This is Part 9 in my 10-Part Second-Year Running Back Series, using NFL Game Rewind to analyze each sophomore back's rookie-season tape. For the Lamar Miller, David Wilson, Bryce Brown, Vick Ballard, Bernard Pierce, Ronnie Hillman, Daryl Richardson, and LaMichael James writeups, click here:
Putting a microscope on Pead was more difficult than the other backs in this series for an obvious reason: He only touched the ball 13 times as a rookie. A second-round pick, Pead spent 2012 buried as a third-stringer behind Steven Jackson and seventh-rounder Daryl Richardson. Publicly, Pead blamed the disappointing season on a feeling of constant catch-up mode, admitting his debut year was "miserable." The University of Cincinnati's late graduation prevented Pead from being around the team for the entire spring; he couldn't even practice at OTAs. According to the Rams' website, "it was during those OTAs that the Rams installed the entire offense" under then-first-year coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Pead tried to keep up via FaceTime with RBs coach Ben Sirmans, but when training camp began he was too far behind to catch up to highly impressive Richardson, let alone Jackson -- the leading rusher in franchise history.
Coming out, respected NFL Films guru Greg Cosell called Pead one of his "favorite players on film" and likened his college tape to Jamaal Charles at Texas. Cosell described Pead as "naturally quick and explosive" with "dynamic" ability and a "decisive north-south" running style.
So despite his "redshirt" rookie season and one-game suspension to open 2013, Isaiah Pead remains a highly intriguing real-life and fantasy football prospect. To supplement Pead's scant rookie-year tape, I incorporated four of his highest-profile college games into this review: vs. North Carolina State (30 touches), vs. West Virginia (24 touches), at Tennessee (16 touches), and Cincinnati's 2011 Liberty Bowl game against Vanderbilt (31 touches).
My Takeaways After Re-watching Pead's Rookie NFL Touches:
Making sweeping conclusions based on 13 touches would be irresponsible, but I thought Pead looked pretty good in extremely limited usage. He ran with aggressiveness inside the tackles and showed explosive lateral open-field elusiveness. Pead seemed to lack Richardson's burst and acceleration on perimeter runs, and wasn't as proficient at beating defenders to the edge and turning the corner as his teammate. But Pead demonstrated outstanding pad level, running very low to the ground. In football, as the saying goes, the "low man wins."
The best carry of Pead's rookie season came on first-and-ten in Week 8 against New England. Working out of the I formation, Pead accepted Sam Bradford's handoff, kicked outside off left tackle, and made two defenders miss with open-field jukes before falling forward to finish the 19-yard run. The area in which I believe Pead is superior to Richardson is his ability to add yardage to runs in space. While Richardson attacks with authority between the tackles, he is limited out in the open because his movement is somewhat straight-linish. Pead is more fluid, and runs with better shake and bake.
I also noticed Pead line up on one of his snaps at wideout, catch a screen pass, and turn upfield for a nine-yard gain in overtime against San Francisco. Again, the sample size was extremely limited, but Pead did not touch the football on a single third down. The Rams ran Pead out of the shotgun, I formation, offset I, and single-back sets. I charted six of his ten carries as inside runs, and four as outside runs, with three toss sweeps.
My Takeaways After Watching Pead's College Games:
At Cincinnati, Pead's playing personality was aggressive. He was a high-energy, competitive runner who leaned on his elusiveness to often turn what seemed surefire short gains or even losses into chunk-yardage runs. Pead is a shifty back with some similarities to LeSean McCoy. He flashed explosive hop-step and jump-cut moves in the hole with very quick feet.
Pead runs with plus burst, acceleration, and vision, and was impressive weaving through traffic because he moves so well laterally. His cutting and cutback ability could be devastating and sometimes violent. Pead is capable of changing direction without losing any upfield momentum. The combination of explosive cuts and top-notch vision made Pead a very dangerous college back.
On running plays designed to the inside, Pead showed no fear between the tackles but lacked power and ran with inconsistent physicality. Too often, he was buried at or behind the line of scrimmage because he does not run with consistent leg drive. At the NFL level, I doubt Pead will push piles or ever become an effective short-yardage runner. I didn't think he beat first contact enough. Pead had a tendency to bounce inside runs outside, but that is relatively common among college backs and he was successful doing so more often than not at Cincinnati.
I was impressed by Pead's ability to weave through traffic with smoothness while maintaining positive acceleration, and he can bounce off arm tackles. He displayed nifty feet down the sideline to stay in bounds. Pead came off as a controlled runner even though there are some improvisational elements to his playing style.
Pead was generally not very effective in the passing game, which I found disappointing. I charted 11 blitz-pickup opportunities, and Pead executed successfully on only five. Among his six blown pass-protection chances, three resulted in sacks of Bearcats quarterback Zach Collaros, including a strip-sack allowed against North Carolina State. Pead dropped two catchable passes versus Vanderbilt and had another drop against West Virginia.
Pead played in a spread offense at Cincinnati, where he ran strictly out of the shotgun. He's now two years removed from the college offense and there's no reason to hold that against him, although it did inflate Pead's opportunities to get out into space. It's been speculated the Rams will incorporate more spread concepts into their 2013 offense, so perhaps the scheme change will enhance Pead's comfort level.
My Outlook for the Rams' 2013 Backfield:
There is no question St. Louis' backfield will be a wide-open camp competition. My previous tape examinations of Daryl Richardson and rookie Zac Stacy can be found here and here. I came away most impressed by Richardson after reviewing St. Louis' three backs, but not by a significant margin. Because of his superior lateral agility, an argument could be made that Pead is the Rams' most talented all-around runner. I think Richardson is better between the tackles, has the slight edge in explosiveness, and will leave fewer yards on the field. From a fantasy football perspective, my money would be on Richardson leading the Rams in 2013 carries. But it wouldn't surprise me if Pead's role increased as the season moves along and he grabbed the lead-back reigns at some point.
It'll be a position battle to monitor closely.