With a such a young team, the St. Louis Rams' 2011 season might hinge on the breakout of a player. Last year, Chris Long established himself. Third-year cornerback Bradley Fletcher might be that player this year, according to some inside the Rams organization.
Quoted in Pro Football Weekly, the team insider cites Fletcher's physical attributes and a real acumen for press coverage. The report calls Fletcher "a hard, willing worker." That should be fairly obvious considering how he rehabbed from his rookie-year injury and came back much sooner than expected.
A decision to start Kevin Dockery over Fletcher against San Francisco in week 10 underscores just how important the young cornerback is to the Rams' lineup. The Rams got burned early as Dockery made Troy Smith look like Joe Montana. Smith targeted Dockery early to complete a couple of long bombs, including a 65-yard strike to Josh Morgan that was the first play of a two-play scoring drive. The Rams lost in overtime by a score of 20-23. A win that week, would have made the week 17 showdown in Seattle nothing more than a tuneup before a trip to the playoffs. Fletcher did get back in the game, and was back to his old starting spot the next week. The whole thing was a costly lesson for Fletcher and the Rams.
Cornerbacks usually take some time to develop; three years isn't an unusual time frame. Fletcher is entering his third year, after losing most of his rookie season. Fletcher has another factor in his favor: completing his recovery from a serious knee injury. Here's the source cited in the PFW report:
Normally players are in much better shape the second year after the kind of knee injury he had.