Editor's note: Remember, in this series, no rookies are being considered.
"Elite" status is something that's eluded the players for the St. Louis Rams. Crowned by the media more than their NFL colleagues, the team wallowed as a loser for so long, everyone stopped looking at the Rams' players. Steven Jackson was the only player to get much respect over the last 8 years. But that's all changed, and the Rams now have a cloud of players who deserve both respect and mention for 2013. This is the toughest of the four NFC West to make a "Big Year" player choice, and for the first time in years it isn't due to overall mediocrity. Rams fans, this team is brimming with talent. Drool if you must - and I must - but the 2013 season is going to be a great time to be a Rams fan...
So how do you pick from a group of players, most of whom seem on the verge of "break out", or even elite status?Using a dart board may be as accurate as any choice I could make based on statistics. The defense is stocked with players who could tip over the elite edge. Chris Long and Cortland Finnegan are already breathing the rarefied air of top players at their positions. Robert Quinn is being compared the the New York Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul. James Laurinaitis is constantly at, or near, the top of tackles-made lists, and Jo-Lon Dunbar had a career year in 2012.
The offensive side of the ball offers tantalizing questions, instead of the groans of the last few years. Sam Bradford has a whole slew of new weapons, and possibly the best offensive line he's had in his 4 year career. While it's hard to point to any one person on the offense, a case could be made for the offensive line as a unit to be consider for "Big Year" potential. To me though, it's going to be a second year kid out of Wake Forest who'll be taking the next step up. Chris Givens showed he can play at the NFL level last season, and looks to have untapped potential.
So as I break out my dart board, and hit my cat with the first throw (Note to self: Buy Kitty treats and sleep with a hockey mask on for the next week), I can't help but think Givens and Janoris Jenkins are the two Rams players who could have a "Big Year".
Givens turned a rookie year into something exciting to see. The deep ball returned to St. Louis, and he's the reason. Taking the top off defenses had eluded the Rams since the days of Tory Holt and Isaac Bruce. Averaging 16.6 yards per catch, Givens had 42 receptions for 698 yards and 3 touchdowns. Expect those number to scream skyward in 2013, but he'll have to tip his hat to rookies Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey for drawing in coverage. I think the most lethal combo the Rams will have this season won't be the WVU duo. It will be newly acquire tight end/wide receiver Jared Cook and Givens. When they line up on the same side of the line, there will be fireworks coming your way. I look for Chris Givens to break the 1000 yard receiving barrier, and he'll add in the neighborhood of 10 touchdowns too. If the offensive line stays healthy, his numbers could easily hit the 1200 yard range.
Janoris Jenkins started out 2012 with both sparks and a few thuds. He was forced to "learn on the go" as a rookie, and was caught in the headlights of the NFL on quite a few plays. His 2013 season depends on how head coach Jeff Fisher sorts out the team's safety issues. If the Rams find someone who can give Jenkins the confidence he has help over the top, we'll see the once-upon-a-time, red flag draft choice hit new heights in both passes defended and interceptions. He has all the tools to be a "shutdown corner back" in the NFL, and 2013 is when he makes his case.
My choice for "Big Year" player for the St. Louis Rams: Chris Givens
It would be Jenkins in a heartbeat if the Rams had the safety issues solved. Givens is in a crowded field at wide receiver, and his teammates will be screaming for Bradford to throw it their way. But when I consider all the Rams offensive weapons, the fact Givens has had a year to sync up with Sam Bradford seals the deal. Without Danny Amendola, Bradford will search for his new "guy" - the one he'll default to 4 or 5 seconds after the ball is snapped. The fact that Givens makes a living down field, will only further whet the strong armed Bradford's appetite.