How soon is now? Projecting when the Rams' will be

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

There’s been a fair amount of talk around whether the Rams can be a contender in 2013. I’ve thought for a while that the Rams aren’t really there yet, but we probably should be getting there quite soon, and we might be able to stay there for a good while. So I decided to have a look at the roster, and see whether the composition of our squad backs this up.

First off, the method: I’ve gone through the current roster and identified guys who I think are, or can easily project to be, starters or key contributors, either right now or in years to come. I’ve come up with 17 on offense (Bradford; Pead, Richardson, Stacy; Givens, Quick, Austin, Bailey, Pettis; Cook, Kendricks; Long, Watkins, Wells, Dahl, Saffold, Jones) and 13 on defense (Quinn, Brockers, Langford, Long, Hayes; Laurinaitis, Dunbar, Ogletree; Finnegan, Jenkins, Johnson; McDonald, Stewart)*. That basically comprises a decent projection of the starting lineups this year, and guys who you can easily project to be contributors going forward. With each of these guys, I’ve grabbed their ages (as they will be at the start of the 2013 season), and which year of NFL experience 2013 will be for them (so Austin is 1, Brockers is 2, Quinn is 3 etc.). I’ve then plotted this information forward until the 2020 season.

What I’ve then done is looked at these guys’ career paths, in terms of how they will grow, peak, decline and retire together.

Research (from Football Outsiders and Pro Football Reference) suggests that players tend to decline at different ages based on their positions. Their research ambiguously refers to ages for declines as "after x", so where they’ve said a QB tends to decline after 32, I’ve started the decline as 33. The ages their research shows decline tends to start are listed below.


Start of decline

















*I couldn’t find anything on the decline of kickers and punters, so I’ve had to leave Zuerlien and Hekker out of this. Sorry guys!

I’ve fairly arbitrarily decided that once a player hits that age, they have a three year period of "decline" (orange in the table). While that’s plucked out of thin air, it does feel about right. They can still contribute, but will be going downhill. After that three year decline, they are labelled as "done" (red).

After that, I went to the other end of players’ careers. Again, fairly arbitrarily, I gave each player a three year period of "growth" (blue). It does seem fair to think that by a player’s fourth year he should be pretty much developed into the player he’s going to become. And then every year from the end of growth to the start of decline is the player’s "peak" (green).

This then gives us the following snapshot of the core of the Rams roster, from here until 2020 (with each player’s age each season, with their years of NFL experience next to it):Rams_medium


Look at all those pretty colours! Once you get past that, the first thing that should be pretty obvious is the amount of blue, and lack of orange and red, especially on the offensive side of the ball. That just confirms what we all know: we’ve got a while until the offense peaks, and a long time until it starts going downhill. The exceptions are pretty obvious: Scott Wells and Harvey Dahl, but again, we knew this. And on the defensive side of the ball, we’re still relatively young (no one into their decline yet), and won’t really have any key contributors hitting the end of the decline until 2015 (and that’s Cortland Finnegan, who profiles well into the role that kept Charles Woodson as an elite defender deep into his 30s). And due to the particularly young age of guys like Brockers, Quinn and Ogletree when we drafted them (each 21 at the start of their rookie season), we’ve got some long peaks on that side of the ball.

Another interesting titbit: the two big free agent signings of this year, Jake Long and Jared Cook. Both of their contracts see them through their entire peak, and not far into their decline stage. Long’s four year contract only sees him one year into his decline, and Cook’s sees him to the end of his peak and no further. If those guys pan out as we hope, it shouldn’t be the case that we get to the backend of their contracts and are overpaying them based on past glories.

Rather that the individual data, I think the most interesting thing is the summary tables on the right. Those show how many players of the current core fit into each category in any given year. Obviously this trends from growth to done as players age, because we’re not adding any new blood to the roster. But you can still see how, even in 2020, we’ve got more players in their peak (9) than we have players who’ll be done (7).

I’ve also split it down by offense and defense so that you can see how the different units age. As the D is currently older, obviously they trend towards decline and done quicker than the offense.

The key line is the one labelled "plus-minus". This is basically an attempt to see who on the current roster will be a plus in any given year, and who will be a minus. That’s a fancy way of saying I’ve taken the number of players in their peak and subtracted the number of players who’ll be done. The assumption I’ve made here is that players in their growth stage and players in their decline stage are neither a positive or a negative. While that’s very quick and dirty, I think it’s roughly fair – a rookie is probably broadly equal to a guy on the cusp of retirement, and a guy just about to enter his peak is probably broadly equal to a guy just on the other side of it.

This show numerically what the table of the left shows in colour: we’ve got a huge number of players in our current core who will be hitting their peak over the next few years, and very little of our core will have aged to the point that they’re no longer effective by then. The future does indeed look very bright!

However, one cautionary note does emerge: if our youngsters don’t emerge very, very quickly, this year doesn’t likely to be our best year, just based off the standard career paths of players. And in fact, even 2014 doesn’t look like we’ll be at our peak. In 2013, we’ll have 11 out of our core 30 players in their peak. In 2014, it will only be 13. But in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 we’ll have 18, 23, 23 and 20 players at their peak, with only 1, 2, 3 and 5 looking like they’ll be "done" by then.

However, look at it this way: if we are good this year, basic growth of our young players, and the age profile of our core players, means we’re only going to get better. It might be 2015 or 2016 before we hit our peak, and that’s not even accounting for any further players we get between now and then.

Editor's update: Podge has the data on San Francisco and Seattle in the threads, so I thought I'd add it here for him. Have a look.... Just click on the image to enlarge them.







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