"Son, your potential is going to get me fired." -Jerry Claiborne, College Football Hall of Fame coach.
One of my favorite sports quotes, and one that likely is in the back of every NFL head coach and general manager's mind. The quote is especially relevant when considering the 2014 St. Louis Rams. The Rams are entering the third season of a major rebuilding project under the guidance of Les Snead and Jeff Fisher. The duo has built a roster brimming with young talented players who have yet to reach, or in some cases even approach, their potential. The blockbuster RGIII trade represents the cornerstone which this rebuild project is being built upon.
The Rams held the second overall pick in the 2014 draft courtesy of the Washington Redskins, and coupled with their own 13th overall selection were in prime position to add even more young players with immense potential. With those two selections the Rams took two of the highest potential players in the entire draft in Greg Robinson and Aaron Donald. Each was the highest rated prospect at their respective position, and each had been compared favorably to Hall of Fame players Larry Allen and John Randle respectively. While we are still a long way from seeing how well the Rams 2014 first-round draft choices turn potential into production, they are far from the only players the Rams are counting on to make the jump.
The roster is by all accounts a very talented one, with heaps of potential waiting to be molded into a Championship contender through coaching and experience. One thing the roster lacks is proven playmakers, with the only player truly qualifying as a proven "elite" player being Robert Quinn. Chris Long and James Laurinaitis each qualify as reliable veterans who are above average, but fall short of the elite playmaker level. Alec Ogletree flashed elite ability in his rookie season, but he still has room to improve his game going into year two. All of those players reside on the defensive side of the ball, things appear even more bleak when shifting focus towards the offense. The only player on offense who qualifies as a proven elite player would be Jake Long, and given the significant knee injury he suffered last season, coupled with a recent history of injuries eating away at his All-Pro ability, it is no sure bet he will return to form in 2014 or into the future. Rodger Saffold has flashed elite potential as an offensive guard but it is still a new position, not to mention how injuries have also plagued him throughout his career.
When the only two players on your offense who fit the bill as "elite" are along your offensive line, there will naturally be some questions regarding your offense's ability to provide enough points to win in today's pass happy NFL. There are plenty of talented young players throughout the offensive depth chart, players the organization has very high hopes for in 2014 and beyond. Of course the list leads off with 2010 Offensive Rookie of the Year Sam Bradford. One of the highest rated signal callers to come out of college in the past 10 years, he has yet to deliver on his potential in the NFL. Hundreds of articles have been written about Bradford and how this may be his last chance to prove he has what it takes to be a franchise QB, so we wont discuss it too much further, but just like any team the Rams success in 2014 hinges largely on the success of their QB. The Rams depth chart is loaded with offensive skill players who have yet to reach their potential with the Rams. Players like Jared Cook, Brian Quick, Tavon Austin, Chris Givens, Kenny Britt, Stedman Bailey and rookie Tre Mason.
Looking at the proven players on the Rams offense and the game plan employed following Bradford's injury in 2013, it is likely they will rely heavily on the run and allow the suddenly very talented offensive line to control the line of scrimmage. Zac Stacy following a pulling Rodger Saffold through a gaping hole opened up by Greg Robinson and Jake Long sure sounds nice, but their ability to throw the ball is going to be the difference between true playoff contender and another 7-9 finish in the rugged NFC West. Which goes back to the quote at the beginning of the article. Jeff Fisher and Les Snead have put all their chips on the table for the young offensive skill players on the roster, opting not to take Sammy Watkins with the second selection in the Draft and adding only the unpredictable Kenny Britt in free agency. Not to imply either of their jobs are on the line in 2014, however if the gamble doesn't pay dividends in 2014 you can bet 2015 would be the year of the "Hot Seat" in St. Louis.
The 2014 Rams are a team with huge potential, if all things go well and key players have breakout seasons (read as: Schotty figures out how to use Cook, Austin, Bailey, etc.) they have 11-5 ability. If there are no big breakout seasons, or if there are some significant injuries to key players they could very well finish at 6-10 and out of the playoffs yet again. So who has the most on the line in 2014 to turn potential into production?