Hello everyone! This is my first post on Turf Show Times. I have enjoyed reading for some time so I thought I might contribute to the discussions a bit. I love watching the Rams play football, but really enjoy the off season of free agency and the draft as well, so this is the topic of my first post. Hope you enjoy.
In a few months, we'll begin the 3rd year of the massive overhaul and rebuild that Jeff Fisher and Les Snead have implemented. So far, as we all know, they have taken literally one of the worst teams in the history of the NFL and make it competitive and even pretty dang good on the right week, as we saw last Sunday. However, we also know there are still a few things to iron out. Fisher and Snead have proven to be, for the most part, savvy in their off season activities and we should not expect this coming off season to be any different. They are obviously committed to young players and developing them with their coaching staff, particularly at certain positions.
Ultimately, I believe the biggest positive from this off season will come from the fact that our young players (i.e. most of the team) will have another year (or their first) of NFL experience under their belt and a full off season with professional trainers, doctors, coaches, etc.
That said, the team can be improved through free agency and the draft. I have thoroughly enjoyed watching the process, as Fisher refers to it, unfold and happen before our eyes. As you have all seen, the process includes being aggressive in free agency and the draft, but only for the right players. Snead and the scouting department really seem to know what they are doing in terms of identifying talent. Obviously all organizations will have hits and misses, but the Rams front office certainly seems to have more of a plan and confidence, especially when comparing them to past Rams leadership regimes.
As Rams fans, we have struggled through some horrible, and occasionally un-watchable, times together. However, we finally have a GM and a head coach that we can trust to make good personnel decisions. This doesn't mean we are not allowed to speculate and offer ideas about how the Rams can improve this off season!
I'll list some of my ideas below and look forward to reading yours in the comments.
First of all, I'd like to preface these suggestions by saying I am believer in Bradford and think Fisher and Snead will stick with his as the started next season.
Secondly, I don't live in the St. Louis area, so unfortunately I am not bale to watch all the games in their entirety every week. I follow along as best I can and read about and catch the highlights of the games I miss, although I realize this is not the same as watching the games live. So forgive me if my analysis or ideas a not aligned with what you have seen in the games.
I will go through the roster by position, indicating either free agency or draft where I see fit. I am no expert, just a fan. So again, please forgive me if I mock a guy too soon or in a round you feel he may be unavailable. It's all speculation at this point anyway. A lot can happen between now and the draft and free agency.
I am unsure about the compensation picks from losing Danny Amendola and Steven Jackson in free agency, but I have heard that they will probably be one 4th round pick and one 5th round, so for the purpose of what follows, I will give the Rams an extra 4th and 5th round pick.
Even though Bradford will be the QB in 2014, I think his contract will be extended this off season. I'm not going to get into speculating contract numbers and the salary cap and all that, but I do think that they will extend Bradford, unless Bradford is not willing to agree to a contract coming off his ACL injury and wants a year to try to earn a bit more money and longer contract.
I think the Rams eventually resign Kellen Clemens, especially if the Rams win a few more games this year. He's proven to be a capable back up, although unspectacular. Regardless of his talent, he knows the offense and will compete. That's about as much as you can ask from a back up QB.
Although the Rams have a starter (Bradford) and back up (Clemens) in this scenario, I'd like to see them take a developmental/project QB in the draft this year. While some may see it as a wasted pick, I believe it is a worthwhile investment if the right guy is picked of course. There is always an NFL team in need of a QB, so even if we develop him and trade him away later for a pick, the pick was worthwhile in my opinion. I've seen AJ McCarron's name thrown around quite a bit. I like that idea. Ultimately, I want a proven winner. McCarron, Aaron Murray, Derek Carr, Jordan Lynch, David Fales, Bryce Petty, etc. I'd like to see a QB drafted as early as the 3rd round, but I think Fisher and Snead will not be able to resist the temptation to address other needs or improve depth elsewhere, so lets call it a 4th round pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
2014 QBs: Sam Bradford, Kellen Clemens, 4th round draft pick
Zac Stacy has certainly established himself as the lead back. Isaiah Pead has been a disappointment. Daryll Richardson is talented, particularly as a receiver out of the backfield, but limited in terms of pounding the ball up the middle and being a true workhorse. Benny Cunningham has potential. Chase Reynolds plays well on special teams and has a ton of heart.
