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2013 Team Report: St. Louis Rams

Quarterbacks

Starter: Sam Bradford
Backup(s): Shaun Hill, Austin Davis

Starting QB: Sam Bradford enjoyed his finest season to-date in 2013 efficiency-wise, but missed nine games and took sacks at a higher rate than any other season. The lack of quality weapons and a poor offensive line have contributed to Bradford's stunted development through four years, but at some point a quarterback needs to rise above obstacles. Bradford will have similar weapons to 2013 and he is nearing the end of his huge rookie contract. The Rams have stood by Bradford despite opportunities to land Robert Griffin III or a quarterback in the 2014 draft. It is now or never for Bradford to stay healthy and build upon the glimpses of strong play from a year ago.

Backup QB: Shaun Hill has throw only 16 regular season passes over the past three years. Earlier in his career Hill saw regular playing time backing up an injured Matthew Stafford in Detroit. Hill's two strongest traits have been above-average accuracy and good decision-making. He is more than capable of sustaining an offense for a few games if Sam Bradford when to miss time. Austin Davis from Southern Mississippi has yet to see regular season action since being an undrafted free agent two years ago.

Running Backs

Starter: Zac Stacy
Backup(s): Tre Mason, Benny Cunningham, Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead
Fullback(s):

Starting RB: Zac Stacy grabbed the starting job in week five last year as a fifth-round rookie and never looked back. While his year-end efficiency marks lagged on a struggling offense, Stacy was a sustaining force when at times the Rams had little working in the passing game with Sam Bradford injured in 2014. Stacy is a rugged interior runner, but athletically average. The drafting of Tre Mason in the third round, a more athletic version of Stacy, gives pause to Stacy repeating his high unobstructed workload from the second half of 2013.

Backup RBs: The Rams drafted Tre Mason in the third round of the 2014 NFL draft. Mason is a similar, if not better, version of starter Zac Stacy. Neither one had much of a pass-catching resume coming out of college. Mason is a younger and more athletic edition and has the ability to challenge for the lead role with refinement as a pass protector. Benny Cunningham's build and running style matches the rugged interior nature of Stacy. Cunningham was efficient in limited time as a 2013 rookie and makes formerly intriguing backs Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead deep flyers at best. After beginning last season as the de facto starter in St.Louis, Daryl Richardson's turf toe injury opened the door for Zac Stacy to emerge as the starter for most of the season. Richardson was shut down for the second half of the season and now has an uphill climb to reemerge as anything but a low-touch situatonal back. Isaiah Pead is two years removed from being a surprise second round selection. Ever since then Pead has disappointed in St.Louis and is now on the roster bubble as a likely special teams player.

Fullback:

Wide Receivers

Starters: Chris Givens, Stedman Bailey
Backups: Tavon Austin, Brian Quick, Austin Pettis, Kenny Britt

Starting WRs: After a strong rookie season in 2012, Chris Givens flatlined in 2013. His struggles in the second half of the season paralleled the timeline of Sam Bradford missing time as St.Louis' offense looked away from the passing game. With few receivers on the depth chart that project as starting outside options, Givens is projected to see significant snaps unless Brian Quick or Kenny Britt surprise. The second starting spot is more wide open with Stedman Bailey emerging over the final month of 2013, but facing a four-game suspension to begin the 2014 season. With Bailey out, the door is open for Brian Quick or Kenny Britt. Britt is a wild card if he can recapture his athleticism and focus from his early Tennessee years. Bailey is a shorter, but thick receiver with strong hands and route running to compensate for his lack of overt athleticism. Bailey is more of a short-term placeholder than an emerging offensive centerpiece.

Backup WRs: Tavon Austin had a rollercoaster ride as a rookie between rarely seeing the field at times to breaking off long touchdowns. Austin's open field speed is a sorely needed boost for the Rams offense. At a minimum, Austin will be leveraged as a slot receiver and situational rusher a la Percy Harvin on an offense lacking weapons. Brian Quick and Kenny Britt were both highly drafted receivers that have not put things together in their careers to-date. Britt dominantly flashed at times in his early seasons with the Titans before injuries derailed him. Quick has been invisible since being a surprise pick in the early second round, not putting his big frame to use on the outside. Austin Pettis fell off in 2013 after a strong opening month of the season. Pettis is arguably the best red zone receiver on the Rams roster on a crowded, but unspectacular St.Louis receiver depth chart.

Tight Ends

Starters: Jared Cook Jared Cook
Backups: Lance Kendricks

Jared Cook burst on the scene in 2013 after his lucrative free agent contract moving from Tennessee to St.Louis. After 141 yards and two touchdowns in week 1, Cook had just one game with more than 50 yards the rest of the season. More straight-line wide receiver than tight end, Cook is an ancillary weapon more than featured target. Lance Kendricks has found a home has a secondary tight end after limited success since being a second round NFL draft pick.

