The regular season is officially over and yet many Rams fans have a smile on their face and keep excitedly talking about the future. Some fans may find this behavior quite odd considering the Rams finished 7-9 and at the bottom of their division. So what gives? Is it just typical, ignorant NFL fan buyist behavior? Or are these visions of Sam Bradford one day jumping around in confetti while Michael Brockers receives a piggy back from Fisher across the field actually warranted? Well I'll let you be the judge. Hopefully this gives any frowning St. Louis fans a reason to smile, here is our fun facts for our 2013 Rams:
- Rams currently have 3 serious candidates for the 2013 NFL All-Pro Team: Robert Quinn (DE), Johnny Hekker (P), and Tavon Austin (PR). Now when I say serious I mean players that will actually garner expert's votes and have a chance to be named to the team, not just the typical "Mr. Receiver led my team in reception yards so he should be considered". No, these guys actually have a real chance of winning. Quinn has about a 99.9% chance of bringing home this honor, and you really got to like Hekker's chances after he broke the NFL single season record for net average yardage on punts. Tavon might not get it, but he will definitely come in 2nd or 3rd. Now the number of people who are considered "serious All-Pro candidates" will vary by who you ask, but even top teams like the Broncos, Chiefs, Seahawks, and Panthers typically have 3-5 that will garner a good amount of votes for this honor. So 3 is a pretty good number, especially for such a young team.
- Similar to the All-Pro Team, Rams have 3 serious candidates for the 2013 NFL All-Rookie Team: Zac Stacy (RB), Alec Ogletree (OLB), and again, Tavon Austin (PR). Stacy is in a close battle with Eddie Lacy, Le'Veon Bell, and Giovanni Bernard. Hopefully Stacy gets the nod behind Lacy, as Zac finished with the 2nd most yards for a rookie running back, 3rd for touchdowns by a rookie, and 4th in total yards from scrimmage by a rookie despite not receiving hardly any playing time until Week 5 and running in an offense with little pass attack. Ogletree had his share of mistakes, but he led the Rams in tackles and his 6 forced fumbles (THIRD in the NFL) blows the other rookies out of the water. Austin had a great overall year, gaining over 1200 all purpose yards (4th amongst rookies) despite a slow start, having numerous big plays called back off penalties, and being out for the rest of the season after an injury in Week 14. However, punt returner, not wide receiver or running back, is the position where he will beat out the other rookies. All 3 have a great shot at earning this honor, and 3 All-Rookie players is a pretty good haul.
- The Rams managed to win 4 games behind Kellen Clemens, 3 of which came against division leaders at that time. He was was also pretty darn close to a win against the Seahawks/Titans, falling only one yard short against the former, which happens to be NFC's No. 1 seeded team. Now we all love the 30 year old Clemens, he is a great guy who plays with heart and did what a back-up QB is suppose to do, but he leaves much to be desired at QB. So the fact that he was able to put up 4 wins against these teams, even posting some impressive numbers during this time, tells us the offense around our QB has vastly improved. This should be quite nice for when Bradford comes back. Whether you believe in Sam or not, you'd be crazy to think he's not an upgrade over Kellen. Defenses will have a hard time stopping an offense that has Zac Stacy running it up the middle, D-Rich running sweeps outside, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey going all over the place, Givens going deep, and Cook causing mismatch problems. Bradford was having a good season before he went down. Sam finished with a 90.0 rating and had 14 touchdowns (Which I believe was 5th in the NFL at that time) to just 4 interceptions, the majority of which, were bounced off receiver's hands. Fans got be excited to see what Bradford can do with these weapons and an improved offensive line, the best overall offense Bradford has had since he arrived.
- Robert Quinn is a VERY serious candidate for Defensive Player of the Year, is the Rams franchise recorder holder in single season sacks, and is only 23 years old. Finally Rams have something they haven't had in a while: a top player in the league. Now don't get me wrong, we've had some talented guys like Chris Long, James Laurinaitus, and etc. But every team has some talented guys. I mean an elite player, one of the best in the league. And that's what Quinn is, elite. Quinn will definitely be in the Top 10 players of 2013, and that in itself is impressive. Many experts had Robert in their Top-3 at the midseason mark, and I don't think there is any reason he should fall out of that spot. It has been a while since Rams could say we have a Top-3 player in the league. Rams have to feel good about their defense with Quinn out there. For example, Quinn/Ogletree combined for 13 forced fumbles, Quinn finishing 2nd in the NFL and the latter finishing 3rd in that category. Quinn fell just 0.5 sacks short of the Deacon Jones Award for leading the league in sacks, but many experts have picked Quinn to win DPOY which is a top-tier award. Many say last year's DPOY, JJ Watt, had a better year then last year after he racked up 84 quarterback pressures. However, Quinn still beat him out to lead the league. If he wins, Quinn would become the first Ram to ever be the AP NFL DPOY.
