Written by Dan Heins
Well here we are. One year later. Last February I started my annual rookie scouting and stumbled upon a name that I had not yet heard mentioned with the top RB prospects of the 2013 class. Zac Stacy. A senior RB from Vanderbilt University. It was love at first sight. Stacy was everything I look for in a workhorse multi-dimensional back at the NFL level and I was truly shocked that his name was not being mentioned with the top prospects of the draft. The more I watched his tape, the more outspoken I became and warned everyone to not dismiss the kid from Vandy. After an in depth profile I reached out to Zac via Twitter to try and learn a little more about who he is. Zac was more than willing to do the initial interview and we discovered that not only was he good on the field, but he was great off. We learned that he is a humble, hard-working, team-first type of guy, who believes that success comes from execution. Execution comes from practice. Practice involves hard work and dedication.
Needless to say, I was hooked. The Zac Stacy train was officially chugging down the track determined not to be derailed by the numerous skeptics and naysayers. Stacy went on to blow scouts away at the combine and went from an unknown prospect projected to be an undrafted free agent to being listed on most top 10 lists.
Stacy then caught a break when St Louis targeted him in the 5th round of the 2013 draft moving up to grab him. This turned out to be an ideal landing spot. Rams coach Jeff Fisher is known for having a true “lead” back in his offenses. A back he can keep on the field to gain consistency and dependability with. Fisher didn’t know it at the time, but he had just found his man. St. Louis had two backs that were clearly in front of him on the depth chart when he officially made the roster. There was a lot of hype in fantasy worlds about RB’s Isaiah Pead and Darryl Richardson. Both backs had plenty to be positive about, but I just didn’t see either of them of being able to be the type of true lead back that Fisher typically looks for. It was after Stacy was drafted into this situation that I became certain that it was not “if” but “when” he would take over as the starter in St. Louis.
St. Louis’s running game struggled for the first 5 games of the season and that seemed to be just enough for Stacy to gain his opportunity. It was week six VS the Jacksonville Jaguars that Stacy was given “the nod”. Stacy put up by far the best rushing performance of the year that week and he never looked back. Stacy started 11 games for St Louis in 2014 and rushed 250 times for 973 yards and 7 TDs. He added 26 receptions for another 141 yards and an additional TD in spite of a struggling passing game and opposing game plans that were focused solely on stopping Stacy and the Ram’s running game.
Stacy was on a 16 game pace for 1415 yards rushing, 205 receiving yards, 38 receptions and 13 total TDs. He finished as a top 10 fantasy PPR back the last 12 games of the year. Fisher had found his workhorse.
2013 worked out perfectly for Stacy and the people who backed him, and it only seemed natural to reach out to Zac again and see if he would be willing to share his thoughts and feelings about his first year in the NFL. Once again Zac was more than willing to share his time with us and the following interview resulted.
@Dan_DFW: Zac, how do you feel your first season in the NFL went?
Stacy: Ah man great experience. It’s a long process with the combine training, all-star games, mini camp, training camp, and a long 20 week season, but I really enjoyed the process and the privilege of soaking up knowledge and gaining experience in this league.
Did you envision having this level of success this early in your NFL career?
Not really. My mentality coming into this league was to just do what I can to first of all make the team, and then do what I can to help this offense, this team, and this organization be successful on Sundays. I was given an opportunity mid-season and took advantage of it.
Was it difficult waiting to get a chance to start, or did you feel that you would be given an opportunity to start eventually?
Oh absolutely. It was definitely frustrating from the standpoint that I am a competitor, but at the same time this league is a business and I already knew that coming in. But at the same time this league is all about opportunity and I was just blessed to be given one. Sometimes when opportunities don’t come knocking, at times… … you have to build a door.
How did you find out you would be the starting running back for your game against the Jags in week 5?
Basically my RB coach gave me the green light the week of the Jaguars game. I felt like a fat kid that was just given cake. I was very excited for the opportunity. I had a great week of preparation like we always do and I was just blessed to contribute to a victory.
How did it feel stepping onto the field as a starting NFL running back for the first time?
