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2011 Team Report: St. Louis Rams

Quarterbacks

Starter: Sam Bradford
Backup(s): A.J. Feeley

Starting QB: Sam Bradford did a lot of good things as a rookie last season in St. Louis. He took every snap for the team, established himself as a leader and displayed the poise that will make him a star in the NFL. He has a real tenacity about him that is going to serve him well over the long haul of an NFL career. He finished as the Rookie of the Year but needs to improve both his decision making and performance in the red zone. It was encouraging to see him finishing the year with more touchdown passes than interceptions which is rare for a rookie starting quarterback. He truly does have the ability to be an elite NFL quarterback and he'll make strides towards that in 2011. If the surrounding talent can elevate their play, watch out NFL.

Backup QB: A.J. Feeley is the perfect backup quarterback for this team. He has been a starting quarterback in the NFL, has eleven years of experience to pass on to the young Bradford and appears to be content with his role on the team. The scary thing for the Rams organization is that Feeley has not thrown a single pass since 2007. The offense likely will unravel if they are forced to use him for any length of time.

Running Backs

Starter: Steven Jackson
Backup(s): Cadillac Williams, Jerious Norwood, Kenneth Darby, Keith Toston
Fullback(s): Brit Miller

Starting RB: While Bradford is going to be the face of this franchise for the next decade or longer, the leader of this offense at this time is without question Steven Jackson. He has a tremendous attitude and work ethic and plays with a chip on his shoulder. Even though he was suffering through a groin injury and broken finger, he still managed to rush for 1,241 yards, caught 46 passes and didn't miss a game. He has been a reliable fantasy performer throughout his career despite a subpar offensive line over the last few seasons. He has a terrific blend of power, agility and speed and he has another couple of years before he'll reach his plateau. He is without question the man in the Rams backfield and he'll once again have 300+ carries, 45+ receptions and put up very nice fantasy numbers.

Backup RBs: The Rams signed Cadillac Williams, one of the better third-down backs in the league last year. He should shoulder a bit of the load for Jackson. Jerious Norwood was also added and he could add some speed and playmaking ability if he can stay healthy and regain his past form. Kenneth Darby has nice size and has decent all-around skills. However as his 3.1 yards per carry illustrated last year he is really nothing more than a serviceable option if pressed into service.

Fullback: Nothing to see here.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Mike Sims-Walker, Brandon Gibson, Danny Amendola
Backups: Donnie Avery, Mardy Gilyard, Mark Clayton, Danario Alexander, Austin Pettis [R], Greg Salas [R]

Starting WRs: The 'Greatest Show on Turf' Left St. Louis awhile ago and the club is still searching for answers at the wide receiver position. There is young talent here capable of elevating their play but so far, this has been an inconsistent, disappointing group that has not reached their potential. There is a real log-jam here with the addition of Mike Sims-Walker and training camp is huge for all of these players. Danny Amendola stepped in due to injuries last year and did a wonderful job. He caught 85 passes but for only 689 yards and scored 3 touchdowns. He is a master in underneath routes and will continue to get some action in 2011. Mike Sims Walker was signed as a free agent this off-season. He has just a one-season deal and it is 'show me' time for the talented but injury prone receiver. He has 106 receptions over the past two seasons and 14 touchdowns but has missed games in each of his first three years. He's a big target with a good size/speed ration and fantastic 'my ball' mentality. However, injuries have plagued his career to this point and he'll need to stay healthy if he wants to maximize his potential. Brandon Gibson has been running as a starter for all of camp and he can be a reliable if unspectacular option, although his fantasy upside is limited.

Backup WRs: Donnie Avery has phenomenal speed and it appears he has gotten it all back after the knee injury he suffered last year. He has clocked times in under 4.3 seconds in the forty this summer. He is a very talented player but has suffered through some injury woes in each of his first three seasons. However, despite regaining his speed, the team is taking a very cautious approach with him in camp due to a hamstring injury. Danario Alexander is a huge receiver at 6'5 and 215 pounds. He adds a different dimension than Avery who is a smaller option. He caught 20 passes last year and could improve on that in 2011. Mark Clayton is a 7th year veteran who has put up pedestrian stats since he finished with 900+ receiving yards and 6 touchdowns in 2006. He is a decent receiving option but will will almost certainly begin the season on the PUP list. He also hasn't re-signed with the Rams but is expected to do so. The one thing the Rams possess at receiver is depth. Finally to add even more confusion the Rams drafted Austin Pettis in round three and Greg Salas in round four. Both have size, but Pettis may not be fast enough to get away from defenders while Salas has good hands but needs to run crisper routes. Of the two, expect the speedier Salas to put up the better numbers as a rookie.

