I hope all of Rams Nation and Turf Show Times had a great Thanksgiving!
Somewhere between my sheer gluttony, caring demeanor, endearing family and some good football, I had a thought: For what should we as Ram fans be thankful? Then, it hit me.
Playoffs! Wait, not yet.
Winning football! No, that's not right.
Jeff Fisher and Les Snead are now in town! There we go, but that's a given. What else?
Although few things have appeared to go well for the St. Louis Rams in recent memory, there are a several positives to look back upon and for which to be grateful. Jeff Fisher and Les Snead did not walk into an ideal situation, but, with the help of several components already in place, their job was a bit easier than it might have been.
So, here are ten reasons to say thanks to Billy Devaney, coach Steve Spagnuolo and the previous regime.
10. Quintin Mikell, Safety
Quintin Mikell isn't the Pro Bowl caliber safety that he once was in Philadelphia - he isn't even the player that he was last year - but he still serves an important role in the secondary. Though much better suited for Steve Spagnuolo's zone-blitz heavy scheme, he has fared well at times in man-coverage. Unfortunately, he has his lapses, and I need ten to make this list work.
Against the Detroit Lions in week 1, Mikell and his counterpart in crime, Craig Dahl, allowed 10 of 10 pass completions to opposing receivers. Mikell's best game on the year came in week 10 against the San Francisco 49ers, when he recorded 10 tackles and forced a fumble. He forced another fumble the following week against the Jets, which of course didn't bounce St. Louis' way, and he allowed a long completion to Jeremy Kerley late in the second half.
Set to make $6 million in 2013, most fans would agree that Quintin Mikell is grossly overpaid for the level of play that he now brings, and he will likely become a cap casualty at the end of the year because of it. For now though, he is the best safety on the team.
9. Bradley Fletcher, Cornerback
After landing on injured reserve in two of his first three seasons with knee injuries, Bradley Fletcher, a third round pick in 2009, has been healthy and active for every game in 2012.
I think some fans' high hopes for Fletcher have subsided a bit recently, but he is currently one of the best No. 3 or 4 cornerbacks in the league, giving up fewer than 21 yards per game in the first five weeks of the season.
In the final year of his rookie deal, Bradley Fletcher could be in line for a decent payday in the off season. With the addition of third round pick Trumaine Johnson, Fletcher could be viewed as expendable, and the Rams may be unwilling to make him an offer. Don't forget, rumors flooded early in the season that he was being shopped on the trade block.
8. Rodger Saffold, Left Tackle
Is he playing out of position? That's hard to say. Rodger Saffold can - at times - be one of the better LT's in football; when he isn't asked to do a whole lot. Pundits called him a steal at the top of the second round in 2010, but premier pass rushers have shown dominance over him.
In his rookie year, he thrived in pass protection, largely due to the quick-release, three-step-drop offense which Pat Shurmur deployed. That changed in his second year with Josh McDaniels' circus offense, in which his blocking assignments took on much greater significance. In year three, results are mixed. He has his ups and downs protecting the blindside, but most importantly - he must prove that he can stay on the field.
It remains to be seen how Saffold's play might be positively affected by better help on his inside, which is where surprising free agent acquisition Robert Turner will shift now that starting center Scott Wells is returning to action. Nevertheless, there is no doubting that Saffold should own a spot on this line in the future.
7. Harvey Dahl, Right Guard
Easily the best offensive lineman on the team, Harvey Dahl has been a staple that holds this makeshift unit together. After signing a 4-year, $16 million contract in 2011, he has started and survived every game while with St. Louis. Could I rest my case there?
In week 10, along with (then) center Robert Turner, Dahl made a key block up-field to allow a Steven Jackson touchdown, edging off Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman. Remember the Rams' London pounding against the New England Patriots? Dahl was the only offensive lineman to grade positively according to Pro Football Focus.
Though primarily a run blocking extraordinaire, Dahl keeps his quarterback upright as well as anyone at his position.
6. Danny Amendola, Wide Receiver
Not talented enough to get drafted, lacking the size to snag a Cowboys roster spot and not fast enough to advance to the Eagles' practice squad, Danny Amendola found a home with the Rams in 2009. He never left. The Rams were desperate for receiver help and they got lucky.
After a slow rookie start, Amendola erupted in 2010, becoming Sam Brafords's favorite target instantly. The "go-to" relationship between them should have progressed in 2011, but a week 1 injury sidelined Danny for the year. Did that put a delay on the duo's development? Not a chance.
Danny Amendola is now playing at a Pro Bowl level, averaging more than 8 receptions per full game played, and is only getting better. Unfortunately, "full game" insinuates some missed time - too much recent missed time. The player once thought of as invincible now leaves fans gasping as he struggles toward the sideline far too often, but he is the safety blanket of the offense.
Would the Rams have beaten the Redskins without Danny? Could they have tied the 49ers? In those two games alone, Amendola totaled 26 catches for 262 yards and a score. St. Louis have a big decision in the off season. The franchise tag is a last resort - and I don't anticipate negotiation problems or a holdout - but the Rams need to resign Danny Amendola.
5. Chris Long, Defensive End
While Billy Devaney wasn't promoted to general manager until December of 2008, he did serve as vice president of pro personnel when the Rams selected Chris Long second overall in 2008. (Yes, Long is the only player remaining from that draft class.) Although his development took longer than many had hoped - to the point many designated him a "bust" in his second year - Long has since cemented himself as one of the top defensive ends in the NFL.
