The St. Louis Rams are halfway through the first season of a major franchise overhaul. Eight games in, we know lots more than we did in August. Draft picks have played their way into the lineup, or out of it. Free agent pickups have figured into the equation, and we have a better idea about the future of the team's veterans. So, with apologies to Mike Sando, let's take a look at some of the more notable cases with a stock watch.
James Laurinaitis - The second round pick has reminded fans and casual observers alike why he was considered first round talent just a year ago. Playing for a 1-win team his name is already in the conversation for defensive rookie of the year. Middle linebacker was a massive hole in the Rams defense since the jettisoning of London Fletcher, but now it's probably the strongest position on the defense. The future looks good.
Steven Jackson - Before this year, Jackson was merely good. Now he's truly great. This season, he's emerged as a team leader, a veteran guiding a rebuilding franchise through the rough early phases of the project. Of course, his onfield contributions can't be overstated either. He's the reason the Rams have one win, and playing with a truly inferior offense, he's torching some of the league's best defenses. SJ39 is one of those stocks that the price of entry is really high, but worth every penny.
James Butler - On paper, the Rams defense hasn't been particularly impressive. However, Butler has been a big part of the reason why it at least looks more competent than it has in recent seasons, guiding the youngsters through the transition to Spagnuolo and Flajole's scheme.
Jason Smith - The second overall pick is starting to look like the best OT from this year's draft. He learns fast, and you don't see him make the same mistake twice. This kid has a bright future.
Oshiomogho Atogwe - The ball hawk is having a rougher season than we would have expected. Why? It's hard to say. The cornerback situation is no worse than it has been in the recent past for the Rams. The transition in schemes may have had some impact. Could his contract situation be a distraction? He'll be the story to watch in the offseason. Do the Rams re-sign him? If they opt to use the RFA route, he's bound to be a holdout.
Donnie Avery - Maybe it's the QB, maybe it's the new offense, whatever it is, it's been a rough season for Donnie Avery. Once the Rams address their needs at WR, Avery can get back to his role as a downfield threat, and some work in the slot.
Ron Bartell - It doesn't look like Bartell is top CB material. Still, he's signed to a reasonable contract and with a legitimate #1 corner beside him, he'll be part of a great duo.
Marc Bulger - Like so many, I thought he still had something left in the tank. The Detroit game proved me wrong.
Alex Barron - Sure, he's had his moments. You cannot refute that Barron has talent. However, he continues to put himself in the doghouse by taking bad penalties and occasionally taking himself out of plays. A half-game benching and stern lecture helped for just one game. I sometimes wonder if we might not see him back in '10, but on the right side, playing under a RFA contract.
Randy McMichael - Boink. That's the sound of another pass bouncing off his cast iron hands. McMichael offers little at this point in his career that a replacement level TE doesn't bring to the table.
Chris Long - The second overall pick from a year ago has failed to impress in his sophomore season. I still harbor some hope Long will get it figured out. He seems to have talent, and his desire is unquestionable. More talent on the line could help and some intensive coaching up. We'll see.