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2012 Team Report: St. Louis Rams

Quarterbacks

Starter: Sam Bradford
Backup(s): Kellen Clemens, Austin Davis

Starting QB: The 2012 season was one to forget for Bradford, who had to learn a new offense under now-departed coordinator Josh McDaniels, and then missed four of the last five games after taking a ton of punishment. Bradford has the skills to produce at Matt Ryan's level, but he needs the supporting cast. Bradford has good-to-great down-field accuracy, toughness in the pocket, the vision to make the best reads, and the arm to execute those reads. At this point, there's lots of promise but much of it is unproven or accompanied with an if. The only player Bradford can count on is his veteran runner Steven Jackson. With yet another infusion of rookie receivers and his third offensive coordinator in as many years, Bradford is essentially starting from square one.

Backup QB: Kellen Clemens had some solid moments in three games as the starter in relief of Bradford. He was once considered a good starting prospect when the Jets initially drafted him in 2006. Austin Davis is a rookie from Southern Mississippi with good pocket mobility and short-medium range accuracy.

Running Backs

Starter: Steven Jackson
Backup(s): Isaiah Pead [R], Daryl Richardson, Terrance Ganaway
Fullback(s): Brit Miller

Starting RB: Steven Jackson is one of the most powerful, versatile runners in the league. With tree-trunks for thighs, he can run through contact and bulldoze linebackers and safety when hit at the wrong angle. He also has special burst for a runner. He's one of the most talented backs in football, but the Rams runner has copped a reputation much like former NFL running back Fred Taylor: immensely talented, but oft-injured on a mediocre-to-bad team. However, like Taylor during his final years of his Jaguars career, Jackson has only missed two games three years, which is excellent for a power back with his agility and burst. If only Jackson had an offensive line commensurate of his talents. The nine-year veteran posted his eighth-straight 1,000-yard season and his fourth top-12 fantasy year at his position. Jackson has only missed two games in the past three years after missing eight games between 2007-2008. The arrival of Jeff Fisher should mean Jackson is in store for another season of 300 touches as a runner and receiver. However, the addition of the versatile Isaiah Pead in the third round means all bets beyond 2012 are off.

Backup RBs: Isaiah Pead enters the league under 200 pounds, but he's not much different in dimensions or style than LeSean McCoy when the Eagles runner arrived in the NFL. He has good change of direction with great hip flexibility and footwork, and the speed to occasionally make big plays when he bounces the right attempt to the outside. Although not the punisher that Jackson is, he is capable of working between the tackles as a lead back. He just needs to develop more maturity with his decision-making. Still, his best fit is probably with more of a spread system. Daryl Richardson is a speedy back and the brother of Bengals runner Bernard Scott. Terrance Ganaway was cut by the Jets after an underwhelming rookie camp. St. Louis will have a look at him. He's a big back with solid feet, but doesn't use his strength the way he should.

Fullback: The Rams fullback's greatest role in St. Louis will come as a lead blocker for Steven Jackson and Isaiah Pead, two runners that should be busy in 2012 in new coach Jeff Fisher's offensive philosophy. Based on past history with the Titans, Fisher likes to use the fullback as a short-range outlet and play action weapon in the flat as a receiver and Miller should earn 2-3 targets per game in that capacity. However, this is not going to be enough to consider Miller a points per reception threat in fantasy leagues. Additionally, Steven Jackson's skill in the red zone is prodigious enough that Miller will rarely earn goal line carries is that will translate into him earning a roster spot in fantasy leagues. Miller is also a natural fullback in terms of size and speed. He's not a hybrid style player like Jason Snelling, Le'Ron McClain, Mike Tolbert, or Marcel Reece. If the Rams need a runner in a pinch, they'll probably acquire a free agent or use an emergency player from another position than rely on Miller to carry the load.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Steve Smith, Brandon Gibson, Danny Amendola
Backups: Brian Quick [R], Chris Givens [R] Austin Pettis, Michael Campbell

Starting WRs: Steve Smith is a Pro Bowl-caliber possession receiver if he sufficiently recovers from microfracture surgery. His situation in Philadelphia was difficult to assess because Michael Vick is not the precision passer that Eli Manning and Sam Bradford are. All reports indicate that Smith is returning to form and likely to start opposite Danny Amendola, who is a lock to make the roster and will man the slot. He's not the next fantasy Wes Welker, but he's capable of solid bye-week production or low-end starter production in larger leagues. Brandon Gibson is a reliable zone receiver with good hands but not a ton of high-end athletic skill.