Steve Spagnuolo was strict with Long in his first year as head coach, knocking the first-rounder down the depth chart in favor of Leonard Little and James Hall. The following season, as a full-time starter, he totaled 8.5 sacks. Then he broke out of his shell.
In 2011, Chris Long, the Pro Bowl snub, reached 13 sacks, matching his Hall of Fame father's best season total. With 8 sacks on the year, he should have no trouble notching his second double-digit season. Can he continue his ongoing trend of outdoing himself? Don't be surprised.
4. James Laurinaitis, Middle Linebacker
As the clocked ticked for 35th overall in the 2009 NFL Draft, Ram fans - desperate for upgrade on defense - more than likely had one thought on their mind: James Laurinaitis or Rey Maualuga? Enter every Ram fan's favorite 2009 NFL Draftee, the face of the team's defense and recent scapegoat - Laurinaitis. The correct choice was made.
Although he has seemingly struggled this year more than any other, James is still a stalwart of the defensivive front-7. With 92 tackles through ten games - the fifth most in the league - Laurinaitis is on pace to beat his previous outrageous total of 142 in 2011. On the other hand, he is also working towards his first season with fewer than two sacks and no interceptions. In addition, he has been caught chasing the ball-carrier - as opposed to tackling him for short gain - more than the past.
The first change in scheme may have impacted James Laurinaitis more than it should have, especially considering the upgraded supporting talent in front of him with Kendall Langford and Michael Brockers.
Coaching staffs no longer place a big precedence on the middle linebacker position when it comes to the draft, but it's still one of the hardest and most important positions to fill. The Rams are lucky to have the young, up-and-coming "Animal."
3. Robert Quinn, Defensive End
It may be premature to place Robert Quinn above Chris Long in only his second year, but you have to like the evidence available so far. It took Long four seasons to truly break out; it has taken Quinn only two. Don't forget, the Rams' first round pick in 2011 was also once thought of as a top-5 prospect before off-field and medical concerns allowed him to fall. I'll be the first to bite the bullet on this one if I'm wrong, but Quinn looks the part of a future All-Pro star.
In a similar mold of Demarcus Ware and Jason Pierre-Paul, Quinn finally gives the Rams the pure premier edge-rusher which they have been lacking, disrupting the pocket with speed and dominant power. All he currently lacks is a knack for run support.
With 8.5 sacks through 10 games - tied for eighth in the league - it's easy to imagine Robert Quinn leaving a lasting impression before the season is over. Remember his coming out party against the Arizona Cardinals in week 4? Guess who's next on the schedule.
2. Finishing with a 2-14 record in 2011
Devany's and Spagnuolo's fates were etched in stone long before they received their pink slips, and fans knew it. There are no viable excuses - injuries, schedule, lockout, new offensive system - for a 2-14 record in a regime's third year. There are, however, rewards for the beneficiary.
Jeff Fisher may have inherited a roster in shambles, but he received an assest as well, in the form of the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 draft. With his quarterback already in place, and teams chomping at the bit to find their own - with the help of a "wheeling-and-dealing" general manager - Les Snead - Fisher was able to trade that selection for more...and more.
After handing the rights to Robert Griffin III to the Washington Redskins in exchange for 2 addition first round picks and another second rounder, the Rams traded again with the Dallas Cowboys for yet another day 2 selection. As a result of such bartering, St. Louis earned not only Michael Brockers in the first, but Janoris Jenkins and Isaiah Pead, as well.
That's it? No. The Rams have yet to even begin to reap the benefits.
Four first round picks in the next two years is enough to turn around even the most humdrum of NFL franchises, and the Rams are no longer a league bottom-dweller. The team can continue to trade up, down and all around come April, and - as they have shown - may do so without hesitation.
1. Sam Bradford, Quarterback
I have been sold on Bradford since long before last week's embarrassing loss to the Jets and I'm not going to waver on that stance now. When the Rams drafted Sam first overall in 2010, it was with the intent that he would be the savior of the franchise. That plan has yet to pan out; however, it has yet to fail too.
In a first thought, he has rarely blown up the scoreboard, led a late charge by lighting a fire on the offense or been capable of capitalizing in most crucial moments. In quite another, he hasn't reealy been viewed as the cause of a loss. Sam Bradford doesn't repetitively turn the ball over, miss open receivers or walk head-down towards the sideline where his frustrated coach stares back in disbelief - a la Tony Romo and Mark Sanchez. He's a calm and collected quarterback, but, boy, can he panic in the pocket.
Statistically, Bradford is on pace to slightly top his Rookie of the Year numbers in nearly every category, including yards and touchdowns. It's hardly a revelation, but it reaffirms hope for a quarterback who is on his third offensive coordinator in as many years. What it shows is a lack in upgrade in the surrounding offensive talent from that time till now.
There's no mystery as to why Bradford's performances correlate directly to Danny Amendola's; he needs targets who can get open, catch the ball and make plays. The Rams need more players who can do just that, not to mention better talent up-front to keep Sam upright.
Sam Bradford possesses every tool needed to become an elite franchise quarterback, but only a strong ending to the season will quiet critics.
(**Disclaimer** - This is not merely a player ranking; just a broad view on impact, value, etc.)