Written by John Evans @evansjo5
“Bust” is really only a nice word if we’re talking about something kept in a brassiere. Fantasy owners are often quick to move on from young players who aren’t producing. Even after a player’s rookie season, it’s tempting to think the book is written on him and that’s what he’s going to be. For every Russell Wilson, Alfred Morris and T.Y. Hilton there are a Ryan Lindley, Isaiah Pead and A.J. Jenkins. After a single year, we’re anointing or dismissing guys as though 16-to-19 games at the pro level make a young player a known quantity. Slow your roll!
The reality is that situation, health, offensive line and other weapons have a huge impact on a player’s fantasy potential. Everyone who has made it to the NFL occupies a spot on a fairly narrow spectrum of talent — the range is between extremely good and amazing. Almost any NFL player will succeed or fail based on the team around him and the system he plays in. Unlike golf, this is a team sport. Also unlike golf, I can watch this without falling asleep.
Isaiah Pead is a player whose dynasty value took a hit after his maiden voyage in the pros. Many people are down on the young back (he turns 24 in December). A second round selection for the St. Louis Rams, Pead was a well-regarded pro prospect expected to be the heir apparent to aging starter Steven Jackson. Some speculated that Rams coach Jeff Fisher had found his new Eddie George and would make Pead the centerpiece of a run-oriented offense, sooner rather than later. Instead, Pead barely got on the field (42 snaps, 10 total carries) and was immediately surpassed on the depth chart by unheralded 7th-round pick Daryl Richardson. It was a rough rookie season for Pead. You could even say he peed the bed, if that’s your favorite scatological metaphor.
However, it seems like Pead just got a slow start on his transition to the NFL and the Rams, so the team saw no reason to throw him into the fire before he was ready. Pead missed OTAs because of his school’s late graduation and thus, he missed the installation of OC Brian Schottenheimer’s new offense. Pead didn’t tote the rock once until Week 7.
And why is that? Some have speculated that Pead has maturity issues and once he landed a pro contract, his “want-to” diminished. It seems more likely that his pass protection needs work, as that’s usually what keeps a rookie back off the field. Whatever the reason, the Rams immediately went with Daryl Richardson in a change-of-pace role and he was productive. Pead did get five carries to Richardson’s four in the Rams’ final game of the season, a loss to Seattle.
Let’s take a peek at the whole picture before we rush to crush Pead’s dynasty value, shall we?
Pead the prospect
After topping two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin’s 35-year-old high school record by rushing for 2,204 yards and 39 touchdowns as a senior at Eastmoor Academy in Ohio, Pead was a fairly hot recruit coming out of HS. He became a very productive college football player for his home state Cincinnati Bearcats, combining the strength of a bear with the agility of a cat. In 2011, he was the Big East Offensive Player of the Year and MVP of both the Liberty Bowl and the Senior Bowl. Space players are a hot commodity in the NFL, and Pead’s selection in the second round of the draft surprised no one.
Few players are perfect, and entering the league two main weaknesses were identified in Pead’s game:
1. Not a workhorse
At a lean 197 pounds, Pead is not a physical, move-the-chains kind of back. He doesn’t have the frame or build for inside running or goal-line carries. He has an upright running style that makes him easier to tackle. If you get a glove on him, he’s going down.
2. Bounces it outside too much
At Cincinnati Pead took too many runs to the outside, trying to break a big play when a mature back knows that putting his team in favorable down-and-distance situations should be paramount. Too often an impatient Pead tried to make something out of nothing and ended up with less than nothing (a loss).
Okay, so while he carried the load at Cincinnati, Pead is not a prototypical “bell cow” back. As a side note, nothing says “power and aggression” like “cow,” right? Not sure where that term started. But I digress.
Pead does have some real strengths:
1. Quick feet, elusive cutback runner
Especially in the increasingly popular zone-blocking scheme, the ability to make sharp cuts is what enables running backs to juke the first defender and get to the second level. Pead is a decisive one-cut runner who plants his foot and gets upfield. A shifty runner, Pead has excellent change-of-direction ability. He’ll make you miss.
Unfortunately for Pead, the Rams switched back to a power-blocking scheme when Jeff Fisher became their head coach. Still, as Darren McFadden proved, it’s harder for a power back to thrive in a ZBS than the other way around, especially with a north-south runner like Pead.