Backup WRs: Brandon Gibson is a reliable pass catcher that lacks starter-caliber physical skill. Pettis violated the NFL's performance-enhancing substance police and he was suspended for four games last year. The sure-handed, second-year receiver needs a lot of work with his routes and considering that he's not a great athlete in terms of speed and quickness, he could be the odd man out. The rookies Chris Givens and Brian Quick offer promising perimeter skill. Givens has good speed and adjusts well to the football. Quick has been compared to Terrell Owens by receiver coach Ray Sherman, but he's not as dynamic an athlete and is raw as a route runner.

Tight Ends

Starters: Lance Kendricks
Backups: Matthew Mulligan, Mike McNeill

Lance Kendricks turned heads in the summer but disappointed in the fall. Kenricks was not the down field force that Josh McDaniels touted. He's a solid blocker and short to intermediate option, but still needs to develop his route skills and consistency.Matthew Mulligan is more of a blocker, Mike McNeill is a taller, thinner move-tight end in his second year from Nebraska. McNeill has the best chance as a receiver capable of a fantasy impact and he's a long shot.

Place Kicker

Greg Zuerlein [R], Garrett Lindholm : The Rams parted ways with Josh Brown, who had a down 2011 and would have garnered a hefty 2012 salary. They drafted his replacement in the 6th round: Greg Zuerlein out of Missouri Western. During his impressive senior season, Zuerlein hit 23 of 24 (95.8%) field goals, including nine from 50+ yards. The team also parted ways with punter/holder Donnie Jones. Free agent Tom Malone and undrafted rookie Johnny Hekker (Oregon State) will battle for that job. Jake McQuaide is back at long snapper. The Rams have covered the extremes in kicker scoring attempts the last three years -- from ranking 32nd up to 7th back down to 31st.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Danny Amendola, Isaiah Pead [R], Janoris Jenkins [R], Chris Givens [R]

After missing last season from an injury suffered in the opening game, WR Danny Amendola may be the favorite heading into camp to tie up the kick return job. The Rams also drafted a trio of rookies who could mix into the return game, particularly on kickoffs. WR Chris Givens has 4.3 speed and home run potential, while CB Janoris Jenkins and RB Isaiah Pead were both mentioned by Jeff Fisher as players whom he sees as having value in the return game.

Punt Returners: Danny Amendola, Austin Pettis

Amendola should also be the favorite for the punt return spot. Last season the Rams were looking for someone else to emerge to let Amendola focus on offense, but it remains to be seen if the Jeff Fisher regime will feel the same.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Rodger Saffold, LG Rokevious Watkins, C Scott Wells, RG Harvey Dahl, RT Jason Smith
Key Backups: G Robert Turner, G Shelley Smith, T Wayne Hunter

