Why Pead is on the list
Coach Jeff Fisher saw traits that reminded him of Chris Johnson when the St. Louis Rams selected University of Cincinnati star Isaiah Pead with the No. 50 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Pead also drew comparisons to Jamaal Charles and LeSean McCoy as an undersized but physical back with open-field instincts, explosive short-area bursts and natural pass-catching ability.
"We drafted Isaiah because we felt like he has a chance to be a good back," Fisher said. "Not necessarily just a change of pace back for 'Jack,' but the guy."
Now that Jackson is off to greener pastures in Atlanta, the Rams' backfield is free for the taking. Daryl Richardson is a satellite back, best used in space as the secondary runner. Fifth-rounder Zac Stacy is already a trendy sleeper in fantasy football circles, but it's exceedingly rare for a late-round rookie to dominate carries from the get-go. Alfred Morris is the exception, not the rule. Pead should be viewed as the early leader in the Rams' committee attack by dint of Fisher's expectations and his own talent edge.
Pead turned in one of the faster 10-yard splits at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine. That short-area bust was evident on a 19-yard scamper in garbage time of the Week 8 blowout loss to the New England Patriots. Pead puts his foot in the ground, makes a sharp cut to break a tackle and forces two more defenders to miss in the open field. Although he had just a dozen carries on the season, Pead also ran tough inside when the play called for it.
The Rams drafted Pead in large part for his potential in the passing game. The coaching staff trusted him enough to line him up out wide for a nine-yard bubble screen late in overtime of the Week 10 tie versus the San Francisco 49ers.
Pead is coming off a "miserable" rookie season. His career started behind the eight ball after missing offseason practices due to a late graduation date. He was lost in the playbook, ran tentatively and never played with confidence while ceding the backup job to Richardson.
Still learning how to be a pro, Pead was late to several practices and had his work ethic called into question. The character concerns haven't gone away thanks to a one-game suspension stemming from a July 2012 arrest for marijuana possession, though Fisher has been pleased with a more professional approach this offseason.
If he's going to hold off Richardson and Stacy, Pead must show improvement in several areas. He whiffed too often in pass protection and fumbled twice in 23 touches. After playing primarily out of spread and pistol sets in college, Pead will also have to prove he can move the chains while curbing his tendency to break runs to the outside.
Is Pead a legitimate candidate to make the leap in a Rams committee attack? He is ESPN insider Adam Schefter's choice for NFC breakout player this season, which is noteworthy due to the ESPN insider's tight relationship with Fisher's camp.
Pead's talent edge and the Rams' second-round investment leave little doubt that he will be given every opportunity to win the starting job. The question is whether he can live up to those lofty post-draft comparisons. Pead doesn't possess the game-breaking speed of Johnson and Charles, but the Rams would settle for a poor man's McCoy.
Follow Chris Wesseling on Twitter @ChrisWesseling.