I’m a huge fantasy football fan, and as such I read a lot of Matthew Berry. So to make the point I want to make, I’m going to steal one of his favorite techniques:
Player A: 6’1, 239 lbs
-4.54 second forty time, 22 bench reps at 225 lb., and a 37 1/2 inch vertical jump during pre-draft workouts
-1,509 total rushing yards as a college senior with 22 total touchdowns and 6.2 yards per carry average.
-Drafted with the 32nd pick of the 6th round; 202nd overall.
Player B: 6’2, 231 lbs
-4.55 forty time, 16 bench reps at 225lb., and a 37 1/2 inch vertical in pre-draft workouts
-1,545 rushing yards in final college season, 22 total touchdowns, and a 4.4 ypc average
-Drafted with the 24th pick of the 1st round; 24th overall
It’s probably pretty clear who one of these players is. Steven Jackson was drafted 24th overall by the Rams in the 2004 draft, and after taking over starting duties from Hall-of-Famer Marshall Faulk, proceeded to turn in eight consecutive seasons with over one thousand yards rushing before pursuing Super Bowl greatness as an Atlanta Falcon this past offseason. His tenure in St. Louis includes a 4.2 career ypc average, three pro-bowl selections, and the distinction as the Rams Franchise’s all-time leading rusher. If he is not a Hall-of-Fame, it will only be because he spent the majority of his career as the only talented player on a team that produced one of the worst five-year win/loss records in NFL history.
The other player, however, may be somewhat of a mystery man–Rams’ second-year running back, and apparent roster long-shot, Terrance Ganaway. As evidenced above, Ganaway was every bit as impressive as Jackson in his final college season. So, why such a difference in draft pedigree?
One take is that running backs just aren’t as highly valued as they were when Jackson came out of college. But another major difference is that Jackson had very little competition for the limelight at Oregon State. While Jackson’s college quarterback, Derek Anderson (seriously), was very good at the NCAA level, Jackson was ultimately the bread-winner for his squad—a trait he carried over very nicely into his pro career.
Ganaway, on the other hand, spent his formative football years at Baylor in the shadow of Heisman Trophy Winner and ESPN sweetheart, Robert Griffin III. With RG3 overwhelming defenses to the tune of 4,200 yards passing and 700 on the ground, it’s pretty unbelievable that there were an additional 1,500 yards of offense leftover for the taking. I suppose the argument can be made that Griffin’s success took the focus off of Ganaway, and allowed him to take better advantage of opposing defenses. But perhaps it was Ganaway’s athleticism and success in the run game that made it impossible for defenses to focus solely on Griffin, and ultimately led to even greater levels of success for the QB. Really it’s impossible to know.
For the record, I’m not saying that Ganaway is the reason for RG3’s success. Robert Griffin is an electrifying player worth ever accolade he’s ever been given (although maybe not worth 3 first round picks (boom!)). What I am saying is that it would be unfair to discount Ganaway’s college success just because he played with a great player like Griffin.
Now let’s take a look at one more player.
Player C: 5’11, 200 lb
-4.47 forty with a 33” veritical at pre-college workouts (did not participate in bench press)
-1,259 yards rushing in his senior season on 237 attempts for a 5.3 ypc average and 15 total touchdowns
-Drafted with the 18th pick in the second round; 50th overall
For any reasonably devoted Rams fan, of course, player C is Isaiah Pead. What’s probably surprising though, is how far short his college production falls from that of Ganaway and Jackson. In Pead’s defense, he didn’t play his college ball with even a Derek Anderson caliber talent at quarterback to draw opposing defenses’ off his scent. In fact, the third highest offensive producer in Pead’s senior season (Pead was second) was a sophomore quarterback named Munchie. Regardless, the point remains the same: Isaiah Pead was not nearly as impressive—at least statistically—in his senior season as either Terrance Ganaway or Steven Jackson.
Aside from his production and natural ability, Ganaway brings something else to the table that so far Isaiah Pead has not: character. I’m not talking about the Steve Spagnuolo, four-pillars-of-suck kind of character either. I really don’t care whether a player spends a hundred hours per week spoon-feeding baby food to quadriplegic refugees or spends all of his time watching old buddy cop movies and playing video games as long as he keeps his head down, knows his place, and doesn’t do anything to hurt his team. While Pead has spent his offseason moping about his miserable rookie campaign and collecting suspensions, Ganaway kept his nose clean by working for minimum wage at a sandwich shop. As hilarious as Jim Thomas seems to think it is, I personally think it shows incredible maturity for a player of his age to recognize the potential for so much free time to lead to trouble, and to do something about it. Plus, Jimmy Johns is awesome.
Look, I know that the coaching staff is high on Pead, and even if they weren’t, they’d never risk the PR nightmare that would come with cutting a second round pick so early in his career, especially if he were to mature into his talent level with, say, the Cardinals. Conversely, nearly every analyst and beat writer to cover the Rams crowded backfield has essentially written off Ganaway, many even favoring rookie UFA Bennie Cunningham over the second year player out of Baylor. But Ganaway provides the Rams with something they are otherwise lacking: elite size for the position.
At 239 lb., Ganaway is over thirty pounds heavier than Zac Stacy, the back most fans and analysts believe will be the “bruiser” in the Rams backfield this season. And while I truly believe that Stacy has the ability to be the every down answer of the future for this franchise, none of the RBs currently on the roster have had enough of an opportunity prove that they can play at the next level. Even Daryl Richardson–the only back with a proven ability to produce at the NFL level–is green compared to the consistency Rams fans have been blessed with at the running back position over the past fifteen years.
Of all the candidates fighting for carries, Terrance Ganaway’s skillset appears to be the one that stands out as unique. As such, it would be a shame to overlook a player with his upside in favor of Pead’s draft clout, only to see Ganaway succeed elsewhere.
I’ll conclude by introducing one more player likely to line up in the Rams backfield this season.
Player D: 5’9, 174 lbs
-4.28 forty yard dash, 14 reps on the bench press and a 32 inch vertical in pre-draft workouts
-643 yards rushing on 72 attempts in his senior season for 8.9 ypc and 15 total touchdowns
I know I’m getting more and more obvious here since player D is clearly Tavon Austin. Just saying, it all makes Isaiah Pead seem a little less necessary, right?