UPDATE: Rokevious Wakins starts at left guard. Wayne Hunter traded for to backup the starter, Barry Richardson at right tackle. PRESEASON OUTLOOK: Center Scott Wells was a Pro Bowl player in 2011 with the Packers, and this free agent acquisition is easily the highlight of this Rams offensive line. Wells is a smart, reliable player with excellent awareness of blitzes that the defense could be bringing. Left tackle Rodger Saffold had a great rookie season in 2010 but suffered several setbacks in 2011. Saffold was victimized by all sorts of defensive ends, and then ended the year on injured reserve with a torn pectoral. Saffold will look to recapture his rookie year form, but if he doesn't, Quinn Ojinnaka is a free agent addition who will be in competition for starting left tackle position. Whoever loses this battle could be the swing tackle, or possibly compete with Jason Smith on the right side. Smith has been a serious disappointment since his high draft pick and was asked to take a major pay cut this offseason. He simply hasn't been very good, and the Rams appear to be running out of patience with him. The Rams signed Barry Richardson to compete at the right tackle position, but it's questionable if he is any sort of upgrade over Smith. Left guard is also a trouble spot for this unit as converted defensive lineman Bryan Mattison will battle with Rokevious Watkins, Robert Turner, and Tim Barnes for the chance to start. Left guard is truly an open competition. Right guard Harvey Dahl is an outspoken and gritty performer that does a decent job. Dahl actually played some snaps at right tackle last season, so the coaching staff will have bigger worries than Dahl. An interesting depth name is undrafted Joe Long out of Wayne State. Joe is the brother of Miami Dolphins stud Jake Long and could be a possible starter in the future. Offensive line coach Paul Boudreau is well-regarded and known for putting together makeshift lines that are often greater than the sum of their parts. Boudreau will have his work cut out for him again this season. The cohesion score is fairly low due to new starters at center and left guard, as well as the uncertainty at both tackle spots (Saffold and Smith were often missing from last season's starting lineup). Rams line can get better if Saffold recovers fully from injury, the left guard competition yields a decent starter, and the team gets better production from the right tackle spot. That's a lot of big ifs.

Team Defense

The Rams made some bold moves on draft weekend. Michael Brokers will immediately step inside and solidify that shaky interior line while Janoris Jenkins is one of the better cover corners in the draft class. That said, the inherent risk with Jenkins is he can't keep his head on straight. If he can, the Rams got a tremendous amount of help in the secondary, which they need, badly. They also added small school corner Trumaine Johnson, who some feel has first round talent. They also added Cortland Finnegan as a free agent and while he does have a temper, he's also a very good cornerback. The team is a tad thin at linebacker, so if there are injuries, that could be a real problem. The front seven as a whole is very good though, and the defense looks like it could be just as good as the seventh ranked squad from 2011.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Chris Long, DE Robert Quinn, DT Kendall Langford, DT Michael Brockers [R]
Backups: DE William Hayes, DE Eugene Sims, DT Trevor Laws, DT Darell Scott, DT Jermelle Cudjo

Starting DL: The Rams had the seventh worst scoring defense (25.4 PPG), were middle-of-the-pack in sacks with 39 (tied-15th) and tied-10th in forced fumbles (14). In an otherwise nightmarish season on both sides of the ball, Long was one of only ten players (and just four DEs) in the league to total more than 11 sacks. He has seen an uptick in sacks all three seasons since his rookie campaign, and approaches the final season of his initial contract with a probable lucrative extension on the horizon. Quinn was the 14th overall pick in the 2011 draft (and might have gone higher if not for former medical concerns). Rotated heavily last season, he is expected to play a far more prominent role and have a correspondingly greater impact on the pass rush this season. The 26 year old ex-Dolphin 3-4 DE Langford was one of the team's higher profile signings in free agency (four years, $24 million - $12 million guaranteed), and will be shunted inside in the base 4-3 alignment. After moving down twice in the first round of the 2012 draft, the Rams selected blue chip run stuffing interior defensive lineman Michael Brockers (1.14). The 6'5", 320 lb. man mountain LSU DT helped anchor one of the stoutest defenses in the nation.

Backup DL: Like Cortland Finnegan, Hayes is reunited with new HC Jeff Fisher. He will figure in a rotation with starting bookend DEs Long and Quinn. He also lends a young veteran presence to a DL shaping up to be very young (among the starters, only DE Long and DT conversion Langford have as many as his four years of service in the NFL, to go with the rookie Brockers and soph Quinn). Hayes should be an upgrade in depth over Sims, who has no sacks in 25 pro games. Ex-Eagle Laws has second round pedigree (2008) and is another young but experienced fifth year vet who should be a useful rotational player on the inside, while also elevating positional depth.

