There’s a workhorse running back with startling elusiveness and power, and he can be had for the low, low price of a twelfth round draft pick this season.
His value hinges entirely on the health of the oft-injured beast that is Steven Jackson, but St. Louis Rams rookie running back Isaiah Pead could, at some point this season, anchor your fake football squad’s running game, and prove the best value of 2012.
NFL scouts have gushed about Pead’s rare shiftiness and short-area burst since the Rams drafted the 22-year-old with the 50th overall pick in April’s draft. Pead, during combine workouts and offseason practices, has drawn favorable comparisons to Chris Johnson and Jamaal Charles, runners of similar stature drafted by the Titans and Chiefs, respectively, to become offensive centerpieces, not mantle pieces to languish on the bench.
Pead ran for more than 1,200 yards during his senior season with the Cincinnati Bearcats, averaging 5.3 yards per carry while scoring 15 touchdowns. He capped off his quietly superb collegiate career with MVP honors at the Senior Bowl, and turned heads at February’s combine with a forty time of less than 4.5.
Lions head coach Jim Schwartz once joked that he had taken to Jahvid Best YouTube clips in lieu of, well, adult entertainment. A quick breeze through Pead’s college highlight reels, and you might join Schwartz. Pead has lateral quickness and agility in tight spaces that only the elite runners have – backs like Johnson, Charles, LeSean McCoy and Ray Rice. Pead is blessed with great burst and long speed that leaves safeties hopeless once he’s reached a defense’s second level.
Pead can break a guy’s ankles, plow through him, or outrun him. College defenses had to pick their poison.
Pead will start 2012 entrenched as Jackson’s backup. Any fantasy footballer who has ever drafted SJax knows that his handcuff is a necessity – the hulking power back is a walking, talking, linebacker-crushing injury waiting to happen. True, Jackson has missed only 10 games over the past five seasons, but he’s been limited in many more contests over that span, battling through groin, thigh, foot, quad, and various hand injuries during his prolific run in the fantasy wasteland that is St. Louis.
SJax takes a horrific beating, and while he should be credited for toughing it out through pain that would put a mortal running back on the pine for a game or three, you should remember that Jackson is now 29 – elderly, for a cowbell – and has carried the ball more than any player in the league. SJax has averaged a whopping 286 carries per season over the past seven years, and has more than 2,000 career carries. Running backs break down, even the great ones. LaDainian Tomlinson was fantasy football royalty, until he wasn’t. Same with Shaun Alexander. And Larry Johnson. SJax was a pup when those guys were terrorizing defenses. No longer. Jackson has more wear and tear on his beaten body than any back in the league, and he’s due, at the very least, for a decreased workload. At worst, he’s headed for a physical breakdown.
Jackson didn’t exactly end last season with a flourish. He averaged less than four yards per carry in five of his last seven contests, including a 10-carry, 19-yard disaster against San Francisco in Week 14. He followed up that performance with 63 yards on 20 carries against Seattle, or 3.2 yards per tote. SJax crossed the goal line precisely once in his last nine games of 2011. He rushed for five touchdowns all season.
Now to the aforementioned Johnson, formerly known as CJ2K, now known as CJwhateverK.
An occasionally bearded fellow named Jeff Fisher was Johnson’s head coach in Tennessee for three seasons. That same Fisher, you may have heard, was hired last winter as the Rams’ head honcho. This bodes well for fantasy owners willing to take a chance on Pead. Fisher, unlike the infuriating faction of coaches who laud running back committees that will have you weeping alone in the shower on Sunday afternoons this fall, is an old-school guy.
Fisher did, in fact, have Johnson share some carries with big, fat LenDale White during Johnson’s 2008 rookie season, but after that, it was all CJwhateverK all the time: Johnson racked up 358 carries during his glorious 2,000-yard 2009 campaign, and 316 carries the following year.
Jeff Fisher loves the cowbell. He believes in it. He’s committed to it. The Rams drafted Pead for this reason. It might be late September or mid-October or early November before Jackson gets dinged up and gives Pead his shot as starter in an improved Rams offense, but when it happens, Pead will go from wise fantasy stash to an every-week RB2, maybe even a top-10 guy.
And you won’t have to burn a mid-round draft pick on the former Bearcat – Pead’s average draft position in 129th, behind running backs mired in committee attacks, like the Saints’ Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram. LaGarrette Blount, widely expected to lose his starting gig to rookie runner Doug Martin, is being drafted 26 picks before Pead. Felix Jones, even after having the starting job ripped away last fall, is going ahead of Pead.
So make Pead your 2012 draft day lottery ticket. Don’t leave him to rot on the waiver wire. Draft him.