The St. Louis Rams finished a respectable 17th in the league in rushing yards and 16th in the league in rushing touchdowns in 2006. While these numbers are mediocre, they did employ running back Steven Jackson, the fifth leading rusher last season with regard to yardage. Jackson also scored 13 rushing touchdowns, a sizeable figure. Thus, when the Rams drafted Rutgers University fullback Brian Leonard in the second round of the 2007 NFL Draft, the pick sent a clear message: the Rams want to limit the amount of pounding their star tailback will sustain going forward.

Why would the Rams make the move to draft Leonard? This acquisition cannot be properly understood unless it is given the backdrop of the current school of thought behind running back utility in today's NFL. The days of teams having one dominant runner are fading fast. The league's new touchdown king, San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson, had a more than capable reserve in running back Michael Turner. Likewise, the Chicago Bears, en route to a Super Bowl appearance, used a two-back set with Cedric Benson and Thomas Jones. The other Super Bowl team, the Champion Indianapolis Colts, paired running backs Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes with much success. The New Orleans Saints have running backs Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush. The Minnesota Vikings now have running backs Chester Taylor and Adrian L. Peterson. This is list is by no means exhaustive. Two quality running backs give teams depth, deceit and variety.

Thus, the Rams took their chance at molding the next terrific tandem by selecting Leonard, an undersized fullback with speed, shiftiness and guts. This has no implicit reverberations that should threaten Jackson's starting job. This move is not one that will invoke a committee situation, as well. Instead, this move can be taken as an attempt to spark an offense that has aged in recent years and is in great need of metaphorical explosion. Furthermore, Jackson, himself, has stated on numerous occasions how he would like to be involved a little less after being utilized a whopping 458 times in 2006. For the record, only Kansas City Chiefs running back Larry Johnson recorded more utilizations (483), and he finished the year with the most rushing attempts in a single season in league history!

The Rams will likely use both backs at the same time during 2007. This way, the opposing defense will have no idea who the ball will be handed to. The Rams could either go with the amazingly, athletically talented Jackson and have Leonard block for him, or they could hand the ball off to Leonard while sending Jackson as a decoy. Both players are above-average receivers as well and could be utilized in a similar manner as the backs in New Orleans, catching passes out of the backfield.

Fantasy Value
Jackson is still a bruiser. There is no chance that he will lose a considerable amount of touchdowns to Leonard. He may lose some touches, but his productivity could be expected to grow because he will be considerably fresher than ever before, having been given the chance to rest his legs at points during the game. Draft him among the top five players, in the same position as he was prior to the selection of Leonard.

The biggest area where a drop-off in Jackson's statistics may occur is with his reception totals. Logging 90 catches in 2006 surprised many, but it may be as equally surprising if he catches more than 70 passes in 2007. Leonard is a quality receiver out of the backfield, and this strength could be used accordingly.

Leonard will be worth taking a flier on. While he may be nothing more than a glorified fullback, he also may be given a special role in the Rams offense. Given the recent success of such running back dynamic duos across the league, it seems that it would behoove fantasy owners to draft Leonard in the late stages of the draft as both insurance for Jackson and as a bit of a sleeper running back in his own right.