I see RB as one of the positions that doesn't get addressed much this off season. Unless Pead plays really well on special teams (better than Reynolds) for the rest of the year, stops getting stupid penalties, or somehow establishes himself as the kick returner without fumbling, he is probably gone. He may get one more shot next year, but he certainly seems to be on the roster bubble watch for next year. I think he ultimately wins the special teams role, with the added benefit of the potential as a ball carrier that made him a second round pick.
2014 RBs: Zac Stacy, Daryl Richardson, Benny Cunningham, Isaiah Pead
One of the youngest positions on the Rams roster. The wide receivers have have absolutely taken a ton of the blame over the years, and a lot of it was deserved. However, receiver is a very difficult position to adjust to in the NFL and ours are all so young. I think/hope they will all continue to improve and take a leap forward next year, but I said the same thing before this year. This is one of the positions I'd love to see the Rams address in free agency. Some upcoming veteran free agents include Hakeem Nicks, Eric Decker, Jeremy Maclin, James Jones, and Anquan Boldin. All will be too expensive for the Rams unless they cut, restructure some contacts, or certain veterans take a pay cut. I think when all is said and done, the front office works their magic and signs either Eric Decker or Jeremy Maclin by reworking the deals of Cortland Finnegan, Hervey Dahl, Scott Wells, and Kendall Langford. Realistically, I see the Rams most likely signee as Maclin. He is coming off an injury, so he will likely be more affordable than other free agent wide receivers. When healthy though, he has proven to be a reliable weapon for the Eagles and would be a great addition to the Rams as well. Added bonus: he went to college at Missouri, so coming back to the state may be a selling point in free agency.
I was excited about the signing of Jared Cook in the off season, but hasn't lived up to the hype so far. I like the Cook/Lance Kendricks combo in theory. Cory Harkey is a nice piece to have as blocker out of the back field. He is developing as a pass catcher too. Cook is really more of a receiver/mismatch player, which is why I see the Rams drafting a young TE, particularly a big, good blocker with receiving potential. Let's say they use one of their 5th round picks, trying to find a diamond in the rough.
2014 TEs: Jared Cook, Lance Kendricks, Cory Harkey, 5th round pick
Jake Long is locked in at LT for the foreseeable future, which is a good thing. The rest of the offensive line is solid and has played above my expectations this year, but has question marks throughout. I think we can all agree Chris Williams is not the long term answer at guard, although I do love his versatility. Scott Wells provides leadership and has played well this year, particularly in pass blocking, but has a pretty high salary. Tim Barns is ok, but I think the long term solution at center is Barrett Jones. He is also versatile and can play any of the three interior positions, and probably either tackle spot in a pinch, but is most likely best suited for center. That most likely leave Tim Barns off the roster either next year or in 2015, depending on the development of Jones and how his foot heals. Shelley Smith is a decent back up. Harvey Dahl probably is one of the better teammates on the Rams and they should do all they can to make sure he stays wit the team, even if it means a different contract or as a back up. He is getting up there in age, so the Rams should look to address this position for the future. That answer may be found in Rodger Saffold. I think he ultimately returns on a shorter deal since he won't find the deal he is looking for elsewhere because of his injury history. If he continues to play well at guard, I'd like to see him remain there long term and leave Joe Barksdale at right tackle, assuming he keeps developing and turning in solid performances as well. I think the Rams should take a guard fairly early in the draft. They need some youth on the line and there is quite a bit of talent in the draft, as far as I can tell. I'd like to see them snag a guard in the second round, and let the returners and rookie fight for the starting spot. The strengths of the Rams line is the versatility of several of the players to play multiple positions, as I will indicate with an asterisk.