Place Kicker

Greg Zuerlein: Greg Zuerlein started off strong as a rookie last year, not missing any kicks during the first five games, but tapered off thereafter. He also garnered media and fantasy attention with lots of long and extra long attempts. He'll be working with the same two co-specialists this year - holder/punter Johnny Hekker and long snapper Jake McQuaide. Following a top ten ranking in kicker scoring attempts in 2010, the Rams plummeted to 31st in 2011, and then rebounded slightly (24th) last year.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Benny Cunningham, Tavon Austin [R], Isaiah Pead

The Rams traded up in the first round to select wide receiver Tavon Austin. Austin is regarded as a play maker on a team that has a shortage of them. Coach Jeff Fisher has expressed hesitation about using Austin on kickoffs though plans to use him as a punt returner. Running backs Isaiah Pead and Benny Cunningham were given most all the opportunities in preseason, with Cunningham winning by default as Pead served an early season suspension.

Punt Returners: Tavon Austin [R], Austin Pettis,

Many people expected Tavon Austin would be thrust into both returner roles, though early depth charts have receiver Austin Pettis as the punt returner, and don't list a backup. Pettis had a fairly pedestrian season as a punt returner in 2012. Tavon Austin will still likely figure into the return game, even if it is to a lesser degree depending on game situation when the Rams need a big play.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Jake Long, LG Shelley Smith, C Scott Wells, RG Harvey Dahl, RT Rodger Saffold
Key Backups: T Ty Nsekhe, T Joe Barksdale, G Rokevious Watkins, G Chris Williams, C Barrett Jones

The big news for the Rams is the acquisition of left tackle Jake Long. Long had four Pro Bowl appearances in his five years in Miami and is actually underrated at this point. Some will say he's overpaid, but regardless he's an elite left tackle in the prime of his career. Long returning to the Midwest was apparently a priority; it was reported that Long could have taken more to stay in Miami. Adding Long to this group had the further benefit of sliding Rodger Saffold to right tackle, solving that problem with one addition. Saffold is a solid player who should excel in his new role. The Rams return all four other starters from the end of last season, besides Long, which is very good for their cohesion score. Left guard Shelley Smith will battle with Rokevious Watkins for a starting position. Neither player is especially great, but either would benefit by playing next to Long. Former first rounder Chris Williams is back with the team, and could also be in the mix for this position. Center Scott Wells is a player to watch, as he has had several surgeries on the same knee. When healthy, Wells is a Pro Bowl caliber center who can make a real difference. However, it is a question how healthy the thirty-two year-old is at this point. Wells has to prove on the field that his injury problems are behind him. Right guard Harvey Dahl finished last season on the injured reserve list with a torn bicep. When healthy, Dahl is an upgradable player. Dahl can push the pile in running situations, but he can be exploited in pass protection and is somewhat penalty prone. If either of these starters falter, fourth round center Barrett Jones out of Alabama should be a future starter for the Rams. Jones has his own injury issues, actually playing with a Lisfranc injury through the final weeks of the Tide's national championship campaign. Jones may not be ready for Week 1, but he is versatile and will get a shot somewhere along the line. Joe Barksdale is the swing tackle but isn't the greatest athlete. Ty Nsekhe, a massive former Arena league signing with the Colts, could push Barksdale for the swing tackle job. Overall this Rams line is vastly improved from 2012 and if they stay healthy will be among the league's better lines.

Team Defense

The key note for the 2013 Rams defense will be cohesion. Head coach Jeff Fisher came in last season and put his stamp on the defense. There was a good deal of improvement - as would be expected from a coach with Fisher's track record. This past offseason, while many teams became hyperactive in free agency, Fisher and the Rams chose for the most part to continue to coach up their existing talent. This consistency and excellent coaching should allow the Rams to continue to be a borderline starting fantasy unit.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Chris Long, DE Robert Quinn, DT Michael Brockers, DT Kendall Langford
Backups: DE William Hayes, DE Eugene Sims, DT Jermelle Cudjo

Starting DL: After a brief, one year interlude from football, the inaugural campaign of former long time Titans head coach Jeff Fisher exceeded nearly all expectations. Coming off a historically inept 15-65 record in the previous five seasons, Fisher immediately instilled in the franchise a tangible sense of respectability. By getting the players to buy into his program and believe in themselves, the Rams elevated their record to nearly .500 (7-8-1), including the best intra-divisional record in the suddenly ascendant NFC West. St. Louis moved into the top half of scoring defenses (21.8 PPG tied for 14th with the Vikings). After being challenged to break the league sack record in 2012, the defense surprisingly notched a league best-tying 52 sacks (with the Broncos). Star bookends Chris Long and Robert Quinn racked up 11.5 and 10.5 sacks, respectively. Hulking, pocket collapsing first rounder Michael Brockers was the first payoff from the monumental Robert Griffin III trade. He was as stout in the run game and even further along as a pass rusher than advertised. Ex-Dolphin Kendall Langford is another physical interior presence and active run stuffer.

Backup DL: William Hayes, like Cortland Finnegan, was part of the Tennessee pipeline. After a career year with seven sacks, St. Louis re-signed him to a three year deal, with nearly $6 million guaranteed. Hayes played an integral part in the performance of the rejuvenated defense. Not only is he the third, rotational defensive end, but he can rush from inside in passing situations, to get their three best pass rushers on the field at the same time. The depth on the defensive line is more settled than in the back seven.

