ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis Rams thought enough about Zac Stacy's potential that they traded their last two draft picks to ensure they landed the Vanderbilt career rushing leader in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
These days, Stacy is playing like a premium pick instead of No. 160 overall for an offense that has ditched high-flying aspirations for grinding out drives. He has been the key to a running game that's finally gotten revved up with consecutive 100-yard games, and is second among rookies with 475 yards rushing and a 4.6-yard average.
"From the moment that Zac Stacy took over that No. 1 spot, he's been a great weapon for us," said quarterback Kellen Clemens, also a replacement starter. "We're lucky to have him. He's stepped up in a big way."
The Rams (3-6) think enough of his work that he's one of three players pictured on the cover of this week's game release book.
When Daryl Richardson was sidelined with a foot injury, the 5-foot-8, 216-pound Stacy seized the opportunity. He runs low to the ground, makes decisive cuts and has a bit of a bowling ball physique that makes it tough to haul him down.
"It just comes down to taking advantage of opportunities," Stacy said. "Week-in and week-out we stress being detailed."
Stacy broke three tackles on a key 32-yard run that led to the tying touchdown late in last week's loss to the Titans.
"It was a great run," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "He's a very instinctive runner, he's a smart runner."
Fisher's blueprint for his second season with the Rams was all about speed, dazzling foes and going vertical. Now, much like during his years with Tennessee, the profile is power running combined with play-action passes.
Stacy got his first career start in Week 5 against Jacksonville and began producing immediately with 78 yards on 14 carries, leading the Rams to their first 100-yard day as a team of the season. He piled up 134 yards on 26 carries two weeks ago against Seattle's top-notch defense, and followed up with 127 yards in 27 carries, the Rams' first two rushing touchdowns of the year and 178 total yards rushing and receiving against the Titans.
"Just making plays, that's what it all comes down to," Stacy said. "Week-in and week-out we stress making plays all across the offense. There's no secret sauce to what I'm doing, just making plays."
The Rams could utilize more of the bench this week.
Third-string tight end Mike McNeill figures to see his first extended action this week, moving up with Lance Kendricks nursing a broken right middle finger. Kendricks was hurt diving for a ball in the end zone late in the Titans game.
"Mike's a solid player," Clemens said. "Lance Kendricks, those are big shoes to fill, but Mike will step up in a big way for us and we look forward to having him."