2014 OL: Jake Long, Joe Barksdale, Rodger Saffold*, Harvey Dahl, Scott Wells, Barrett Jones*, 2nd round pick (G), Chris Williams*, Shelly Smith*
The Rams defensive line is fun to watch. Robert Quinn is finally starting to get some recognition around the league, Chris Long is a warrior, Michael Brockers flashes tremendous potential and is a massive human being, which is nice when you a defensive lineman, and Kendall Langford is really coming into his own as a defensive tackle in a 4-3 defense. Jermelle Cudjo is a capable back up, as is Matt Conrath. William Hayes is an excellent back up and would start for a lot of other teams. Eugene Sims is a solid piece as well, and George Selvie flashed potential in the preseason. While the defensive line is a strengths of the Rams, I see them trying to bolster it even more through the draft. While it is tempting to assign another first round pick here, I'd rather see the Rams take a DT in the 3rd round, and address other defensive needs with the first round picks. A lower tier free agent, ideally a big, run-stuffing type, would be great here too. Again, the Rams have a great deal of versatility of their defensive line.
2014 DL: Chris Long, Robert Quinn, William Hays, Eugene Sims, Michael Brockers, Kendall Langford, Jermelle Cudjo, 3rd round pick, free agent
James Laurinaitis is an invaluable leader and good linebacker. Alec Ogletree has shown he can be a great player in the NFL one day. Jo-Lonn Dunbar is fun to watch and brings an attitude to the defense, but is a liability on passing downs, which is quite often in the NFL these days, so he doesn't see as much of the field as he maybe should. Will Witherspoon is solid veteran who provides depth. Darren Bates is a special teams stand out, as it Ray-Ray Armstrong. Armstrong has shown more potential to be an every down linebacker opposite Ogletree. I was tempted to use one of the Rams first round picks here as well, but I didn't because of Armstrong. I see the Rams using their 4th round pick on a LB for depth and to perhaps groom as the heir apparent to Laurinaitis. I could also see them either bringing back Witherspoon, or a different veteran to have a locker room presence and provide depth.
2014 LBs: James Laurinaitis, Alec Ogletree, Ray-Ray Armstrong, Jo-Lon Dunbar, Darren Bates, free agent (veteran), 4th round pick
The Rams have an intriguing group of corners. Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson have shown enormous potential, but have also looked very young at times. Cortland Finnegan has been disappointing this year, but still provides leadership, attitude, and sticks his nose in run support, making tackles all over the field. Brandon McGee is valuable for special teams and could develop into a solid corner. This is where I'd like to see the Rams use one of their first round picks. If the Rams can find the right guy to solidify their cornerbacks, it would be incredible for the defense as a whole. Finnegan could play the slot corner or even safety perhaps. Johnson has potential at safety as well. Again, the recurring theme on the Rams is versatility. In the pass-happy NFL, the Rams will need corners who can cover, but also big enough to compete and tackle in the powerful NFC West with the likes of Frank Gore and Marshawn Lynch. Also, Jenkins and Johnson have both had off the field issues. They have been great overall so far in terms of their character, but it one slips, it is important to have a sufficient replacement. A first round pick, ideally, does just that.
2014 CBs: Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson, Cortland Finnegan, 1st round pick, Brandon McGee
Another often critiqued position on the Rams. TJ McDonald looked like an above average in the box safety/linebacker hybrid, and was actually playing decent in coverage before his injury. Darian Stewart and Matt Giordano are ok backups. Rodney McLeod is above average, but would be an excellent back up/specialist. I'd love to see the Rams grab a ball-hawking safety with their other first round pick. I think this would provide a good balance in the secondary and allow the defensive line to get a few more coverage sacks as well. I wouldn't mind seeing them pick up another safety in he 5th round either.
2014 S: TJ McDonald, 1st round pick, Rodney McLeod, Darian Stewart, 5th round pick
So that is what I am thinking at the moment. Again, these are just my opinions at the moment and will likely change before the draft, but I love to think into the future about how to improve the Rams. 2 first rounders in the secondary may seem drastic, but looking at the positives, they may be the final pieces in an excellent defense. The offense could be addressed in free agency with a couple additions as I showed if the salary cap allows with restructures and what not.
Until then, looking forward to hearing your opinions in the comments and cheering on the Rams (and whoever is playing the Redskins) for the rest of the season!