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2013 In Review/Grades and an outlook on the St Louis Rams Offseason plans

Another season in the books and another average year by our St Louis Rams. At their best they were an above average Offense and a fierce defense. At their worst they were an anemic offense and an undisciplined defense. Consistency was nowhere to be found on this team save for a few areas. With that said the future under the Fisher/Snead regime is looking bright. So lets take a look at how each position fared in 2013:

Quarterback: Sam Bradford: B+ / Kellen Clemens: B-

First let me start off by saying I am a believer in Bradford and I still think he has the stuff to be a franchise QB for St Louis. He was on pace for a great season posting career highs in every category before the injury. He looked accurate, he played much smarter than he had shown up to this season, and looked as though he was settling into the NFL finally. The problem remains to be the talent surrounding him. Once again the O-Line failed to mesh before it was too late for Sam and he had no playmakers to deliver the ball to. You have to start feeling bad for him really, every year its the same, no playmakers, and the O-line doesn't gel until halfway through the season. It almost seemed as if the offense rallied around his injury and came together. The line was vastly improved and the run game woke up. If Fisher truly believes he has his guy in Bradford he absolutely must find a way to have his team ready week one to protect Sam and have targets available to him. There is no excuse year 3 to be looking for an offensive identity for your team. The O-Line needs to be firing on all cylinders week 1 next season and he MUST find reliable weapons for Sam to use. I believe Sam is the guy, he can make every throw, he can read defenses better with every year that passes, and I really would hate to see Sam leave St Louis and be a success somewhere else making St Louis a laughing stock for yet another failure.

Kellen Clemens filled in admirably for a backup and played better than most expected. He benefited greatly from the emergence of Zac Stacy and an improved line. He didn't wow much this season and the run game was his saving grace, but things would've been alot worse had he not played above average QB for us so I give him a B-.

Running Back: Zac Stacy: A- / Benny Cunningham: B / Daryl Richardson: C- / Isaiah Pead: D-

What was supposed to be a 3 headed beast turned into a one man show in the Rams' backfield this season. Richardson was the week one starter with Pead being a change of pace guy and Stacy getting touches as a rookie. It became apparent early that this system was just not going to work as the line aside from Long struggled to open holes and Richardson suffered through a sophomore slump. It was looking like a nightmare scenario for the Rams, no one seemed to show they could play at this level until Stacy started getting increased touches. And suddenly everyone started noticing the Rams might have found a gem in the 2013 draft. Stacy hit holes hard, ran with purpose, and fought hard for yards every time he touched the ball. He finished just shy of 1000 yards without even starting till halfway through the season. The Rams have found the replacement for Jackson and I'm excited for what the future holds for this kid. With Stacy in the backfield, Richardson lost to injury throughout the season, and Pead showing no improvement over his dreadful rookie season, Benny Cunningham quietly put together an excellent showing as a backup to Stacy. The stat line won't blow you away by any means but for an undrafted FA rookie he showed much promise and could develop into a very good change of pace guy in the NFL. The only drawback is he is the same type of a bruising workhorse back that Stacy is, so there really is no change of pace to be found in St Louis. Hopefully Richardson can find his way back and these 3 can be a great trio of backs for the Rams in the future. Then we look at Pead..... The only reason he doesn't get an F is because he was an above average kick returner when he got his shot. But overall he has been a bust for the Rams and next season will be a make or break year for him if he even makes the team at all. I will not include FB grades as the Rams mainly used Cook and Kendricks whenever they actually used the position.

Wide Receiver: Chris Givens: C+ / Tavon Austin: B / Austin Pettis: C- / Brian Quick: C / Stedman Bailey: B-

The corp as a group was improved. However no one developed into the #1 WR the Rams have been so sorely missing since Torry Holt left. This is a very good group of receivers, but none of them are elite #1 guys which continues to be a big problem for the Rams. Starting off with Givens, bit of a sophomore slump for Givens who many believed would develop into the #1 guy for St Louis. It wasn't a terrible year, but he just didn't progress as many had hoped. Tavon Austin started out VERY slow. Many had him pegged as yet another high draft bust for the Rams, but he exploded onto the scene against Indy and left those thoughts behind. It took him awhile to find his form but he is what the Rams were hoping for, an explosive playmaker who is a danger to score whenever he touches the ball. He stumbled down the stretch with an injury but the future is bright for this guy. Hopefully the offense can get a bit more creative for him next year. Austin Pettis is slowly losing spots in the depth chart. He started out as the number 2 guy behind Givens but ended the year behind nearly everyone but Quick. He is a reliable target that will catch the ball, but he doesn't have the breakaway ability or playmaking ability after the catch to be special. Brian Quick did progress though not as much as many hoped. Coming out of a small school he still has much to learn even after 2 seasons, but he still does show flashes of what he could become, which I believe to be a #1 WR with elite redzone capability. Don't write him off yet, he just needs more development. Finally, we come to Stedman Bailey. He didn't get many chances to shine, but when he did get those chances, he made the most of them. He started in the basement on the depth chart and finished as probably the most reliable sure handed receiver on the roster. Ink him into the #3 spot on the depth chart next season. I think we found a possible #2 WR and a fantastic slot guy in him. Overall the group was much better, but until the Rams find there #1 threat in this group, the offense will continue to struggle. My hope is they can make cap space to pick up a true #1 WR through FA. But we'll get to that later.

