This season for the Rams is a season built on pressure - like a diamond - there are certain players that find themselves in position to directly affect this year's results the most. These players will be needed for a full 16 games in order for the Rams to have a winning season and make a run for the playoffs. The team has been built for success, and consistent weak links appear to be a thing of the past. Now, here in the present, the team will look to begin trends of success for the future.
The Offensive Line
It's only fitting that the offensive line be the first to grace this list, considering it all starts in the trenches. Rather than going through every single player, it seems better to keep this group as a unit, since working in unison is what most lines pride themselves on.
The offensive line will need to stay healthy. Their performance is not nearly as much of a concern as their availability. A healthy line over the course of 16 games could very well produce two Pro Bowl players. Jake Long and Rodger Saffold at times last year looked as good as anyone. Joe Barksdale has the makings of a guy who can do this for 10 years, while staying extremely efficient, but somehow remains overlooked. He and Saffold together created a dominant right side. The chemistry almost seemed instant, and should only improve this season.
Greg Robinson should consider himself to be very lucky. He gets to play in-between Jake Long and Scott Wells. These are the two most knowledgeable players on the offensive line. They should be able to help him grasp an understanding of the playbook. Robinson's natural talent insinuates that he will be a dominant force once the game slows down. The hope is that Long and Wells will expedite that process.
The biggest question mark on the offensive line is Scott Wells. He is the oldest of the Rams line - he can thank Shaun Hill for taking over as the oldest Ram - and his health has been a major concern.
Prediction- 32 sacks allowed --- one Pro Bowl (reserve) --- 1750 rush yards
Staying in the trenches, how could Robert Quinn possibly be left off this list? Quinn's performance last season was beautiful. He finished with 19 sacks but left about 3 more on the field with missed tackles. Just think, 22 sacks in a Rams jersey, now that would be beautiful. Quinn was also a monster in the run game. He was arguably the most unstoppable defensive player in the NFL last season. The Rams will need more of that this year. While it would be naive to expect Quinn to reach 19 sacks for a second consecutive season, there is no reason to think that there will be a drastic decline in his overall performance. Quinn will need to continue to dictate the game on his side of the line, and be that disruptive force that changes game plans.
Prediction- 14.5 scks --- 59 tck --- 5 ff --- 2 fr
Yup, you guessed it; we are still in the trenches. Again, games are won and loss due to the play of the lines. Chris Long began last season slow due to the a nagging hip injury. Once his name was no longer on the injury report - one month into the season - he began to look more like the Chris Long we all know and love. One of the league leaders in sacks and hurries over the last four seasons, Long is still in the prime of his career. He will enter camp healthy, and as long as he remains that way he should continue to be a very productive pass rusher. More-so, now that Gregg Williams is in St. Louis and will bring his blitz happy schemes - as well as Robert Quinn playing on the other side - Long should expect to get about the same amount of attention from opposing offenses as a third round rookie.
Prediction- 11.5 scks --- 51 tck --- 2 ff --- one fr
James Laurinaitis has become the steady leader the Rams Defense lacked prior to his arrival. But he is not kept around solely for his locker room presence. He has also earned his keep through his play. Laurinaitis has been one of the most consistent players overall since entering the NFL. His 634 tck, 12 sacks, 31 pass defelctions, and nine interceptions, are all good enough for a top 6 rankings of all middle linebackers over the last five seasons. That is quite the model of consistency. Speaking of consistency, he has never missed a game in his career, and has played every down for the Rams since entering the league with the exception of 13 plays. Barring injury, Laurinaitis will more than likely continue his consistent trend, and lead what seems to be one of the most highly anticipated front sevens in the NFL this season.
Prediction- 134 tck --- 5 sck --- 3 int --- 2 ff
Of course Sam Bradford was going to crack the list.
Bradford has everything he needs to succeed - with the exception of a better play caller, but more on that another day - all he needs to do is perform. But in order to perform he needs to be on the field. Bradford's inability to stay healthy has been his biggest issue as a pro. When healthy, he has shown a consistent improvement with his overall game. Consistent enough that prior to his injury last season I went from a simple Bradford supporter to a die hard believer. You could even see him being more vocal than ever on the sideline.
Much like the offensive line, it is not Bradford's performance that is the concern but rather his availability. If Bradford can avoid another fluky injury, than there is little reason to believe he will not pick-up where he left off last season. One thing to remember with a quarterback like Bradford; an ACL injury may not have the same effect on someone like himself, as it would on someone like RGIII.
Prediction- 4150 yds --- 27 td --- 10 int --- 62% comp