Linebackers

Starters: MLB James Laurinaitis, WLB Jo-Lonn Dunbar, SLB Mario Haggan
Backups: SLB Rocky McIntosh, MLB Josh Hull, WLB Justin Cole, WLB Aaron Brown [R]

Starting LBs: The Rams were the second worst run defense in the league, surrendering 152.1 rushing YPG, and tied-fifth worst by giving up 17 rushing TDs. Laurinaitis has been one of the few constants on the defense in his first three seasons. The former Ohio State star has averaged 100+ solo tackles in that span, and as resident FBG IDP guru John Norton might characterize his St. Louis tenure to date, he has largely operated in an extremely "target rich" environment for tackles. Laurinaitis has also flashed occasional big play ability, averaging nearly three sacks and two INTs a season since entering the NFL in 2009. Like Chris Long both a team leader and in the final year of his rookie contract, he should similarly command a lucrative extension. Ex-Saint Dunbar can play all three LB spots (frequently filling in for injured MLB Jonathan Vilma in 2011), but will deployed as a WLB, where it is hoped he will be an upgrade there over recent seasons. Veteran free agents Mario Haggan and Rocky McIntosh are battling for the remaining spot on the strong side.

Backup LBs: Hull can play multiple positions but possesses merely journeyman caliber talent as injury insurance for Laurinaitis. Ex-Redskin McIntosh has a chance to emerge as the starting SLB. Rookie Brown has a chance to make the roster.

Defensive Backs

Starters: SS Darian Stewart, FS Quintin Mikell, CB Cortland Finnegan, CB Janoris Jenkins [R]
Backups: SS Craig Dahl, CB Bradley Fletcher, CB Trumaine Johnson [R], CB Jerome Murphy

Starting DBs: St. Louis was seventh best in pass defense (206.3 YPG) and 10th best in passing TDs yielded (numbers probably more suggestive of how easy a mark the Rams were against the run than of inherently exceptional pass defense capability). They had a dearth of big plays, finishing in the bottom ten in INTs (13). Mikell was brought in by the doomed old regime, is a better SS than FS and doesn't fit the rebuilding profile at 31, but can still play (nearly top five among safeties in solo tackles, 5 forced fumbles tied-third overall NFL). Stewart supplanted Craig Dahl last season. In no other position group on either side of the ball was the intent of new HC Jeff Fisher and GM Les Snead to summarily make the roster in their own image through free agency and the draft as tangibly evident as at CB. As Fisher termed it in the larger context, last season has been deleted. Former top CB Ron Bartell is out... in is the crown jewel of the Rams 2012 free agent class, ex-Titan CB Cortland Finnegan (reunited with Fisher), along with rookie second and third rounders, Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson, respectively. Finnegan is feisty, both physical in run support and tenacious in coverage. He has also been very durable, missing just three games out of a possible 96 since 2006. Rookie second rounder Jenkins may not start immediately, but had top 10-15 talent if not for multiple well documented off field indiscretions. He neutralized future NFL star WRs A.J. Green and Julio Jones while in the SEC.

Backup DBs: Dahl has previously started, but his athletic and coverage limitations fit best in a backup role. Fletcher could start initially, but be pushed for the job immediately, and it would be no surprise if the far more talented Jenkins starts from day one. Even if the incumbent Fletcher does manage to fend off the gifted rookie, Jenkins and Johnson comprise an instant dramatic upgrade in the talent level and coverage skills of the nickle and dime packages (increasingly critically important and a dire need as the league hurtles along an undeniably more pass-centric vector). Johnson has attendant level of competition concerns, but otherwise offers an outstanding constellation of requisite physical traits and skills for the DB position... a playmaking ball hawk with run support potential, outstanding size, speed and athleticism and the flexibility to play CB or safety. Like Jenkins, he is viewed by the organization as having future starter-type ability.

Last modified: 2012-09-04 15:42:25

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