Taking a break from the bots filling in for NFC West blogger Mike Sando, who had the audacity to take a vacation, Matt Williamson of ESPN and Scouts, Inc. rolled out a list of the top 15 players in the division. The top five was completely absent of any players from the St. Louis Rams. More shocking to some was that Rams RB Steven Jackson failed to make the cut at all, not even among the top 15 players in the bloody NFC West. Let's discuss.
Here's the list, starting with 1-5:
1. WR Larry Fitzgerald
2. LB Patrick Willis
3. DE Justin Smith
4. TE Vernon Davis
5. DE Chris Clemons
6. DT Aubrayo Franklin
7. DT Brandon Mebane
8. OT Russell Okung
9. LB James Laurinaitis
Laurinaitis is improving rapidly. He is already a fixture in the middle of the Rams' defense and has the intelligence and toughness to lead for years to come. He is still developing as a coverage linebacker, but he isn't a liability. Laurinaitis is exceptional against the run. He is quick to diagnose and wastes little time getting to the ball carrier. Fred Robbins (who nearly made this list) does deserve an assist here, because he was great on the interior in front of Laurinaitis last season.
10. OG Mike Iupati
11. DE Chris Long
Long really took a step forward last season. In fact, I might have him a little low. Long is a much better athlete than he is given credit for, and his motor runs hot all game long. Although he doesn't post high tackle numbers, he is very solid against the run and can hold the point of attack. He really improved versus the pass last season and got after the quarterback with much more regularity. He is the perfect base end to complement the potentially dynamic first round pick Robert Quinn for years to come. I could also see Steve Spagnuolo increasing Long's role and using him as he did Justin Tuck in New York, with Long lining up over a guard on throwing downs
12. DT Darnell Dockett
13. RB Frank Gore
14. DE Calais Cambell
15. LB David Hawthorne
Ok, obviously I have issues with the players and the order. Not totally. It's hard to argue that Patrick Willis isnt one of the most talented players in the division, if not the NFL. James Laurinaitis will get there, but after just two years in the league, it's too soon to be on Willis' level.
However, the biggest issue I have is that the list if based on a mix of potential and actual results through these players' careers. Okung is an extremely talented tackle, but wasn't on the field much as a rookie last year due to injuries.
As far as the issue of Steven Jackson goes, Williamson said this on Twitter yesterday:
Getting killed for S-Jax as 16th best in NFCW Declining football player: Not the same burst. Just happens quick to RBs
When you watch the games again, it's hard to argue with that sentiment. Injury or otherwise, Jackson just doesn't have the same umph that he used to...when the Rams were leaning on him to carry a terrible team. The personnel issues created by the old front office and what did to SJ39 are worthy of trial in the Hague for crimes against humanity.
When I asked Williamson about Rams players on the list after the 2011 season, he said Bradford should easily be a top five guy. We agree.
As much as I hate to admit it, Vernon Davis probably does deserve a relatively high ranking; the guy has skills. Fitzgerald at No. 1 I can also buy; he's become a standard of measurement for incoming NFL receivers.
The pass rushers I don't know about. Justin Smith is considered by many to be a top pass rusher (though the Rams did a good job limiting the damage he did last year). Can Chris Long be as good as Smith? I think the addition of Robert Quinn will help Long tremendously, as Williamson agrees, taking some of the focus off him. Chris Clemons? He was kind of a journeyman until Seattle nabbed him last year. He got to the Rams for 2.5 sacks, but we'll see if he's still on this list next year. Note the combination of speed and power with Clemons; that's what you'll hear about Quinn too.
Ok, the floor is open...make your case for which Rams players were underrated, left out, etc.