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13 Apr 2013

State of the Team: St. Louis Rams

by Andy Benoit

The 2013 "State of the Team" articles will run daily through the NFL draft. These offer a snapshot look at a team’s roster, with players classified by color based on how they fit their role. My analysis is based on film study, not statistics, although we will try to note when my judgment differs significantly from FO's advanced stats, and explain a little bit why. Starters are in bold, and you will notice that many units are listed with 12 starters rather than just 11. This denotes the extra playing time that nickelbacks and third receivers usually get in today's NFL.

Color Legend:

  • Star
  • Good
  • Adequate
  • Jury’s still out
  • Just a guy
  • Upgrade needed
  • No longer on the team

Some players colored pink as "just a guy" are younger low-round picks who just haven't seen much playing time, but keep in mind that 99 percent of the time, there’s a negative reason why such a player has rarely seen the field.

Players colored red as "upgrade needed" are not necessarily bad players. Sometimes, this simply means the player is a decent backup who should not be starting.

Since I generally don't do analysis on special teams, those categorizations are based strictly on FO stats, with any comments written by Aaron Schatz. We're only listing kickers and punters, as most teams go into training camp without specific players set as return specialists.

Click here for an archive of all State of the Team articles.

OFFENSE

OVERVIEW

Inopportune turnovers, injuries along the offensive line and staleness at wide receiver hindered the Rams in 2012. Too often this offense struggled to maintain drives. The hope is that the signing of Jake Long can take care of the line issues. Solid pass-blocking will enable a lot of Brian Scottenheimer’s shot plays to work. The question is, Will the receivers be good enough to execute those shot plays? More importantly, will they be good enough to execute the traditional crossing patterns and intermediate outside routes that make up the meat of this system? Until these questions get answered, it’s difficult to answer the more pressing question, of, What about the quarterback?

BACKFIELD

QB: Sam Bradford, Austin Davis; Lost: Kellen Clemens

RB: Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead, Terrance Ganaway; Lost: Steven Jackson

Bradford has upper-echelon type raw arm talent. He throws with accuracy, fairly high velocity and a quick release. The key for him is honing his footwork in the pocket – particularly a muddy pocket. He made strides in this sense last season but still needs better consistency. At running back, it won’t be easy to replace Jackson, though if Pead can emerge as the player the Rams hoped for when they drafted him in the second round last year, this will be an adequate backfield. Richardson runs with some juice, showing good quickness through the hole.

RECEIVERS

WR: Brian Quick, Austin Pettis, Chris Givens, Nick Johnson; Lost: Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson, Steve Smith

TE: Jared Cook, Lance Kendricks, Corey Harkey; Lost: Matthew Mulligan

Cook is just about everybody’s “breakout star” for 2013. But just because a guy gets overpaid in free agency doesn’t mean he’s going to break out. If Cook were truly a breakout star, he would have broken out in Tennessee. Instead, he proved to be nothing more than a decent straight-line runner who is flexible enough to work the seams and middle of the field out of the slot. That’s nice but not special. Still, if you discount the inflated price tag, it made sense for the Rams to sign Cook, as Kendricks is a poor man’s Dustin Keller (meaning he’ll be more effective as a No. 2 move-oriented player) and this callow receiving corps is frighteningly low on talent. The hope is that Givens can become a speed demon, Pettis a possession target, and Quick a featured multidimensional weapon. Time will tell, but for now, it's a bleak group overall.

OFFENSIVE LINE

LT: Jake Long LG: Shelley Smith C: Scott Wells RG: Harvey Dahl RT: Rodger Saffold

Backups: OT Rokevious Watkins, OT Joe Barksdale; Lost: G Robert Turner, OT Wayne Hunter, OT Barry Richardson

Long may very well climb back up to the top of the NFL’s blindside-protector mountain, but he gets classified as “green” for now because it’s just too hard to overlook his awful 2012 campaign. Still, he was a good signing by the Rams, as it will likely upgrade their left tackle position and almost certainly stabilize them at right tackle. Inside, Wells is 32 and coming off an injury-riddled season. He has the technical savvy to continue his career, but he’s no sure thing. Smith is adequate given the guys around him, while Dahl can grind but not win many one-on-one battles of athleticism.

