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.
- 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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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