Tight End: Jared Cook: B+ / Lance Kendricks: B+ / Cory Harkey: B-

Many complained about Cook's season and said he wasn't worth what we gave him to get him here but he led the team in all major receiving categories this season so he definitely was worth it. He lacks the blocking strength you'd like to see but if the Rams can find a #1 WR Cook and Kendricks could become a terror for NFL defenses. Kendricks had a great season as a backup to Cook and the primary blocking TE. He has the best blocking skills of the group and showed great hands this season. Corey Harkey should develop into a great change of pace TE. He showed great hands and will be a great depth guy for the squad. If the Rams can find one or to more weapons on the outside this group has a chance to be one of the NFL's best.

Offensive Line: Jake Long: A / Chris Williams: B / Scott Wells: C / Harvey Dahl: C+ / Rodger Saffold: A / Shelley Smith: C+ / Joseph Barksdale: B+ / Tim Barnes: B+

It would take too long to go through all these guys, so let me say first, that injuries once again decimated this group in 2013 BUT for the first time in a long time the depth stepped up and made this one of the best lines in the NFC by the end of the season. It started off rough, Bradford felt the pressure constantly and the aside from Long the holes weren't there for the backs. But it developed into a dominant line by the end. Special recognition for Jake Long, who should have without a doubt been a pro bowler even with the injury. Joe Barksdale who stepped in for Saffold and in my opinion has the ability to start for this team next season. Rodger Saffold suffered another injury however may have found his true calling as an absolutely dominant guard. Finally, Tim Barnes stepped in and surprisingly more than held his own against some of the best pass rushes in the NFL. Should compete for a starting job next season if they re sign him

Defensive Line: Robert Quinn: A+ / Michael Brockers: B+ / Kendall Langford: B / Chris Long: A- / William Hayes: B / Eugene Sims: B-

They are what we thought they'd be. The best front 4 in the NFL. What can you say really, completely turned around the run defense which was huge for this D. Then you throw in the fact that they gave opposing QBs nightmares all season and at times this group couldn't be stopped. Absolutely dominant. Robert Quinn is by far the best DE in football, his run defense was vastly improved and he is the best pass rusher in the NFL. If he doesn't win defensive player of the year they should stop giving it out as it will have become a total joke. It wasn't even fair for the poor tackles he faced, some of whom lost there starting positions after his displays. Oh and did I mention this was only his 2nd season? Brockers continued to improve and should develop into a very good DT. Langford stepped his game up and aside from one end of the season melt down had a great season. Chris Long battled through injury all season and though his numbers were down, he still was a dominant DE and the one of the reasons Quinn had the season he did was because the offense had to pick Long or Quinn to double team. They will go forward benefiting from each others play. Sims and Hayes were great depth guys and both played a big part in the pass rush.

Linebackers: Jo-Lonn Dunbar: B- / Will Witherspoon: B- / James Laurinaitis: A- / Alec Ogletree: A-

In my opinion this was the most improved group on the team. You knew the D-line would be great, but the LB group was stellar as well. Dunbar came back from suspension and while he wasn't as dominant as last season, he was still good against the run and can still blow up anyone that comes across the middle. Witherspoon was brought on to solidify the spot left vacant by Dunbar and performed very well. He was a good veteran presence and didn't amaze but did his job and did it well. JL55 was once again a great leader of this defense. He is one of the smartest LBs in the NFL and keeps racking up those tackle numbers every year. I was very impressed with his improved run defense and showed some pass rush skill as well. Alec Ogletree panned out perfectly for the Rams. He had his rookie moments but overall he had a fantastic season as a run defender, cover LB and showed he can make huge plays at anytime with 2 Ints and 6 FFs. The future is a bit unknown with Witherspoon leaving and Dunbar being uncertain, but the other 2 spots are solidified for years to come.