Tight Ends

Starters: Michael Hoomanawanui
Backups: Lance Kendricks [R], Fendi Onobun

A 5th round draft pick last year, Michael Hoomanawanui got his feet wet as a rookie, caught 13 passes and scored 3 touchdowns. The team expects more from him in 2011. He may be considered a blocker before a receiver though. Rookie Lance Kendricks was picked in the 2nd round for his receiving prowess although he is a capable blocker as well. He is a smooth, talented receiver with soft hands and good route running ability. He looked excellent in his preseason debut and should emerge as the receiving threat at tight end for the team. A wild card to keep an eye on is 2nd year tight end Fendi Onobun who was a pass receiving specialist in college. He had no impact as a rookie last year but has great size and quickness and could surprise.

Place Kicker

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Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Jerious Norwood, Danny Amendola, Mardy Gilyard

Punt Returners: Danny Amendola, Mardy Gilyard

Last year, the Rams were hoping that WR Mardy Gilyard would emerge as the primary returner, so that WR Danny Amendola could focus more on offense. It didn't happen: Amendola did it all and was the sixth ranked fantasy returner. They'll try again this year. Gilyard handled the majority of the returns in the preseason opener. HC Steve Spagnuolo noted, "Mardy did it as a returner. He also covered some kicks; we thought he did a pretty good job there as well. I think he made a little bit of a jump in that regard on special teams, and he made a couple plays as a wide receiver." Another possibility is newcomer RB Jerious Norwood, who could handle kickoff returns and may even get a look on punt returns. Others practicing on returns has included WR Donnie Avery, rookie DB Jonathan Nelson and rookie WR Austin Pettis.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Rodger Saffold, LG Jacob Bell, C Jason Brown, RG Harvey Dahl, RT Jason Smith
Key Backups: Adam Goldberg, Ryan McKee, Hank Fraley, Quinn Ojinnaka

Team Defense

Defensive Line

Starters: Chris Long DE, James Hall DE, Fred Robbins DT, Justin Bannan DT
Backups: Robert Quinn DE (R), C.J. Ah You DE, George Selvie DE, Dan Muir DT, Darell Scott DT, Gary Gibson DT

Starting DL: The Rams were nearly unrecognizably improved in scoring defense (20.5 PPG - 12th, after finishing at 27.3 - 31st in 2009), and it started up front. The defense's 43 sacks (7th) were a tone setting statistic, and one that is becoming emblematic of a Steve Spagnuolo defense. Long enjoyed a breakout season, nearly matching his first two years in the league (combined 9 sacks) with a career best 8.5 sacks and 3 FFs. At just 26, the former second overall pick of the 2008 draft is an ascendant player, just beginning to scratch the surface of his vast potential, given HoF bloodlines. Moving to his more natural LDE may have contributed to his third year surge. Former Lion UFA Hall is 34 but showed he still had a lot left in the tank, with one of the best seasons of his career (49-6, 10 sacks and 5 FFs). He has the positional versatility and scheme flexibility to move inside on passing downs. Robbins is another grizzled 34 year old who seemed to discover the fountain of youth his first season in St. Louis, with a career best 6 sacks. Spagnuolo brought in the former Giant due to his deceptive quickness, athleticism and pass rush ability for a DT, and he was a key contributor to the Rams defensive resurgence. Bannan is a 32 year old most recently in DEN, vouched for by new OC Josh McDaniels. Better against the run, he signed a three year contract (three years and potentially $8 million) and could compete/rotate with fellow free agent and former Colt Dan Muir, who signed a one year contract.

Backup DL: Quinn is the Rams prized first rounder (1.14). If not for a medical scare that appears behind him and missing the 2010 season, he may have been in the conversation as a top 3-5 overall pick. Quinn could be brought along slowly (in a situational capacity), but longer term, has the physical tools, athleticism, talent and upside to eventually become the best pass rusher from the class of 2011. Looks destined to emerge as a cornerstone of Spagnuolo's defense in the future. Ah You and Selvie could figure in the DE rotation, but have limitations. Muir represents a low risk effort to beef up and upgrade the talent level of the interior DL. Scott is a former fourth rounder from Clemson who has been pushed down the depth chart by the acquisitions of Bannan and Muir.

