We’ve spent a lot of time in the last few weeks setting our expectations for the 2014 Rams, but before any of those can become a reality, a 53-man roster must first be crafted.
We took a look at the quarterback position for our first 2014 training camp preview. Today, we take a look at a very intriguing position on the Rams roster: running backs.
Benny Cunningham – Entering second season (all with Rams)
Tre Mason – Entering rookie season (drafted by Rams in third round)
Isaiah Pead – Entering third season (all with Rams)
Chase Reynolds – Entering second season (all with Rams)
Zac Stacy – Entering second season (all with Rams)
Trey Watts – Entering rookie season (undrafted free agent)
We’ve covered the Rams running backs pretty extensively this offseason, so instead of rehashing everything, I’ll link to a few pieces:
- Will Zac Stacy suffer from the dreaded sophomore slump?
- Stacy and rookie Tre Mason might be in for a battle for the no. 1 running back position.
- Benny Cunningham is one of the most underappreciated Rams.
- It’s boom or bust for the struggling Isaiah Pead this year…especially because the coaching staff essentially chose to keep him over former starter Daryl Richardson.
- Tre Mason could be the Rams’ most important draft pick.
Although it’s technically possible that Mason plays so well in camp and in preseason that he wedges himself into the starting lineup over Stacy, the far more likely scenario is that Stacy holds on to his starting job and that Mason and Cunningham battle hard for the no. 2 spot.
Cunningham is a pretty interesting case study. On the surface, he had a nice season for a backup – 47 carries for 261 yards – an impressive 5.6 yard per carry average – and a touchdown. However, 181 of those yards came on 20 carries against the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts, two games that the Rams won comfortably. Also, Cunningham was essentially the primary running back in those two games. He came in to sub for an injured Stacy in the Chicago game and spelled Stacy against the Colts because the game was a blowout.
When Cunningham was actually the true backup, he wasn’t nearly as effective. This could be due to small sample size, as Cunningham never amassed more than four carries in a game except for those Chicago and Indy contests. But still: His other 27 carries only contributed 80 yards – just under 3.0 yards per carry, which tells a much different story than his 47 carries for 261 yards.
I guess the conclusion here – and again, 47 carries is a small sample size – is that Cunningham hasn’t proven that he’s very good in spot duty. His stats suggest he needs to get in a rhythm in order to do real damage against a defense – a scenario that probably isn’t likely to happen on this Rams team, barring injury. Look for Mason to challenge Cunningham pretty viciously for that no. 2 spot. As for Pead, he seems to be more of a special teams guy right now, but we can’t totally count him out yet.
Stacy didn’t quite finish the season how he hoped, with a subpar performance against the Seahawks that saw him fall just short of 1,000 yards in his rookie season. But still, 973 yards in 12 starts as a rookie is pretty impressive, especially with plays like this on his highlight reel. However, Stacy racked up a whopping 250 carries last season, which projects to more than 330 over a full season. That’s simply too many in this day and age.
Jeff Fisher and co. will likely prioritize the identification of a solid no. 2 running back who can help take a load off of Stacy’s massive shoulders over the course of what is sure to be a brutal season, thanks to some physical NFC West defenses. Whether that backup is Mason, Cunningham or even Pead will (hopefully) be determined by the end of camp.