DEFENSE

OVERVIEW

Coaches and others within the league’s inner circles are chattering about the Rams defense. There’s a lot to like about the front seven, particularly the up-and-coming line. On the back end, safety is an obvious area of weakness, but the sting of that is nullified by a respectable cornerbacking group that’s capable of holding up in man coverage. It will be interesting to see what new coordinator Tim Walton does schematically. He has the front four fire power to run a traditional two-deep zone like he taught as the secondary coach in Detroit. However, his predecessor, Blake Williams (son of Gregg), had success mixing coverages and selectively blitzing from unexpected directions last season. In fact, the only reason Williams and his scheme weren’t retained in 2013 is the young coach was reportedly too brash and arrogant for people to bear.

DEFENSIVE LINE

DE: Chris Long, Robert Quinn, William Hayes, Eugene Sims

DT: Michael Brockers, Kendall Langford, Jermelle Cudjo; Lost: Trevor Laws

This line has the potential to overtake the Bears, Vikings or Giants as the best four-man front in the NFC. Brockers is an explosive beast against the run and pass. Quinn has unbelievable quickness and body control. Long is tenacious, polished and more athletic than people realize. Hayes and Sims are both excellent backups, capable of aligning inside or outside.

LINEBACKERS

OLB: Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Sammy Brown, _______, ______; Lost: Rocky McIntosh, Mario Haggan

ILB: James Laurinaitis, Josh Hull

Laurinaitis has blossomed into a fine three-down linebacker. All that is really keeping him from upper-echelon status is a mild lack of refinement in coverage. That could be smoothed over by midseason. Dunbar is a high-risk, high-reward run-defender. The Rams will need a sturdy force opposite him given that the teams in their division prefer to operate out of traditional 21, 12 and 22 personnel. It’s doubtful that Brown, an undrafted rookie last year, will suffice. Depth on the outside is nonexistent at this point.

SECONDARY

CB: Cortland Finnegan, Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson, _________; Lost: Bradley Fletcher

S: Darian Stewart, Rodney McLeod, Quinton Porter; Lost: Quintin Mikell, Craig Dahl

Finnegan, who was GM Les Snead’s first major free agent signing, was solid last season but didn’t make as many big plays as the Rams probably envisioned. Still, he brings great value because of his tackling plus his ability to slide inside and cover the slot. Jenkins has scintillating talent, but maturity is a major concern. So is his on-field mindset; he lost his confidence for a stretch during the middle of last season and got away from the press techniques that make him (potentially) a star. He might qualify as a "jury still out" guy because of that potential, but right now, at least, we know he's an adequate No. 2 corner. Johnson, a third-round pick a year ago, is being counted on to replace the iffy Fletcher as the No. 3. Stability is important there because there’s no telling what the Rams will get at safety. Stewart is a good box player, but he didn’t warrant fulltime snaps last season. McLeod is an unknown.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Greg Zuerlein; P: Johnny Hekker

Like Sebastian Janikowski, Zuerlein changes offensive strategy with his leg strength, but he did also miss two field goals within 40 as a rookie. Hekker also had a solid rookie season.

Follow @Andy_Benoit
e-mail andy@footballoutsiders.com

Posted by: Andy Benoit on 13 Apr 2013

21 comments, Last at 17 Apr 2013, 4:07pm by Christopher G

Comments

1
by BJR :: Sat, 04/13/2013 - 4:53pm

It's quite amazing that receiver has been such a glaring need for the Rams for at least the past 3 years, yet they have made no concerted effort to improve the position either in free agency, or at the top of the draft. And given this situation, its probably fair to say that the jury is still out on Bradford.

2
by justanothersteve :: Sat, 04/13/2013 - 7:20pm

The Rams used the #33 pick of the draft (first pick of the second round) on Quick last year. They also drafted a WR in round 4. In 2011, they drafted Pettis and Salas in rounds 3 and 4 with consecutive picks. They also drafted Kendrick in Round 2 that year. That's a fair number of picks for a team with a lot of needs. They may not have the talent level of the 49ers or Seahawks. They are still significantly better than they were two years ago.

3
by dbostedo :: Sat, 04/13/2013 - 9:33pm

"Long is ... more athletic than people realize."

I also heard he was deceptively fast.

4
by Guest789 :: Sun, 04/14/2013 - 12:19am

Smart too, and a real hard worker.

-----

“Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be, and he will become what he should be.”

5
by commissionerleaf :: Sun, 04/14/2013 - 10:13am

One scout describes him as "scrappy".

