NFL.com released a similar article a couple of days ago. It's worth a read and always interesting to see how "less-biased" writers view the St. Louis Rams. I disagree with a few of the selections but can definitely see the reasoning behind them. Going into week one, in my opinion, here is how I'd like to see the Rams lineup on the offensive and defensive side of the ball:
QB - Sam Bradford
Absolute no brainer. Unless Bradford falls off a cliff, he will be the starter in week one. Bradford was having a solid 2013 campaign despite a "dink & dump" type of play calling. Though a lot of his stats came from pointless 4th quarter plays, he still made the pass and showed a little of what he can do. Fellow TST writer, misone, said it perfectly:
When Sam went down, he was top six in yards, TD's, completions, and rating. Only Peyton Manning had more TD's than him. In the seven games Bradford played in for 2013, he saw 21 passes dropped. Of those 21, four would have been touchdowns. He even had a fifth touchdown (61 yds) called back for a questionable tripping penalty. Bradford's season ended with a 60.7% completion rate and 14 TDs. If those four drops for TD's were caught - and the 61 yard bomb to Tavon Austin was never negated - his season ends with 19 touchdowns. And if just half of the drops were caught - we will say 11 since the total number of drops is odd - he finishes with a 64.8 completion rate. Those numbers averaged out over the course of 16 games comes to....
4123 yds, 43 TDs, 65% completion, 9 int, 99.2 rating (est)
RB - Zac Stacy
Here is another guy that has all but locked up the starting job. Last year, Stacy was 27 yards away from 1,000+ yard season while only starting 14 games. That being said, the Rams will have some depth at RB with Tre Mason coming in. Stacy can't afford to pull a Daryl Richardson or he may find himself on the business end of the Jets practice squad. Fortunately, that won't be an issue. Stacy will get the lion's share and Mason will be featured as a change of pace back. If Mason is running well in a particular game, expect Fisher and Schotty to ride the hot hand. Other than that, Stacy is in line for a monster year with G-Rob and the rest of this solid line mowing down defenders. Best front five since the Orlando Pace days.
WR1, 2, & 3 - Chris Givens, Kenny Britt, & Tavon Austin (respectively)
Year three Givens has a lot to prove. He showed a lot of promise during his rookie campaign and a lot inconsistencies during his sophomore season. He managed to be kept scoreless all of 2013... how does that happen? That may be the worst stat of any receiver in the NFL. Givens was targeted 83 times, caught 34 of the passes, and 0 were for a touchdown. The sophomore slump hits some players harder than others, and Givens was hit hard. I still see him bouncing back with a more balanced offense and Bradford at the helm. While the WR1 spot is still up for grabs, I think Givens will win the job.
Former Tennessee Titan first round pick Kenny Britt was acquired this off season on a 1-year $1.5 mil deal (with $550k guaranteed). I like this signing a lot. There is little risk here. Sure, he's had his share of off-field issues -- including a recent sex tape posted via Instagram video -- but nothing the rest of the NFC West teams would even bat an eye at based on the recent past. After a promising first two seasons on 2009 and 2010, Britt fell off the map about as hard as you can fall. Something to make note of: Britt's best two seasons were under Fisher, and his worst season occurred when Fisher was no longer the coach. He has a ton of potential, and only time will tell if he can put it to good use. I wouldn't be surprised if Britt won the number 1 job, but I also wouldn't be surprised if he got cut either.
Tavon Austin is the only sure lock in the receiving core. He will be on the field for almost every designed pass play. He may lose some snaps if the Rams run the ball 30+ times a game, but Tavon will get his touches. Look for Tavon to lineup all over the field: in the slot, in the backfield, on the outside, and maybe even running the wildcat (highly doubtful). Never the less, he will have his chances to make plays... and plays he will make.
You can't rule out any receiver for a starting job in this core. There is a lot of talent, but none that stand out. Chris Givens, Austin Pettis and Brian Quick could end up as #1 and #2 to starters at the beginning of the season. If Stedman Bailey wasn't suspended for the first 4 games, I'd say he'd have a shot at starting too. When he comes back week 4, the rest of the group better have figured it out, or Bailey will be only make things messier.
TE - Jared Cook
Cook showed glimpses of a top end TE, but played pretty lackluster throughout the season. This will be his second year in the system and 4th season under Fisher. Cook is in line for solid 2014 campaign. Will he ever be an elite tight end? Probably not. But he has the skill set to be a very effective receiver and will play an important role in the Rams success. Lance Kendricks does not have a very high ceiling, but has been effective in the run game. The tight end situation for the Rams is nothing to call home about, but it gets the job done and will only improve with two guys in their prime.