2. Explosive big-play ability
Pead accelerates to the hole in a hurry — he’s got great burst and can be electrifying in the open field. He led the Big East with 6.7 yards per carry. Pead is a HS Division II champion in the 400m dash. At the combine he ran a 4.47 40, so his straight-line speed is above average for a RB. This strength is magnified on the Rams’ home turf, a fast surface.
3. Contributor in the passing game
Pead has good hands and like any receiver worth his salt, makes adjustments to the pass in flight.
Critical to any RB’s hopes of hitting the field is his blocking. As is often the case, opinions of Pead’s pass-pro vary wildly, but there are more indications that he’s willing and his technique is good. In school he evidenced an aptitude for blitz pickups and while he had only three pass-blocks for the Rams, he did well on all of them.
Based on his ability to contribute in the passing game, Pead can be a three-down back in this league. From the fantasy perspective, this gives him a higher ceiling (especially in PPR formats). Whether you’re talking about a sweet loft or a football player, high ceilings are awesome.
Pead also has good vision and reads blocks well. He’s no Adrian Peterson in terms of chip on his shoulder, but Pead does “play angry.” He doesn’t “drive drunk,” up to this point, so that’s a plus too.
So what’s the situation in St. Louie?
I’m optimistic about the Rams. The arrow is pointing up for this already scrappy team. With two first-round picks and 8 selections overall, St. Louis will be major players in the 2013 draft. If they put early picks into upgrading the offensive line, this is great news for Pead. According to Pro Football Focus, only six teams were worse at run blocking than the Rams last year. Cincinnati’s run blocking was not great, either; if Pead can use his burst and catlike quickness behind an above average-line, this speedy back has Jamaal Charles potential. NFL Films guru Greg Cosell compared him to Charles, not me.
At the present time, it seems unlikely that Steven Jackson will return to the Rams. If St. Louis drafts more than a power back (Eddie Lacy, nooooo!), the Pead party I’m throwing gets busted by the po-leece. That makes him a so-so handcuff in 2013, but Pead’s versatility should get him on the field for third downs at least. He’ll have some chance to shine.
At the combine, Jeff Fisher said they drafted Pead “because we felt like he has a chance to be a good back, not necessarily just a change-of-pace back, but the guy.” He then suggested Daryl Richardson could also be “the guy” and added that everyone is using a committee approach these days, so it’s admittedly a mixed message. “Has a chance” to be a “good” back and “not necessarily” a change-of-pace back isn’t exactly the ringing endorsement Norv Turner gave Ryan Mathews last year, for example, and you know how that turned out. But based on these and other comments coming out of the organization, it’s reasonable to assume that the Rams aren’t unhappy with Pead and intend to use him more in 2013.
There is definitely overlap in Pead and Richardson’s skillsets. They’re almost the same size. While there are doubts that Pead can be a feature back, the general consensus is that Richardson is best suited as a role player. He’s a finesse guy who lacks even Pead’s strength. The best scenario for Pead is Jackson departing, Pead winning the lead-dog role in training camp and relegating Richardson to change-of-pace status. That hypothetical would also involve a big back being brought in for short-yardage work.
While it’s unlikely that Pead can bulk up enough to get a heavy workload or goal-line looks, he could soon become a 1-A back in a committee with RB2 production in PPR formats. His upside is a poor man’s C.J. Spiller (Spiller circa 2012).
Pead would truly thrive in a high-octane passing game that uses receiver-heavy spread formations and frequently gets him the ball in space. A prolific pass offense could turn Pead into a low-end RB1 in PPR leagues. Unfortunately, Pead is unlikely to play in New Orleans or Detroit anytime soon. Still, if the Rams bring in a true No. 1 receiver (Cordarelle Patterson, anyone?) and upgrade the line, Sam Bradford’s development should get back on track. If that happens, this offense will at least crack the top half of the league in 2013.
Pead’s dynasty value
The picture is still cloudy, at least in the short term, but Pead is a great buy-low. Perception of the player and his situation are negative, but the reality is much more promising. Pead is a high-upside player and there is plenty of reason to think he’ll be a valuable fantasy asset as soon as 2013. The combination of talent and future opportunity is favorable and there are no major red flags to worry about. So let’s not use the “bust” word, unless you want to talk about Kate Upton.