7
by herewegobrowniesherewego (not verified) :: Sun, 04/14/2013 - 11:45am

Proven winner, too, just as we all expected Colt McCoy to be. ;)

6
by Theo :: Sun, 04/14/2013 - 11:44am

I like descriptions WHY he is athletic (or tenacious and polished) better: "he chases the play a lot" or "never over pursuits on outside containment" or "plays with a low pad level" or "drops into a zone well when asked for".

"Long is tenacious, polished and more athletic than people realize." tells me nothing

9
by Will :: Sun, 04/14/2013 - 3:14pm

Sure it does - it tells you he is white.

Will

8
by Jonathon (not verified) :: Sun, 04/14/2013 - 11:50am

I am glad I'm not the only one who read that sentence twice and gave a little eye roll.

10
by Christopher G (not verified) :: Sun, 04/14/2013 - 5:31pm

I have to laugh at the Rams for only having one blue player given they traded away the opportunity to draft a QB who will in the future be a blue, if he is not already (RGIII). Also had they kept the number 2 selection in last year's draft and dealt Bradford to say, Cleveland, they could have drafted another blue in USC tackle Matt Kalil. This would have partially resolved the Rams' ongoing woes at offensive line and they would not have had to acquire Jake Long in free agency this year. I think Andy is being generous giving Jake Long a green rating, I have difficulty accepting that he is still a good left tackle after last season. I also agree with Marshall Faulk's assessment that franchise left tackles do not simply pop up onto the open market. I doubt Long will be the second coming of Orlando Pace.

RGIII and Kalil, or Bradford and Jake Long? To me, it's a no brainer.

12
by justanothersteve :: Mon, 04/15/2013 - 12:43pm

I live in St Louis. There were a lot of local fans who thought the Rams should do just that. Problem was, they wouldn't have gotten much for Bradford. He was from the last draft class before the current CBA was signed, so he has a huge contract (I think for seven years) as an overall #1 pick. They might have gotten a second round pick, but a third was more likely. (You're dreaming if you think Cleveland would have given up the overall #3 pick for him.) They would never have been in a position to draft both RGIII and Kalil.

They would also have had to roll the remainder of Bradford's signing bonus money into last year's cap if he'd been traded. I don't know what the Rams cap situation was last year (I'm a Packers fan and don't follow the Rams closely), but they probably couldn't have signed Finnegan and a couple of their other FAs.

Plus, the Rams needed players at a number of positions. The Rams were able to trade the Washington pick to Dallas for even more picks. They were still able to draft Brockers in the first round, and with three second round picks they could afford to gamble on a talent like Jenkins. They also still have Washington's #1 pick this year.

RGIII and Donald Stephenson, or Bradford and Jake Long. It's a tough question. It's certainly not the slam dunk you postulate.

14
by Dean :: Mon, 04/15/2013 - 2:20pm

I also live in STL, and if anything, you're understating the case. Not only would the Rams have not had the ammunition to sign free agents, but their only two good (at the time) defensive players - Chris Long and Laurenitis - would have had to be released in order to soak up the cap hit that would have come from releasing Bradford.

The real "trade" is Griffin and Stephenson or Bradford, Long, Laurenitis, Long, Finnigan, Brockers, Jenkins and this year's #1.

It really comes down to Griffin needing to be a Hall of Famer in order for Washington to really get the better of this trade. If the skins don't fuck him up - and I wouldn't bet on that - it's most likely going to be a win/win situation.

18
by Christopher G (not verified) :: Tue, 04/16/2013 - 4:47pm

"It really comes down to Griffin needing to be a Hall of Famer in order for Washington to really get the better of this trade. If the skins don't fuck him up - and I wouldn't bet on that - it's most likely going to be a win/win situation."

I think if you were going to give grades on the trade thus far, the 'skins definitely got the better of the trade. You make a good point that Griffin could flame out due to his size and style of play but I think (and hope) Shanahan will manage him better in the future and he will have a great career.

The other way St Louis could lose this trade is if Bradford turns out to be a bust. Yes, perhaps Bradford turns out to be a Matt Hasselbeck-calibre QB, good not great, but if the Rams do not improve over the next two seasons, the sword will fall on Bradford's head.

11
by Justanotherguy (not verified) :: Sun, 04/14/2013 - 5:40pm

The comments on this page really struck my funny bone...very classic...yet timeless...reminds me of the gallows humor that used to reside on freep when the Lions were so dreadful. Thanks for the belly laughs!

13
by QW (not verified) :: Mon, 04/15/2013 - 1:24pm

I remain of the belief that STL should have drafted RG3 and gotten whatever they could for Bradford.