Linebackers

Starters: Zac Diles WLB, James Laurinaitis MLB, Na'il Diggs SLB
Backups: Brady Poppinga SLB, Ben Leber SLB, Josh Hull MLB, Jabara Williams WLB (R)

Starting LBs: STL was middle of the pack in rushing yardage allowed in 2010 (113.1 - 17th), but were more impressive in rushing TDs allowed (seven was tied 4th and just two more than BAL and PIT). Both stats were vastly improved over 2009 (nearly 140 rushing yards per game and 24 rushing TDs allowed, 27th and tied 31st, respectively). In just two years, Laurinaitis has emerged as the heart and soul of the Rams defense and one of the best young MLB/ILBs in the game not named Patrick Willis. He has averaged 100+ solo tackles and had a combined five sacks and three INTs in that time, finishing around top 10 both times in many IDP leagues. The former Ohio State star and inspired 2009 high second round pick by the organization has nice size and is just 24. Ex-Texan free agent Diles (one year contract) should be a big upgrade on the weak side. His best season was in 2008, when he had nearly 50 solos, a sack, FF and INT in just eight games. Diles has good instincts, tackling ability and will bring a much needed element of physicality. Former Packer/Panther Diggs is the incumbent, but at 33 has lost at least a half step, and hasn't had 50 solo tackles since 2004. He could be challenged by another ex-Packer, free agent Brady Poppinga (or possibly ex-Charger/Viking Ben Leber).

Backup LBs: Poppinga and Leber comprise the best LB depth the Rams have enjoyed in years (in fact, one of them could bump Diggs as starting SLB). Like Diggs, both are 30+ and can be viewed as temporary but competent stopgaps. Poppinga can cover TEs, and Leber has the versatility to play or back up multiple positions. Hull is the backup for Laurinaitis, and would represent a dropoff of Himalayan proportions if he were pressed into action.

Defensive Backs

Starters: Quintin Mikell SS, Craig Dahl FS, Ron Bartell CB, Bradley Fletcher CB
Backups: James Butler SS, Jermale Hines SS (R), Darian Stewart FS, Justin King CB, Al Harris CB, Jerome Murphy CB

Starting DBs: The Rams showed how much they prioritized former Eagles SS Mikell and valued his experience with Spagnuolo in Philadelphia by making him their initial signing (four years and up to $28 million, with $14 million guaranteed) in a somewhat quietly assembled free agency class that could turn out to be the franchise's best ever. Set adrift by the Eagles, the former Boise St. UFA has recently been almost as big a ballhawk as departed FS O.J. Atogwe (with 8 INTs since 2008), but brings superior run support ability to the table. Mikell similarly has the leadership to make for a smooth segueway to becoming the new QB of the secondary. Dahl is a former UFA from N. Dakota St. that played well enough last season (87 solos, 1 sack and FF, 2 INTs) to displace 2009 free agent and incumbent starter, ex-NYG SS James Butler. He has limitations, especially in coverage, but is currently the best complement to Mikell. Bartell has outstanding measurables, is both solid against the run and generally adept at keeping plays in front of him in coverage, but hasn't had an INT during Spagnuolo's tenure, after 8 picks the previous three years (he does have 8 FFs since 2007). Former Iowa third rounder Fletcher returned strong from a knee injury, flashing signs last season of becoming the Rams best CB (65 solos and 4 INTs), and is an emerging talent and ascendant player.

Backup DBs: Former Georgia Tech UFA Butler was brought in two years ago by Spagnuolo in his first year as HC, but underwhelming play and multiple injuries conspired to knock him down the depth chart. He accepted a contract restructuring during free agency to remain with the team in a reserve role. Hines is a WLB-sized rookie fifth round SS from Ohio St. (St. Louis seems to have an irresistable attraction to former Buckeye defenders). He didn't grade out exceptionally in coverage... his calling card is in-the-box run stuffing skills, and he could be used situationally in that capacity. Stewart backs up Dahl. King has reportedly been one of the most improved players on the team, and is the favorite to win the nickle back role, if he can avoid the trainer's room. If former Eagle/Packer Harris has anything left in the tank (looking cartoonishly yoked, early camp reports are encouraging), he should find a spot on the roster, especially with Murphy possibly landing on IR with a broken ankle. Spagnuolo covets physical, press coverage corners.

Last modified: 2011-08-20 16:01:40

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