Today’s Rams’ Top 5 focuses on some later round change-of-pace backs that could complement incumbent starter Zac Stacy. The team is being heavily linked to Tennessee back Chris Johnson due to his past with head coach Jeff Fisher, but that move doesn’t make a ton of sense given the salary that he’d command and the success that Stacy had as a rookie.
It’s also unclear whether the Rams plan to select a running back in May’s draft given the presence of backups Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead and Benny Cunningham. However, the following list contains some late round, low risk options that could be had by the Rams should they decide to go that route.
George Atkinson, Notre Dame
Atkinson will likely be a later round selection or possibly an undrafted free agent, but the Notre Dame product offers NFL suitors a nice speed option out of the backfield. He struggled to emerge as the go-to ball carrier in a crowded Fighting Irish backfield in 2013, but he did spend time with the university’s track team during his enrollment. According to cbssports.com, Atkinson tends to rely on his straight-line speed as a runner and ran a 4.48 40-yard dash at the combine. He’d be a low-risk selection in the seventh round or in the post-draft free agent scramble.
Tyler Gaffney, Stanford
Gaffney is a projected fourth or fifth rounder according to cbssports.com, which is the time in the draft when the Rams will have hopefully addressed their handful of glaring needs. Gaffney is considered more of an inside runner with a good burst similar to Stacy, but the 4.49 40-yard dash he clocked at the combine is a testament to his balanced abilities. Gaffney finished in the top-10 in the FBS in both rushing yards (1,703) and rushing touchdowns (21) in 2013. He could be a solid situational back should the Rams deem that an area worth upgrading.
Jerrick McKinnon, Georgia Southern
McKinnon did a little bit of everything during his time at Georgia Southern, earning reps at quarterback, slot back, defensive back, and kick returner. He’s currently garnering consideration as a fourth or fifth round selection, but his impressive combine workout may cause some team to fall in love and select him earlier. McKinnon clocked an impressive 4.41 40 time and added 32 reps on the bench press and nice times in the three-cone and shuttle drills (6.83 seconds and 4.12 seconds, respectively). He is a shifty, agile back who could effectively spell Stacy’s hard-nosed, downhill style.
Henry Josey, Missouri
Josey’s place on our list is a result of some blatant and unabashed homerism, but his skills are undeniable. He’s a risky selection after destroying his knee and missing the entire 2012 season, but he returned to the Tiger lineup this past year and rushed for 1,166 yards and 16 touchdowns. He even capped the season being named the MVP of Missouri’s Cotton Bowl win over Oklahoma State. Josey clocked one of the fastest 40 times at the combine at 4.43 seconds, and can likely be had in the seventh round of the draft or scooped up as a free agent.
Dri Archer, Kent State
Archer was one of the combine’s big winners, to say the least. His blazing 4.26 second 40 yard dash was just two hundredths of a second shy of breaking the combine record of 4.24 held by Chris Johnson. He’s tracking at a fifth or sixth round grade, but the versatility that goes with the fact that he played wide receiver and returned kicks in college may warrant an earlier selection. Archer is built in the mold of Rams’ 2013 first round pick Tavon Austin, and could provide a backfield-specific option for the team to use to keep Austin in the slot.