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In this weekly column, I typically explore some young players who haven’t made much of a consistent impact to date on their fantasy football teams. Some players may be available on your waiver wire, some may be available via a cheap or stacymoderate trade. Acquiring or not acquiring one of these players could decide how well your dynasty or keeper team does for the next few years.  This week I decided to watch the St. Louis Rams second year running backs Zach Stacy and Bennie Cunningham in action against Tampa Bay.  I own either Stacy, Cunningham, and/or Tre Mason in three leagues with a desire to understand what is going on.

Zach Stacy, RB, St. Louis- Last year’s former 5th round pick did not play any meaningful snaps until Week five last season.  From Week Five thru the end of the 2013 season, the former Vanderbilt runner averaged 3.9 yards per carry, two catches per game, and scored eight touchdowns.  Stacy is a strong hard-nosed runner, who does not have much wiggle.  If last year taught the fantasy community anything, it was that Stacy was perhaps a Rudi Johnson clone.  What I mean by that is, the young runner won’t impress you with his athletic skills, but he takes care of the football, doesn’t lose yardage and will get what the offensive line blocks for him.  Because Stacy isn’t dynamic, the Rams are willing to open up the door to the possibility of a committee at running back.

After watching the game against the Bucs on Sunday, I have no qualms about stating that Stacy is the unquestioned starter in St. Louis.  The most important points to that fact are that he got the lion’s share of the carries and when the ball got knocked out of his hands in the third quarter, Stacy came back into the game the very next series with seemingly zero hesitation from Coach Fisher.  The runner gets low, powers through the line of scrimmage, almost savoring the contact.  He moves with very little wiggle or misdirection, instead preferring to break tackles and slam into defenders.  Stacy does well to keep his legs chopping, leaning forward, while trying to squeeze every inch from each handoff to the whistle.  This back has a nose for the end zone, and is willing to carry multiple defenders on his back to get there.  On the rare occasions the back finds himself in space, he gets a little burst to his step.  There is nothing fancy about the blunt force trauma that Stacy delivers.  I like him as a fantasy RB2 or flex option as Tre Mason is not ready yet.  This is evident by Mason’s zero touches so far in 2014.

Benny Cunningham, RB St. Louis- This second year runner from Middle Tennessee State was a free agent pickup for the Rams last year.  Cunningham performed well every time he received at least eight touches: 90 combined yards in Week 10 and 109 yards with a touchdown in Week 12.  It wasn’t hard to imagine that production considering in his four games as a college senior where he carried at least 10 times, Cunningham generated 566 yards with 11 touchdowns (two or more in each game).  With another season to get stronger, it might seem that Cunningham might be a better lead back than Stacy.

After viewing the game against the Buccaneers, things are a lot clearer.  Cunningham is more explosive, possesses quicker feet, and is a lot shiftier than Stacy with significantly less power.  The second year back is a better third down back with his soft hands and superior pass blocking skills.  The truth is he struggled running inside when things weren’t blocked well, which is where Stacy flourishes. I hate to use the word finesse, but that is what Cunningham looked like.  The runner looked good lining up in the slot and might be closer to a Shane Vereen kind of back than anything else.  Until the Rams acquire an upper tier quarterback, I have my doubts that Cunningham will be anything other than a low-end fantasy handcuff.

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