Cornerbacks: Janoris Jenkins: C+ / Cortland Finnegan: D / Trumaine Johnson: B+

This group took a giant step backward. While I believe it was due in large part to new defensive coordinator Tim Walton's soft coverage scheme there were areas of concern on the player side. Janoris Jenkins had a stellar rookie season, but took a step back in 2013. Soft coverage is not how JJ is built. He is a physical man-to-man corner. But he is still getting beat on deep passes and is still trying to get by with holding too often. He is still young and Corner is a difficult position to learn at the NFL level. But he will need to improve next season if he wants to keep his starting job. Finnegan had a terrible season and his future in the NFL is now in question with what may have been a career ending eye injury after he failed to play through it. Come on guy, blurry vision is a big deal for a CB! My hope is he is able to come back from it and contribute again, but with his contract being so pricey and his ability in question, his future isn't looking good. Tru Jo had an under the radar season, but it was a hell of a season at that! He is a sure tackler, and showed the best coverage skills of any CB on the roster this season. Overall this group took a big step back, look for the Rams to improve this group through FA or the Draft.

Safety: T.J. McDonald: C+ / Rodney McLeod: C+ / Darian Stewart: C

This is another group that took an expected step backward. McDonald played like a rookie and suffered through injuries, but he did show promise and should only get better. He should have a spot for years to come. Mcleod stepped up and had a descent season in terms of what was expected. While his coverage skills lacked at times he was good against the run and showed flashes of what he could become. He should develop into an above average starter or a very good backup/platoon guy. Stewart didn't really dissapoint, but didn't impress by any means. He will be a good platoon guy if they bring him back. This is a position that the Rams may look to improve through FA or the draft.

Special Teams: Greg Zuerlein: B+ / John Hekker: A+ / Coverage Team: A- / Return Team: B+

Greg "The Leg" improved in his sophomore season and should only get better. He has one of the most powerful legs in the league and his accuracy improved quite a bit. Should be among the leagues elite before too long. Hekker broke records and grabbed a spot in the pro bowl. He is one of, if not the best punter in the league. The coverage team was vastly improved this season and shut down even the elite returners like Hester and Peterson. The return team was improved as well and as Austin grows it will only get better. Austin will be an electrifying returner for years to come.

Coaching: Jeff Fisher: B- / Brian Shottenheimer: C / Tim Walton: D-

For the signing and drafting part, Fisher and Snead are getting an A- grade. The infusion of talent has been clearly evident these past two seasons. However, for Fishers part, his coaching has been good and bad. His players fight to the end, they play with heart, and most improve every season. However, the absolute lack of discipline is inexcusable. First game? Ok. Second? Alright. Third? Starting to get old.... But when the seasons almost over and your players are getting back to back personal fouls and kicked out of games.... Absolutely inexcusable. Fisher needs to teach the difference between being a fiery, mean, feared team. And being an undisciplined, idiotic, laughable mess. Shotty, Shotty, Shotty..... At times it looked as if he had no clue what to do with his new weapons. At times he made above average schemes. But the fact remains the offense still lacks the creativity to be special. Sure, it'd be nice to have that true #1 guy at WR, but there were plenty weapons to be found this year and the offense still looked flat most of the season. Time for him to get something going, or get out of STL. Walton.... What a joke this guy was. Coverage was a strength last season. He destroyed that. Pass rush was intact but when you have the best d line in the NFL its not gonna drop off. He was so bad that 2/3 of the way through the season Fisher took over the playcalling. If he stays then I'll drop Fisher's grade a letter. He's gotta go.

Offseason Outlook

Now what should we expect for the off season? It's pretty blurry right now. What will happen to the O-Line? Will Wells be back? Dahl? Saffold? In my opinion Wells is gone. He is too injury prone to be taking that much cap space. Dahl would be nice to have back but only if he takes a pay cut. Saffold in my opinion should be top priority, yes he has had injury issues but he showed the Rams he is an elite talent at guard and could solidify one of those spots for years to come. At WR the Rams have yet to find that #1 talent or have it emerge from there current group. My hope here is that they go after a proven #1 guy in FA or trade. Maclin, Decker, or Nicks would all give a proven option at WR. While none are absolute #1s, with the supporting cast the Rams have they could be. Nicks is the only guy with #1 capability, but can he stay on the field? On the defensive side of the ball, Everyone keeps wanting a DT but I see nothing wrong with the line we have. Maybe depth at DT but no need for a starter. At LB, if Dunbar leaves, then the Rams will need a replacement, with the two guys opposite the opening they can draft a rookie and be fine. My hope is they bring Dunbar back and draft a mid to late round guy for depth and a guy to develop into a starter. At CB they need to draft or sign at least one guy and two if Finnegan is gone. Safety they could use a good veteran presence to help solidify the position and develop McDonald and Mcleod. Byrd? Whitner? Yes please. Special teams is set. Coaching staff, Fisher says he's happy with his coordinators, but how can you be happy with another mediocre offensive gameplan and having to once again takeover defensive playcalling? Shotty stays in a make or break 2014 season and Walton is replaced.

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