2014 FFToolbox Bust of the Year: St. Louis Rams RB Zac Stacy
In the NFL, there are player archetypes at all positions: The run-stuffing defensive tackle. The slashing, speedy scat back. The possession receiver and the in-line blocking tight end. The list goes on.
One archetype fantasy owners should avoid: the volume running back. This is the bowling ball, battering ram. He's the RB who needs 20 to 25 carries to really get going and does a lot of his dirty work late in contests with an established lead. The only time these backs really thrive is when their team can afford to run the ball at will. Gone are the days of LaDainian Tomlinson touching the ball 375 times and producing in a multitude of ways. If a back can gain 100 yards in 15 carries, and another back needs 25 carries to gain the same amount of yards, you should adopt the former player.
All of this leads to St. Louis Rams running back Zac Stacy. The well-built runner from Vanderbilt University stands at 5-foot-9 at a thick 230-plus pounds. Even with all of his girth, Stacy adds a little shake where he can make defenders miss in tight quarters. He also absorbs contact well while maintaining forward momentum.
Stacy isn't a half-bad fantasy back to own. However, there are three primary concerns to his game.
First, the Rams drafted former Auburn RB Tre Mason for a reason. Mason is a compact runner with a downhill style, just like Stacy. He isn't as physically imposing, but he can contribute on all three downs and should be an integral part of the offense by mid-season. The Rams obviously didn't like their immediate depth behind Stacy, so the selection of Mason isn't so much a red flag as it is the reality of football: St. Louis had to be prepared.
The next concern is that this job fell in Stacy's lap last year. Every running back on the roster got a crack at the starting lineup before Stacy proved to be the best of the rest. While he obviously made the most of it, he is now in direct competition with Mason and last year's eventual primary backup, Benny Cunningham. It's entirely possible that Stacy takes a solid 70 percent of snaps and touches this season, as the Rams coaching staff told the press earlier in the offseason. The underlying problem is Stacy isn't LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte or Adrian Peterson. For a back with Stacy's ADP, there are way too many concerns about his job security. There is a lot to like about Stacy, but he is not a bulletproof starter. He has more to prove in his second season. For a young back coming off an excellent rookie campaign, this situation doesn't have the same certainty as his fellow 2013 draft mates. Montee Ball, Giovani Bernard, Le'Veon Bell, Andre Ellington and Eddie Lacy are all locked in as their team's starter, yet the questions linger around Stacy. This is perhaps a bit subjective, but where there is smoke, there is usually fire.
The biggest concern is Stacy's style of play. He is a physical, downhill runner. He is a barrel rolling down a steep hill. He isn't a reincarnation of Earl Campbell, but he doesn't mind contact. If he misses a half here or a couple drives there, this blows open the door for another back to assert himself into a larger role. This issue becomes even more magnified if Stacy misses a game, which again, is a distinct possibility. Stacy is above average when it comes to yards after contact, and there's no reason to believe he isn't aware of this strength in his arsenal. Why then would he proactively avoid this strength? Perhaps he even embraces it as a badge of honor. This only further concerns me at a position where injuries are persistent and unrelenting.
A quick overview of Stacy's day-to-day news last season reveals a worrisome number of updates about nagging but not particularly serious injuries. This leads to my final point.
In the four games in which Stacy rushed for more than 100 yards, he required 26, 27, 28 and 33 carries, respectively. Rushing that many times is a luxury, and the addition of Mason along with the presence of Cunningham may severely limit the number of times Stacy is given so many carries. The return of Sam Bradford will undoubtedly open up some running lanes, but the former Oklahoma Sooners QB and his WRs will be a much larger focal point of the offense in 2014.
The aforementioned style of a volume running back just doesn't have the right appeal in St. Louis, especially for an offense that has so many weapons bubbling under the surface with potential. Assuming the offense finds other ways to move the chains, which it did not last year, such a scenario should dissuade Stacy apologists that feel he is a valid late second or early third round redraft selection.
The Rams finished 2013 ranked 27th in passing offense. TE Jared Cook led the team in receptions, targets, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. Even a modest improvement from any of their WRs, whether it is Tavon Austin, Chris Givens, Austin Pettis or the recently-signed Kenny Britt, and this offense opens up in a way it did not last season. For a guy like Stacy who needs 25 or more carries to really get it going, that's a problem.
Stacy isn't the type of bust who is going to obliterate your chances at a Fantasy championship. This will be a slow, methodical process whereby drafting him in the third round, you will have given away a potential stud who could produce at a much higher clip. Stacy is the type of bust who swings a five-point win into a two-point loss. Like his style of play, Stacy's consistently underwhelming contributions will grind away the wins from your Fantasy squad. By overpaying for him in your draft, you sacrifice a great player in order to select only an above-average player.