- Rams have the youngest roster in the NFL. Now as every Rams fan has heard a million times, we have the youngest team in the league, I think we fall at about 24.9 years old on average. But even more significant then that stat, is how big of a role that youth has on our team. There are other rosters full of youth, but almost all of those teams have veterans in the majority of their starting spots. Rams youth is practically our team. Tavon Austin, Trumaine Johnson, Janoris Jenkins, Zac Stacy, Daryl Richardson, TJ McDonald, Chris Givens, Brian Quick, Robert Quinn, Austin Pettis, Lance Kendricks, Brandon McGee, Stedman Bailey, Michael Brockers, Greg Zurlein, Ray Ray Armstong, Johnny Hekker, Rodney McCloud, and Alec Ogletree are all key pieces of our team, and all those guys are 24 or younger and have 3 years or less of NFL experience. That's crazy. Half our offense and defense is 1st-3rd year players. Then think about all the top draft picks we will be adding next year when all is said and done. The Rams haven't had an average past two season, (7-8-1) and (7-9), because we are a team with average skill and talent. Youth and inexperience is why we have these frustrating games; weeks where we will come out one game and put a whooping on a top team, and then lose in a mistake filled game to an average team in the next one. The majority of our players are still getting use to the NFL. Experience is huge in the world of professional sports. Much like Quinn over these past three seasons, Rams will keep getting better and better.
- The NFC West was the NFL's Best. The Rams may have finished last in their conference, but that ranking is very deceiving. The Rams record of 7-9 would've been good enough for 2nd in the AFC South, and would've left the Rams just one game shy of 1st in the NFC North. The 3rd place team in the NFC West, the Arizona Cardinals, finished 10-6. 10-6 would've gave or tied the Cardinals for 1st place in two other divisions in the NFC. In fact, only two other divisions' SECOND place team even hit double digits. The NFC West's 2nd place team, the 49ers, had a record that would've tied or given them the lead in all but one of the other divisions. Our division finished with a combined record of 42-22. The NFC West went a combined 30-10 against non-divisional opponents. That ties the mark for best record by a division since there have been 32 teams in the league. So the Rams going 7-9 might not be as bad as it sounds, considering they are not only so young, but they are playing in what may be one of the most talented divisions the NFL has ever seen.
- Rams have the #2 and #13 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, and the #2 pick has some big names swirling around it. Les Snead has brought his draft savvy to the Rams, trading down and picking up extra picks both years he has been with us. I am a big fan of this "style" as often, the "top players" don't turn out to be the best. This comment might strike you odd, but it is often true. Tavon Austin was the ONLY Top-10 pick from the 2013 draft to receive a positive grade from Pro Football Focus on his 2013 season. Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel, Johnathan Cooper, Lane Johnson, and Chance Warmack were Top-10 offensive lineman picks in 2013, but they were all far out-done by D.J Fluker, Kyle Long, Justin Pugh, 4th round offensive tackle David Bakhtiari, and best of all, 3rd round offensive guard Larry Warford. I for one, much more like our chances with a few first and second round picks rather then just one "top" first round pick. So for those of us that are a fan of "trading back" (as I'm sure most Rams fans are after seeing the results of our last two drafts) this #2 pick (via Washington) is very exciting. Some were concerned that the value of this #2 pick wouldn't be that great, but now things are really looking up. The Jaguars, Browns, and Raiders are the next three picks after the Rams, and each one of them is a likely candidate to go for a quarterback. The Falcons and Buccaneers are the next two picks, and each could use an elite pass rusher. Conveniently for the Rams, those are two areas we are not in need of talent, so trading back seems all the more better there. In another recent positive occurrence, two quarterbacks, Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel, just finished their seasons with huge performances and wins in their respective bowl games; and Jadeveon Clowney, a very athletic and large pass rushing DE, is herald by many as the best defensive prospect in years. This means with the combination of our team needs, the teams' behind us in the draft needs, and the skill and hype of the players available with the #2 pick could bring us quite the bounty. After trading out of that spot we could be looking at 3 first round picks this year, multiple picks in later rounds, or multiple picks in future draft rounds; and we could still land a top player of our desire like Jake Matthews to Sammy Watkins after trading back. Or we could continue to trade down farther, acquiring more talent, and grabbing a couple mid-first round picks as well. Yay draft picks!
The Rams have had a number of exciting headlines throughout the year. We are starting to see some of our youth such as Quinn and Tavon, become top players at their positions. I could go on and on about a number of various other small records our young players broke through out the year such as Ogletree's records for longest interception return by a linebacker and longest by a rookie, or Austin's plethora of records and top numbers he put up in the Colts and Bears games, putting his name on lists next to Gale Sayers, Steve Smith, Randy Moss, and more, or even how Stacy's big season made him the no. 3 leading rusher for Ram's rookie running backs, behind only the great Eric Dickerson and Jerome Bettis. I could lists many areas of various improvement on the Rams such as one of the best offensive lines we have and in years thanks Jake Long's big year that may have ended in a pro-bowl if not for injury, Joe Barksdale's emergence as a solid tackle, and Rodger Saffold's new found talent at guard. But I think you've got the point: this Rams team holds the most talent it has in years, from pro-bowlers, to All-Rookie players, to one of the best players in the league. And with how young these players are, this team will be around for a while, and they are only going to get better. So smile St. Louis.
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