It felt great. I wasn’t too nervous or anything because I was so locked into my assignments, my
techniques, my fundamentals etc. But at the same time I was out there having fun!
What did you find to be the biggest difference in being a running back in the NFL as compared to college?
In this league everybody can run and everybody’s athletic including the DTs. So because of that, one of the mentalities I had in college that I brought to this league was North and South running. That’s where success is going to be in the running game unless you’re a Jamaal Charles-type of runner. From a mental standpoint, you have to be able to let your eyes work. Seeing the coverages well allows you to anticipate where the blitz is coming from. The faster you can play mentally increases your chance of executing your assignment consistently and correctly.
Can you name one lesson that the coaching staff focused on that helped your game get to the next level?
Details and fundamentals are key in this league, because the talent levels are so close. Taking the wrong footwork, missing the wrong landmark can take a toll on the outcome of every game. In the running back room we take pride and always emphasize the little things.
What one part of your game would YOU like to improve going into 2014?
Despite the success I had as a rook, there is still so much stuff I can improve on. From getting a better understanding of running schemes, to working on footwork, craft, strength, speed, explosive training and more. I just want to become a better student of the game which will allow me to play even faster.
What is the most underrated part of your game?
Probably the power I bring in running the football. Yards after contact(YAC) is something I take pride in which is something you have to have to be an effective runner in this league.
What was your LEAST favorite part about being a rookie?
Saturday morning breakfast for the vets.
Who was the first player that you “bonded” with?
Chase Reynolds. He is a 3rd year RB on the team and since Steven Jackson left he was the only true “Vet” on the team. Although he produces more on special teams, he comes in and takes pride in his work and has often times helped me during the time I was playing in terms of going through the playbook. He’s a true professional on and off the field.
Who were you most excited to play against and why?
Sometimes as a rookie, I forgot that I was competing against guys that I grew up watching in High School. Guys like Marshawn Lynch, Patrick Willis, and Navarro Bowman. All of those guys I have tremendous respect for, but at the same time when I am out there against them on Sundays, I’m out there to work and compete.
Who were you most excited to meet?
I grew up watching Ray Rice. We played against Baltimore during the preseason, but he wasn’t on the trip so I didn’t get to meet him. He’s a guy who I emulate my game after.
Who were you most excited to “run through”?
Games on Sunday go by so fast and you’re pumped up on adrenaline throughout the game, so for me I don’t realize who I’m running through until we watch film on Monday. For the most part I’m usually running through arm tackles, making guys miss, and getting YAC.
You were one of the biggest fantasy sleepers of this season. Do you like being an “under the radar” guy, or do you prefer the “spotlight”? And why?
Naw I try not to get caught up in the fantasy stuff. I like that it keeps fans engaged in the game but I never really go into it. Regardless if I am an under the radar guy or not (which I typically am), I always play, work, and compete with a chip on my shoulder.
You have always been a preparation kind of guy, a hard worker among hard workers. Did the level of preparation and work at the NFL offer any surprises for you. If so what were they?
Not really, because in most cases the teams that win on Sundays are the ones who go out and execute the best. And execution comes from doing it everyday in practice. Prep for games for me is exciting. You have no school. No paper due. Nothing. Just straight football.
It’s rare these days to see an NFL running back get 30+ touches/game. Do you worry about wearing down if you go an entire season carrying the load as you did this year?
Not at all. I averaged 25+ carries in college so it’s like second nature now. Main thing is just being able to take care of your body because it’s a long season.
It’s a Fantasy Football world out there these days, and with Twitter and other social media outlets available for fans to reach you, did you ever have any crazy fans blaming you for their team’s losses? Is there a crazy example (in any forum) you can share with us?
Not really. If they have, I must have missed it. I’m usually not on social media as much during the season. Too much of a distraction.
Can you share any statistical goals that you PERSONALLY have for yourself for 2014?
My goal is to go in and compete like I always do. I’m not a guy that talks about stats, so the only goal I talk about is helping my team, my organization, and my offense be successful. With the time, dedication, and passion I have for the game, all the “stats” take care of themselves
DFW would once again like to thank Zac for his time and wish him and the St Louis Rams the best of luck in 2014.