy and not on Pead.
1) Jeff Fisher likes to use big-bodied RBs. With the exception of Chris Johnson—who is inimitable—Fisher’s lead RBs have always been, at a minimum, decently sized: Rodney Thomas, Eddie George, Chris Brown, Travis Henry, LenDale White, and Steven Jackson. Eventually, Fisher is likely to find a starting RB who has good size. That would be Stacy in 2014.
2) Jeff Fisher’s two long-time workhorse RBs (Eddie George and Chris Johnson) were both first-round picks who became immediate starters. When he doesn’t have a guy who fits that bill, Fisher tends to use stopgap starters for a year or two as he continues to draft RBs and look for his future workhorse. Chris Brown was the stopgap in 2004 and 2005, Travis Henry in 2006, and LenDale White in 2007. Chris Johnson was drafted in 2008, and then a stopgap starter was no longer necessary. Jeff Fisher doesn’t have an immediate- and no-doubt-starter, first-round-caliber RB on his roster, and so he’ll rely on stopgap starters till he does. The stopgap will be Richardson in 2013, and probably Stacy in 2014. Why Stacy in 2014 instead of Richardson? Because Shanny likes big backs. But of course I can’t be sure, which is why in dynasty leagues if I draft one I’ll probably draft the other one.
3) When Fisher replaces the starter from a previous year, and when he’s replacing him with someone who’s not a first-round obviously-drafted-to-be-a-starter player, then the new starter has always been—always—the RB2 from the previous year. Chris Brown backed up George in 2003 and replaced him in 2004. Travis Henry backed up Brown in 2005 and replaced him in 2006, and Henry in turn was replaced in 2007 by LenDale White, his backup from the previous year. When Fisher needs a stopgap starter, he turns to the guy who was already next in line. In 2013, that guy is Richardson, and I expect him to be backed up by Stacy.
4) I don’t think Richardson is built to be a long-term starter, and so I assume he’ll be replaced within a year or two, most likely by his backup, which means that Stacy, perhaps as early as 2014, could be the starter for the Rams.
5) I think Stacy will be the backup because Pead’s dismal 2012 places him in a group of Fisher RBs to have, at best, little fantasy relevance. Let me put it like this: All the Fisher RBs who get more than 50 carries as rookies have fantasy relevance at some point (Rodney Thomas, George, CJ?K, White, Brown), and none of the Fisher RBs with fewer than 50 rookie carries ever have a fantasy impact (Jarrett Payton, Chris J. Henry, Javon Ringer, Troy Fleming, Damien Nash). D-Rich falls into the first group, and Pead falls into the second group. Especially since they have overlapping skillsets, D-Rich is likely to render Pead irrelevant.
6) A high non-first-round pick means nothing to Jeff Fisher. Rodney Thomas was drafted with a third-round pick in 1995 and made the starter. The next year he was replaced by first-round pick Eddie George. Yes, Fisher gave up on his third-round RB after only one year. Chris Brown was a third-round pick in 2003, and he was eventually replaced by free agent Travis Henry, who was brought in after Brown had been starting for only a year. LenDale White was a second-round pick in 2006, and he was slated to become the starter in 2007—and Jeff Fisher still drafted another RB in the second round, Chris J. Henry, and the year after that Fisher drafted another RB with an even higher pick, Chris Johnson. Yes, after investing two second-round picks in RBs two years in a row Fisher decided to write off those RBs as losses. In other words, Isaiah Pead’s draft status as a 2012 second-round pick means nothing for 2013 and 2014. Fisher replaces high draft selections all the time. Fisher might already consider Pead to be utterly expendable.
7) Pead is suspended for the first game of the 2013 season, and so he already will not open the season as the starter. In other words, either D-Rich or Stacy has a golden opportunity to run away with the starting job that first week. If D-Rich rushes for 100 yards and scores a TD, is Fisher going to have any incentive to start Pead in Week 2?
8) After news of Pead’s suspension broke, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch quoted Jeff Fisher: “I’m pleased with how he’s bounced back and his professional approach to being a member of this team this year.” That’s what you say about a bench player. Backhanded comments all over the place: “Bounced back” (you sucked last year), “professional approach” (you’re an immature prima donna), “a member” (you’re not a starter, you might play special teams this year) “this team” (you’re just one dude, and I can cut’chu like that) “this year” (I’ll give you one more year to change my mind). Brutal comment. And when asked if Pead’s Week 1 absence will make sorting out the depth chart any more complicated, Fisher said this: “Not whatsoever. [. . .] We’re getting ready for a long haul, and we’ll be without him for one week, which we understand, but it doesn’t complicate things.” That’s what a coach says when the guy suspended is clearly going to be or has no chance of being the starter. At this point, Pead is not clearly the starter. I think he has no chance.
9) In his 17 years of being a head coach, Jeff Fisher’s starting RBs have averaged positional finishes of 12.95 with a median of 12. Even if we exclude George, CJ, and S-Jax, the average for Fisher starters is still 19.8. Out of five such seasons, the worst one was a positional ranking of #24. In other words, a Fisher backfield produces fantasy relevant RBs.
10) In both redraft and dynasty leagues, I imagine that when the draft comes around both D-Rich and Stacy will be available far after the 24th RB is chosen. Currently, Fantasy Football Calculator has Daryl Richardson as the 34th RB (73.0) and Zac Stacy as the 45th RB (103.1). Each fantasy player has to decide if those ADPs represent a discount to possible production—to me, they do. I don’t believe that either one of these guys is the long-term starter for the Rams, but I think that, collectively, they should have a strong shot of holding down the position for the next two or three years. If that production can be acquired for cheap during dynasty drafts, I’m in.