Yes, Bradford has not exactly had an abundance of talent around him but there is also nothing special about him. He is not close to a playmaker type QB, doesn't have a hugely strong arm, and even his accuracy seems shaky at times. We won't even mention the value in removing his contract long term from their books.

I'm of the belief that QB is so vital that if you do not have a Star or better QB that your team is at a significant competitive disadvantage and that therefore you do whatever it takes to acquire one. Passing on a prospect who could become a Vick/Maning Hybrid (some hyperbole maybe but still) because you have a QB who best case scenario has a Ceiling of being Matt Hasselbeck is very questionable. Yes by trading the picks they got more picks but I'll be shocked if they make up for the difference in QB play.

It was obvious that Fisher is pursuing a win as quickly as possible approach so it was a given that STL was keeping Bradford, but I think it was Fisher more trying to look after his immediate interests and not wanting to wait on building around a rookie

15
by Dean :: Mon, 04/15/2013 - 2:21pm

If this were true - it's not, but theoretically if it were - why would Jeff Fisher have taken the Rams job in the first place?

16
by QW (not verified) :: Mon, 04/15/2013 - 8:43pm

Except it is true. As for Fisher, who cares. Let's pretend that Fisher so loves mediocre QBs that he only agrees if they keep Bradford. STL is better off with RG3 + another coach than with Bradford + picks + Fisher

17
by justanothersteve :: Tue, 04/16/2013 - 9:42am

You're missing the point. RGIII has a much better cast around him in DC than he would have had in St Louis. The Rams, despite drafting pretty high recently, had very little talent. This was especially true on offense where Amendola was the best WR and the running game was ineffective as even teams with bad secondaries could play single coverage. Jackson and the rookie backs regularly faced 8 in the box. RGIII wouldn't have made it to midseason behind that OL. There is a good chance RGIII would be David Carr II after a couple seasons behind that sieve.

Hasselback turned into a pretty decent QB. He got Seattle to the Super Bowl. Is Bradford going to be the highlight reel of RGIII? No. But he looks like he could still be a decent QB. I still think the trade was one of those rare win/win trades.

21
by Christopher G (not verified) :: Wed, 04/17/2013 - 4:07pm

You say this trade is a rare win/win trade but that ignores that the Rams winning this trade requires Bradford to turn into a good QB. People will forgot about the haul of draft picks the Rams acquired if Bradford turns out to be a bust. If Bradford turns out to be a bust, all the pundits will remember is that St Louis shut the door on drafting one of the best QB prospects in years, so they could keep their mediocre QB.

Rams fans think that the trade for the 2nd pick was like the Herschel Walker trade all over again, at this stage it appears not to be. The only way it will be comparable to the Walker trade is if RGIII flames out, Bradford transforms into a franchise-calibre QB and the Rams use the picks they got to draft not just good players (like Darren Woodson in the Walker trade), but great players (like Emmitt Smith in the Walker trade). The Rams have used their picks on some good players - Brockers is certainly good, Jenkins has a high ceiling, however they are yet to draft that sort of player who turns out to be a home run of a pick. Who knows, perhaps the Rams find that star in this year's draft? I do have my doubts however about Bradford turning into a franchise-calibre QB and RGIII flaming out. I am yet to see any substantial sort of improvement on Bradford's part throughout his three years in the NFL. Perhaps this will change with an improved O line. On the other hand, I expect RGIII to make a full recovery from his injury and turn into one of the best QBs in the NFL.

19
by commissionerleaf :: Tue, 04/16/2013 - 8:30pm

I don't understand the QB ratings. I'm mostly in agreement about the other positions, but the QB ratings get to me.

Flacco is blue? Sanchez is Just a Guy? Bradford is solid? Solidly what? Solidly driven into the turf twice a game whether he needs it or not? Bradford has a lower career QB rating than:

Shaun Hill
Matt Cassel
Tarvaris Jackson
Michael Vick
Jon Kitna
Jake DelHomme

The only person with a starting job in the NFL that was not a rookie last season who has a lower career QB rating is Mark Sanchez.

20
by Tim R :: Wed, 04/17/2013 - 6:16am

I thought Bradford was fairly solid last year with very few weapons, particularly when Amendola went down, and behind a shaky line.

His rookie year was fairly promising and last year when he was poor he was played with basically no weapons and behind an atrocious line as well as being banged up for half the games he did play.

I think he needs to show improvement this year as the line looks improved but he could still do with some improvement at WR.