It used to be that Steven Jackson was the only thing the St. Louis Rams had going for them. Sure, they couldn't win a game to save the franchise. SJax could at least be counted on to rack up 1,000+ yards and make Sunday's a little entertaining. Now the Rams have gotten better, adding talent elsewhere on the roster. However, that growth comes at a time when the Rams no longer have the best ground game in the division. According to Matt Williamson at ESPN Insider, the Rams have the third best running back situation in the division.
It's a double sided issue. First, the Rams failed to find a complementary back to pair with Jackson. Second, Jackson doesn't have the legs he once did, worn down from years of being the lone horseman in the Rams moribund offense. Amazingly enough, Devaney et al have yet to address that issue, and they now face a free agent market with very few options.
Running it up the gut after the jump.
Here's what Williamson said at his In$ider piece:
Steven Jackson isn't the player that he once was, but wow, does he need some help. The Rams' run blocking was terrible for their star runner last year, and St. Louis has had nothing behind this guy to spell him. And as it stands now, the Rams still have not addressed this gaping hole in their roster. I understand that St. Louis needed help at wide receiver, but I find it hard to believe that the Rams didn't add a rookie running back to the mix in the mid rounds in April. I think St. Louis would be a great spot for DeAngelo Williams to land. But even if the Rams don't go that big in free agency, something absolutely must be done before the start of the season. It also wouldn't be a terrible idea to bring in a starting-caliber guard to shore up the middle of the offensive line.
Jackson ran with a banged up hand and groin last year, with the worst yards per carry number, 3.8, of his career. It's a big red flag. More from Williamson:
Jackson is still an extremely competitive runner and a load to bring down. His heart and effort never should be in question. Although he fought injuries throughout the season, Jackson also has clearly lost a step. He doesn't excel in the open field. He struggles to run away from tacklers and break long runs. And he just isn't as nifty as he once was. This sounds like I am a Jackson "Hater", which I am not. In fact, I think that the new offense being installed by Josh McDaniels could do Jackson a world of good, as could the maturation of Sam Bradford. The addition of a complementary back to take something off this warrior's plate would help, too. Maybe that happens in free agency. Jackson is still very useful, and his reception total and impact in the passing game could really increase. But it has reached the point where this needs to be Bradford's offense, and not Jackson's. A year or two ago, I would have ranked Jackson among the top five running backs in the NFL. Sad to say, I think that ship has sailed.
As far as the offensive line issue goes, Williamson is a big proponent of John Greco. Combined with an improved passing game that forces defenses back a little, it could take some of the pressure off the offensive line since Jackson would no longer be the sole focus of opposing defenses.
Jackson is also likely to get fewer carries in McDaniels' offense, something that will help with the wear and tear caused by runs up the middle. Using him more as a receiver would be the smart move, but there's talk that the Rams still want him to be a between-the-tackles runner. To me, that's a huge mistake. It increases the likelihood of injury, potentially leaving the Rams without a running back period. That's the issue I have with bringing in a Darren Sproles. Yes, a guy like that would play a role, but who carries the ball through the rough stuff if Jackson's out?
Williamson also mentions Darby in his piece, but the Rams didn't bother to extend him a restricted free agent offer. That leaves them with Chauncey Washington and Keith Toston.
What about this DeAngelo Williams idea? I like it. However, Williams, a five-year veteran, was given an RFA tender as a just in case move if the league reverts to its 2010 rules for free agency. With the lockout still dragging on and on, you have to think Carolina would be motivated to bring him back too. If he does hit the market, he would command some serious dollars. Would the Rams spend that kind of money? Maybe. They had RB Mark Ingram very high on their draft board, and were very close to picking him had Robert Quinn not been available. The point being that they're not afraid to spend some money on a running back. Of course, Williams is 28, like Jackson, and missed all but 6 games last year.
I'm still in a state of shock that the Rams didn't draft a running back. I understand the need for healthy receivers, and I think Pettis and Salas will pay dividends in a diverse offense that looks to have some options. However, they passed on Mikel Leshoure in the second and Kendall Hunter on the third day in this year's draft.
As far as potential trade candidates, I'm sure they can find someone. There are also roster cut victims. I'll be interested to see if the 49ers let go of Anthony Dixon; I doubt it. If they did, reuniting him with Sylvester Croom, his coach at Mississippi State, has the potential to be a big deal for the Rams. Josh McDaniels' old team, the Patriots, has eight running backs on the roster right now; it could be interesting to see if he can find anything among his old connections.
Whatever route they go, they can't afford to skimp.