EARTH CITY, Mo. -- In the moments after the St. Louis Rams used the 10th overall pick on Georgia running back Todd Gurley in the NFL draft last week, then-Rams running back Zac Stacy summed up his feelings -- and probably the feelings of other Rams running backs -- in a one-word tweet.
The tweet read, simply, "Yikes," and though it was later deleted, it still rang plenty true. In the 2014 draft, less than a year removed from rushing for nearly 1,000 yards in less than a full season's worth of starts, Stacy had been drafted over when the team selected Tre Mason in the third round. Mason supplanted Stacy as the starter about a quarter of the way through last season.
And this year the Rams turned around and took another running back, Gurley, with their most expensive piece of draft capital spent on a back since coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead arrived in 2012.
"Looking back over the years, I don’t know if I remember a player that handled the circumstances that he handled last year, with in essence what we’ll refer to as a demotion, better than Zac from a team standpoint," Fisher said. "We talked about that. He’s an outstanding young man. He’s a great teammate. I told him that we’re going to try to go ahead and make a move, but we don’t know what that looks like -- whether that was going to be today, or tomorrow, or training camp or whatever. But we were going to try to do that. He was very appreciative of his opportunity here and everything. When we put it together in the seventh [round], I got in touch with Zac before we actually turned the trade in. He was very excited. We’ll get together before he leaves. He’s been one of my favorites. He’s an outstanding young man.”
Even with Stacy off to a new locale, it's entirely possible the Rams will have to deal with other running backs wondering where they fit in the big picture. The Rams have drafted five running backs in the four years since Fisher and Snead arrived. They've already said goodbye to Stacy and Darryl Richardson, but Gurley, Mason and Isaiah Pead remain.
It's probably no coincidence that those three also are the highest-drafted of the group, all taken in the third round or earlier. Moving forward, Gurley is clearly expected to be the centerpiece of the offense, not just the top back. Mason should step into a role as a slashing change of pace. Pead, on the other hand, isn't guaranteed anything moving forward and will likely compete for a spot this offseason and into training camp.
A reasonable person would assume that when Gurley recovers from a torn ACL, the Rams' depth chart will lead with him followed by Mason and then Benny Cunningham, who is the team's best pass protector from the position. The Rams have carried five running backs in recent years, but one of those spots has been reserved for Chase Reynolds, who is an ace special-teams player (and a running back in name only).
That means there'd be one spot left for Pead, Trey Watts or one of the team's undrafted rookies, a group that includes intriguing prospect Malcolm Brown of Texas.
The Rams have been hesitant to cut bait on Pead, but it would seem his job is far from secure. He's due to count $1,284,850 against the salary cap this year, which is more than double the cost of Watts, who offers similar qualities and production.
But even with a good and deep group in place, the Rams couldn't resist the temptation to turn good into great with Gurley.
"We have a good group," Fisher said. "We really like our group in the room, but this was an opportunity that we could not pass up."