Front Five - Jake Long, Greg Robinson, Scott Wells, Roger Saffold, Joe Barksdale
If Long comes back healthy week 1, the Rams' O-line will be strong as ever. G-Rob will step in immediately at left guard and dominate as expected. Wells is a seasoned veteran with a couple of Pro-Bowls under his belt; while Saffold has been an interesting story, the Rams finally have him squared away at right guard***, and Barksdale still amazes by how well he filled in at both left and right tackle last season.This line is loaded with solid, big body players. I'd love nothing more than to see number 67, Barrett Jones, squatting at the center position, but his time has not come yet. For now, barring injury setbacks, this is the Rams front five and I love it.
*** Saffold was drafted by the Rams as a left tackle, moved around on the line to his dissatisfaction, signed with the Raiders for an outrageous amount, "failed" his physical (aka they realized how ludicrous the $56 mil deal was), then ultimately landed back with St. Louis.
Defensive Line: Mount Crushmore (patent pending) - Robert Quinn, Michael Brockers, Aaron Donald, Chris Long
This group is the bread and butter of this Rams team. For a more detailed analysis on the Rams front 4, check out my article: The DL from Hell. I know some may disagree that Donald will walk in and earn the starting job over Kendall Langford, but the Rams will not keep him off the field for very long. Langford, Eugene Sims, and William Hayes will be a dominant number 2 unit, but Donald will be the guy starting in the middle with Brockers. This line has the ability to break the single season sack record. They should be fun to watch.
LB - Alec Ogletree,
James Laurinaitis has been one of the most consistent players on this roster since being drafted in 2009. He's never missed a game (knock on wood) and leads the team in tackles every season. You know exactly what to expect from Laurinaitis each and every play, game, and season. He is a positive locker room presence and gets the job done on the field. Ogletree is a different story. This guy is a game changer. He forced 6 fumbles last season and was all over the field. He occasionally looked lost and out of place, but he did and will adjust as he matures. Jo-Lonn Dunbar was a solid signing a couple years back; it's good the Rams decided to resign him after his suspension and the early season defensive struggles in 2013. The linebacker unit will get the job done next season.
CB1, 2, and 3 - Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson, and Lamarcus Joyner (respectively)
Do the Rams have a #1, lock-down corner back right now? No, probably not. Will the immaculate defensive line help cover up the average to above average DB unit? Absolutely. Jenkins is on the cusp of being a special corner. Both him and Tru are entering year 3 and will be hungry to earn their keep on this Rams defense. Greg Reid, Brandon McGee, and even EJ Gaines will be pressing for an opportunity to play, so there is no time for slip ups. Joyner, similar to Tavon, is the only sure bet starter week 1, both looking to play in the slot. Fisher told the Post-Dispatch that Joyner is a "plug-in day one nickleback"... not to be confused with the band.
The CB unit is about as set as the WR unit. We will not know much until camp and preseason.
Safety - TJ McDonald (SS), Mo Alexander (FS)
When McDonald was healthy last season, he exceeded expectations. There is no question he will be the starter week 1, but who will be lining up next to him? Fisher loves Alexander, who I did not know much about the Rams drafted took him the 4th round. Like most guys, when you hear their story, you fall in love with them***, Alexander included. Fisher told team president, Kevin Demoff, that if the Rams missed on Alexander he would be "Bobby Wagner Mad." As we all know, Bobby Wagner is a linebacker the Rams just barely missed out on in the 2012 draft and has turned out to be one helluva player for the Seattle Seahawks. There is something to be said about Fisher's belief in Alexander. McDonald and Alexander could be a dreaded tandem for years to come. If Mo does not get the nod week 1, Rodney McLeod will most likely be the guy, but not for long.
***I wanted the Rams to draft Pierre Desir so badly, both for his ability on the field and for his life leading up to the pros. His story is compelling and his journey to the NFL only made him that much stronger.
It should be an exciting season. The Rams have a tough road ahead of them but it will be a good test to see where they stand on the totem pole. They are young and fearless, and out to prove that they are no longer basement dwellers in the NFL. What do you think? Which positions will see the most improvement?
Note: The poll below does not include Tavon because I have him starting in the slot.