FLORHAM PARK, N.J.—On the opening night of the 2015 NFL draft in Chicago, there was no bigger curveball thrown in the first 10 picks than when the St. Louis Rams turned in their card with the name of running back Todd Gurley on it, making the still-rehabilitating University of Georgia star the league’s highest drafted rusher in three years.
Running backs aren’t supposed to crack the top 10 in today’s pass-happy NFL, especially those coming off ACL surgery roughly five months earlier. And weren’t the No. 10 Rams widely expected to be targeting an offensive tackle in the first round? Which is why veteran Rams running back Zac Stacy, at least to a degree, seemed to be speaking for all of us when he fired off that priceless one-word tweet in reaction to Gurley’s selection: "Yikes."
Has there ever been a more perfect summation from a player who just saw their place on their team’s depth chart slip a rung, quickly grasping the reality of the situation in real time? Stacy instantly knew that Gurley’s arrival might well pave the way for his departure from St. Louis, and in the end, that was exactly the case, with the Rams two days later shipping the 2013 rookie sensation to the New York Jets for a seventh round pick, No. 224 overall.
I made my way out to a Jets' OTA session this week to do a little forensic work on Stacy’s "Yikes" tweet, because let’s face it, life throws us all a few "Yikes" moments from time to time, and I loved that there was no false bravado coming from the former Vanderbilt star on the draft’s first night. Stacy did the math. He was drafted in the fifth round two years ago, 160th overall. Gurley went 10th. And still on hand in St. Louis is 2014 third-round pick Tre Mason, the former Auburn running back who went 75th overall. The odds were not in Stacy’s favor.
"It was a crazy weekend that weekend," Stacy said Wednesday afternoon, in the Jets' locker room at their spacious Atlantic Health Training Center. "It felt like draft weekend all over for me. I didn’t really think nothing of it [the tweet], but it was meant to be kind of humorous. I didn’t think it'd get the reaction it did, to tell the truth. I was just trying to be funny. At the end of the day, I should have worded it better."
Forget that. Stacy worded it succinctly and superbly. Just because some in the Twitter-sphere unsurprisingly opted to read his reaction as a salvo fired at the Rams for picking Gurley, that doesn’t lessen its beauty. "Gulp" might have worked quite well, too, but "Yikes" is one of those wonderfully descriptive words you just don’t hear enough of. Or see, in this case.
"I think I did a good job with it, because I think I got like 20,000 retweets from it," Stacy said. "So I did something right. I’m really not that big on social media."
For the record, as of Thursday morning, Stacy had 27,951 followers on Twitter, and has tweeted 9,225 times. But he did later wind up deleting his most famous tweet—which he authored at 9:15 p.m. on April 30—because so many were taking it as his indictment on the Rams' selection of Gurley.
"A lot of people from the outside looking in really didn’t get what I meant," Stacy said. "I had no bad times with the Rams. I enjoyed the time I was there and I enjoyed the organization. But as far as my career and my opportunity to play there, I think it was just limited with them drafting a running back. That’s just the bottom line. It’s astounding how people portrayed me. But I was really just trying to be funny."
That night, Stacy said he wasn’t even watching the draft. "I was actually at dinner in St. Louis," he said. "I wasn’t around any TVs. But I was expecting us to take an offensive tackle, an offensive lineman. I didn’t know what was going on. My agent [Rich Rosa] called me, and my agent was the one who told me about the pick. So I was like, 'Wow.' And then I tweeted what I thought was humorous."
Inside the Rams' front office, Stacy’s tweet wasn’t misinterpreted. "I thought it was probably fairly accurate," said St. Louis executive vice president of football operations/COO Kevin Demoff on Thursday morning. "It’s a human reaction. Anyone who knows Zac knows he’s a terrific human being. Tone and nuance don’t exist on Twitter. People’s natural inclination is to go negative and to assume the worst.
"I think we often want to penalize athletes for being real human beings. But Zac is a great kid and he didn’t mean anything negative. It was just raw emotion and it wasn’t anything like lashing out toward the team. It was just from watching his team draft a running back in the top 10. I think later on he may have regretted sharing that emotion on social media, but we as a club and as a league believe that you’ve got to understand what fans enjoy, which is authentic emotion, and reaction."
[daily_cut.nfl]The Rams, Demoff said, were determined to do right by Stacy, who was a revelation of sorts in leading the team in rushing as a rookie in 2013 with 973 yards and seven touchdowns, despite carrying the ball just once in the season’s first four games. He lost significant playing time to Mason (who finished with 765 yards and made the NFL All-Rookie team) last season, and finished with just 293 yards and a touchdown on 76 carries—174 fewer than he had in his rookie season.
According to Demoff, Stacy’s agent never had to demand or formally request a trade or Stacy’s release, as had been reported, because the Rams' phone started ringing soon after St. Louis selected Gurley.
"Going into the draft, when you’re preparing to draft a running back, you’re trying to think how it affects your offense," Demoff said. "And Zac was the player it probably most affected. He’s been such a terrific member of our team, and was a great contributor as a rookie and a strong member of our community. Coach [Jeff] Fisher’s first thought was, ‘I want to make sure Zac gets to a good place.'"
In jumping from St. Louis to New York, Stacy, 24, is going from a crowded backfield ... to another crowded backfield. But everything’s relative. The Jets are carrying five running backs at the moment, while the Rams' roster features eight rushers, topped by Gurley and Mason. New York signed ex-Patriots veteran Stevan Ridley to a multi-year deal in free agency, but he’s coming off ACL surgery. Chris Ivory led New York in rushing last season with 821 yards, but he, Bilal Powell and Daryl Richardson all are entering the final year of their contracts, as is Stacy.
"There are a lot of guys with a lot of motivation, but it’s good, because we know what’s at stake in the running backs' room," said Stacy, Vanderbilt's all-time leading rusher. "It’s a new opportunity for all of us right now, because we have a new coaching staff for the Jets, and it’s a fresh slate, a clean slate for everyone. There’s really no guaranteed spots, and I’m going to do the best I can to establish a role here."
Stacy, a compact 5'9", 224 pounds, loves what he has seen so far from offensive coordinator Chan Gailey’s running game in New York’s OTAs. "He runs an offense that allows you to run downhill, which is my running style," Stacy said. "He wants you to be versatile out of the backfield. It’s just a great opportunity for me. Not to talk about my previous team, but with all those [running backs] in the room there, as opposed to five here, just look at the odds. Which one would you choose?"
I couldn’t help but wonder if "Yikes" was really the first word that came to Stacy’s mind on draft night, or merely the first one that was suitable for public dissemination via Twitter? But he claims that was his unfiltered first reaction. Yikes, as in I have seen the future, and mine is not in St. Louis.
As of now, Stacy said, there are no plans to either trademark the word, market it as his personal catchphrase, or tattoo it on his biceps. But I’ll never hear it again without thinking of Stacy and the first round of the 2015 NFL draft.
"I’m not sure yet what I’m going to do with it," he said. "I haven’t been thinking about it a lot just yet. Who knows, maybe I’ll come up with something. It was just the first word that popped into my head. All I know is that the Twitter world loved it."