When the New York Jets acquired wide receiver Brandon Marshall from the Chicago Bears in exchange for a fifth round draft pick, the Bears sweetened the deal and sent their seventh round selection to the Jets. Rather than taking a project player late in the draft, the Jets then flipped this pick to the St. Louis Rams for third-year running back Zac Stacy.
No matter where Stacy fits in the Jets offense, getting the 24-year-old running back for a mere seventh round pick is a steal. The former Vanderbilt running back brings more value to the Jets than a seventh round draft pick who may have not even made the final roster.
Stacy, a fifth round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, exceeded expectations in his rookie season, falling just short of a 1,000 yard campaign, totaling 973 yards on the ground. Stacy also found the end zone seven times in fourteen games during his inaugural season.
In his sophomore year in the NFL, Stacy saw a dramatic drop-off in touches given, but didn’t necessarily produce less. His rush attempts fell from 250 to a mere 73, though he still appeared in thirteen games. Totaling 293 rushing yards, it’s easy to just look at the numbers and call Stacy’s rookie production a fluke.
Stacy’s carries were ceded to Auburn running back Tre Mason, who assumed the starting role in St. Louis with 179 carries.
However, Stacy maintained his 3.9 yards per carry in his second season, identical to his first season. In theory, if Stacy had been given the same amount of carries he would have produced just as well. With just over 250 carries, Stacy has the ability to be a 1,000 yard rusher in the NFL.
Stacy didn’t just maintain, but improved his receiving game. After hauling in 26 of 35 targeted passes in 2013, he caught 18 of 23 balls in 2014. He caught passes at a higher rate and was on the field far less than his rookie season. He also improved his yards per reception from 5.4 to 8.4 in his second season.
In short, Stacy had a very respectable rookie season after being selected in the fifth round, but didn’t get the touches he deserved in his followup season as the Rams drafted a bright, young running back.
Then, in this year’s draft, the Rams selected running back Todd Gurley tenth overall, again sending Stacy down the depth chart. If healthy, Gurley slots in as every-down back for St. Louis. Not surprisingly, Stacy had enough at this point and demanded a trade, which he was granted two days later.
While Stacy should get more touches in New York, where exactly does he slot in in a now crowded backfield?
At this point in time, Chris Ivory should still be considered the Jets starting running back. He has the most complete skillset, possessing the ability to run between the tackles, to the outside, and, recently, catch the football out of the backfield. He’s also been durable, appearing in 31 out of 32 possible games in his Jets career and amassing over 800 yards rushing in each season.
But the starting job shouldn’t just be handed to Ivory. Stacy wished for his release because he believes he is a starting running back in the league. He deserves the chance to showcase what he can bring to the Jets in the preseason. While the incumbent Ivory may be the favorite heading into training camp, Stacy will have a chance to win the starting job.
If Stacy doesn’t win the starting job, he’ll need to make the most of his time on the field to get continued touches. His skillset isn’t drastically different from Ivory’s. So while Stacy may win the #2 position on the depth chart, former New England Patriots running back Stevan Ridley may see more touches as a change of pace back.
It’s very likely all three running backs get a significant amount of carries, as the Jets can rotate in some fresh legs to change the momentum of a drive at any given time.
Stacy should not have to worry about Bilal Powell and Daryl Richardson much, who are now merely depth players more than ever.
Zac Stacy got his wish in his departure from the Rams organization. But he still has an uphill battle to face to gain the offensive touches he feels he deserves. This battle may be slightly easier with the Jets, but it’s still something that will have to be earned.