Can Zac Stacy Build On Rookie Season?

Who could have seen Zac Stacy's breakout year coming? Just most people who'd been to Dudley Field in 2011 and 2012. - Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports

Zac Stacy's rookie season did not start off the way he would have liked it to. Through the first four weeks, Stacy recorded a whopping four yards on one carry. In fact, he was not even active for Week Two or Three. However, he refused to let his rookie season continue down that road. Stacy continued to work hard during practices, and finally was rewarded with an opportunity on October 6th against Jacksonville. Getting his foot in the door was all he needed.

Stacy carried the ball 14 times for 78 yards, averaging 5.6 yards a carry. The Jaguars game was the start to a brilliant rookie season for the former Commodore running back. His real coming out party came on national television, when he was able to pick up 134 yards on 26 carries against the mighty Seattle Seahawks defense on Monday Night Football. He followed that performance up with 127 yards rushing and two touchdowns, along with 51 yards receiving against the Titans. Stacy ended the season with 250 carries for 973 yards, averaging 3.9 yards a carry (not bad for a rookie 5th round pick). He also added 141 yards receiving and had eight total touchdowns. By the end of the season, it seemed clear that Stacy had proven himself to the St. Louis Rams coaching staff. Heading into the 2014 season, what is the outlook on the sophomore running back from Vanderbilt?

The Rams did a great job of shoring up their offensive line after last year's disappointing 7-9 season. Heading into the offseason, St. Louis knew they would have at least three of their five main starters from the O-line back. Left tackle Jake Long, right tackle Joe Barksdale, and center Scott Wells were all still under contract and slotted to be starters in 2014. Besides those three, the rest of the offensive line was a huge question mark. On March 11th, starting right guard Rodger Saffold agreed to a five-year, $42.5 million contract with the Oakland Raiders, seemingly ruining the Rams' plan for their offensive line. However, the football gods were looking out for our former star running back. After showing up in Oakland for his physical, Saffold and the Raiders got into a disagreement about his physical condition, and thus the deal fell apart. After that, Saffold ended up resigning in St. Louis on a five-year, $31.7 million contract.

Unlike the Raiders, the Rams found nothing wrong with Saffold's shoulder. The Rams addressed their final offensive line slot in the draft when they picked Greg Robinson second overall. The Auburn lineman was considered to be the best offensive lineman in the draft. As long as these five can stay healthy, Zac Stacy and the rest of the St. Louis running game looks like they could be in for a big season.

A big factor in Stacy's success this season will be the play of quarterback Sam Bradford. After winning rookie of the year back in 2010, Bradford has not been impressive since. Last year he played in only seven games before tearing his ACL and missing the rest of the season. However, there are some positive signs that Bradford is in for a bounce-back year. Before tearing his ACL, Bradford was putting together a very solid season. Through seven games, the young quarterback threw for 1,687 yards and 14 touchdowns, with only 4 interceptions. He had a 90.9 passer rating, the highest of his career.

While it is always hard to recover from a torn ACL, Bradford participated in some practice drills during last month's OTA's, and is ahead of schedule on his recovery. He seems to play well in Jeff Fisher's style of offense, which will help keep defenses from loading the box against the run, thus freeing up more space for Stacy to make plays. With Bradford back, a young WR group including Chris Givens, Brian Quick, Austin Pettis, and newly signed Kenny Britt, and Jared Cook at tight end, the Rams have put together a potentially very dangerous offense. If everyone can remain healthy, things might be looking up for the Rams.

The biggest factor that can play against Stacy building on the success of his rookie year is the selection of Auburn running back Tre Mason in the third round of the draft. Mason is coming off an amazing year at Auburn, rushing for 1,816 yards and 23 touchdowns, setting Auburn single-season records for all-purpose yards and rushing TDs, and winning SEC offensive player of the year. Mason has a knack of playing extremely well in big games, running for 304 yards and four TDs in the SEC championship game and another 195 yards against Florida State in the National Championship game.

However even with Mason on the roster, Stacy is still the favorite to be the starter come Week One. He knows the playbook better, he's been around for a year and knows the routine, and most importantly, already has a firm grasp of the pounding your body takes as a NFL running back. Also with being 20 pounds heavier, Stacy is more compact than Mason, and after a full offseason and training camp focusing on improving, can provide Bradford with better pass protection. Still, you better believe that Stacy accepts and looks forward to the competition with Mason in training camp. As we all know, Stacy does not back down, and will look to use this battle with Mason to improve his own game. While some sort of split of carries is likely to occur at some point during the season, expect Zac Stacy to improve this year, eclipse the 1,000-rushing yards mark, and solidify himself as one of the league's top young running backs.

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