Power rankings haven't been a place the Rams have fared well over the past decade.
Without the last winning season coming in 2003 and a cumulative 51-108-1 since, it's generally been a practice of opening the power rankings and seeing how close to the median the Rams sit...or how close to the bottom in many cases.
Of course, things are getting more and more optimistic these days. On talent alone, this team is miles from where it was five years ago. The youth movement has been supported by a less unstable coaching staff. Those things have a way of putting a franchise on a positive track. Uncomfortably for fans though, the dividends don't always pay off all that quickly.
So Rams fans should take it as a good sign that ESPN's Future Power Rankings (insider...booooooo) released this week saw the Rams in a much higher position than we've been accustomed to.
Two months ago, the draft pushed the Rams up two spots to 18th in ESPN's conventional rankings. In the future rankings however, the Rams ranked 12th. That's top third status and above, in goofy hypothetical terms, where you'd draw the line for playoff-caliber teams.
Bear in mind that a year ago the Rams were tied for 8th in their future rankings(also insider, also boo), but the conventional view on Sam Bradford's future has, well, let's say plummeted. But that's ok. There's a whole host of views on Bradford, and we all know he has to play his way into general league-wide success. These future rankings belie a stronger view of the rest of the roster though, indicated as an improvement in their roster score (6.8 to 7.1), draft score (7.5 to 7.8), front office score (6.8 to 9.0!) and coaching score (7.3 to 8.8).
There's no denying what this is saying: the Rams are headed in the right direction.
Here's what ESPN's Mike Sando had to say about the status of things in general:
The Rams' rankings essentially remained flat from the past offseason, except at QB, where St. Louis fell 10 spots to No. 23 with Sam Bradford coming off ACL surgery. There's still a belief among analysts that St. Louis is in great position with its young talent, after leveraging so much from the Redskins in the 2012 trade that allowed Washington to select QB Robert Griffin III. Michael Brockers, Janoris Jenkins, Alec Ogletree and Greg Robinson are the highest-profile players St. Louis drafted with picks from Washington, and the Rams also have added Isaiah Pead, Stedman Bailey, Zac Stacy, Tavon Austin and Aaron Donald. The big question is whether the team will need to use another high choice for a QB next year.
In other words, the roster's well stocked with young talent. I doubt any of us would disagree. And yet for all the indicators that point to more success than we've had at any time in the last 10 years, many would argue it all comes down to Sam. Here's Louis Riddick, NFL vet and the former Director of Pro Personnel for the Eagles now working for ESPN:
For this team, it is all about the QB. I don't want to hear that "they haven't given Sam Bradford the weapons he needs." They have invested enough, in terms of draft picks and free agents on the offensive side of the ball, that they "should" be able to protect the QB, throw the ball down the field and run the ball effectively. Defensively, they have four first-round draft picks on the line and tremendous depth behind the starting group. They are fast at LB and talented (but still inconsistent) in the secondary, but this team can only go as far as Bradford takes it -- unless the Rams move on to a new solution in the next three years.
As we've said over and over (and probably will continue to as long as it's true), the Rams will go only as far as Sam Bradford takes them. That's as true for the figurative tomorrow as it is for the literal today.
The heartening truth is, though, that everything around him is better than it was when he became a Ram.
That's reason for optimism.