Linebackers

Starters: MLB James Laurinaitis, LLB Alec Ogletree [R], RLB Jo-Lonn Dunbar
Backups: WLB Will Witherspoon, MLB Josh Hull, LB Jabara Williams, LB Jonathan Stewart, WLB Ray Ray Armstrong

Starting LBs: The Rams were middle of the pack in run defense last year, finishing 15th (117.5 rushing YPG). James Laurinaitis has entered the ranks of the best linebackers in the game. In 2012 he led the league with a career high 118 solo tackles. While not as athletically gifted and naturally talented for his position as the likes of Patrick Willis, Navorro Bowman, Daryl Washington and Bobby Wagner within the division, his desire to be great extends to his off field preparation. A notorious film junkie and student of the game, Laurinaitis is just as fanatical about strength training and conditioning. He is passionate about football, leads by example and plays with intensity and relentlessness on the field. An underrated playmaker, he has 9 sacks and 7 INTs in four seasons. HC Fisher noted that first round rookie Alec Ogletree reminded him of a former player, ex-Titan Pro Bowl weakside linebacker Keith Bulluck. Both were former safeties with multifaceted skill sets, gifted athletes with tempo setting speed, dynamic playmaking ability and the unusual combination of being explosive strikers with outstanding coverage ability. If not for multiple off the field indiscretions and red flags, Ogletree might have been taken in the top half of the first round, instead of his eventual 1.30 landing spot. Taking a calculated risk on a brilliant talent with a checkered resume was reminiscent of the (so far) greatly successful addition of starting cornerback Janoris Jenkins. Most recently deployed on the inside at Georgia, Ogletree will play on the outside in St. Louis (with Laurinaitis not going anywhere). Somewhat like the Jaguars a few years ago, the Rams will use right and left LB designations, not weak and strong side. Ogletree will start on the left side, more often equivalent to strong side, as most offenses are right handed. Perhaps he will eventually migrate to right (weak) side, where he would have more freedom to rocket towards ball carriers in the open field. Though with pass rush ability and the size and athleticism to cover TEs, he has the encompassing skill set and positional versatility to also fit on left (strong) side. Dunbar was a revelation last year, finishing nearly top 10 for his position with 90 solo tackles, adding 3.5 sacks, 2 INTs and 2 FFs (both Ogletree and Dunbar have cross training at multiple linebacker positions). Dunbar will be suspended for the first four games of the 2013 season due to a PED violation. Will Witherspoon is expected to take his place and HC Jeff Fisher stated he could keep the job if he plays well.

Backup LBs: Free agent Will Witherspoon returns to the Rams after beginning his career with four years in CAR, the next four in STL and the past three in TEN (the first season for Fisher). He also has scheme versatility, and played WLB and MLB in his first stint with the Rams. He will start at RLB in Dunbar's absence, and could retain the job if he plays well. Linebacker is a position that could suffer a severe drop off in the case of any more losses, such as injury, more so even than the defensive line or secondary. A couple intriguing free agents that could be worth keeping an eye on in camp include Jonathan Stewart and dismissed former Miami Hurricane strong safety Ray-Ray Armstrong, who will be attempting a position conversion to weakside linebacker.

Defensive Backs

Starters: SS Darian Stewart, FS T.J. McDonald [R], CB Cortland Finnegan, CB Janoris Jenkins
Backups: FS Rodney Mcleod, S Matthew Daniels, CB Trumaine Johnson, CB Brandon McGee [R]

Starting DBs: As against the run, St. Louis was middle of the pack and finished 15th against the pass (225.1 passing YPG), also finishing just outside the top 10 with 17 INTs in 2012. Darian Stewart is the only remaining incumbent after the departures of Quintin Mikell and Roger Dahl. Jeff Fisher stated the hope Mikell could be re-signed at a later date. Stewart has shown flashes of promise, but can also be inconsistent at times, especially in coverage. Hard hitting USC third rounder T.J. McDonald is from Fisher's alma mater. He has good size, and like teammate Chris Long, NFL bloodlines (Pro Bowl father Tim). McDonald may be best suited for an in the box role. That skill set could also describe Stewart, so they might have interchangeable strong and free safety roles. The acquisition of former Titan Pro Bowler Cortland Finnegan was a key addition, facilitated by the Fisher connection, in order to be a tone setter for the defense and entire team. Jenkins may have been the best cover corner in the class of 2012, but fell to the second round due to multiple, well documented off the field issues. He merited Defensive Rookie of the Year attention with four defensive TDs (rookie record-tying and league leading three INT returns and one FR). If Jenkins can avoid off field distractions, he has Pro Bowl caliber talent.

Backup DBs: If Mikell is re-signed, that would boost a currently thin safety bench, whether he starts or backs up Stewart and the rookie McDonald. CB Trumaine Johnson came one round after Jenkins (2012 rookie third rounder). He has good size and ball skills, and probably has the requisite physical tools and positional skill versatility to play safety if ever needed. Johnson acquitted himself nicely in the nickel back role, where he is expected to return this season. While he didn't carry as much pre-draft baggage as Jenkins, he has had some off field issues before and since, and may need to make better decisions to fulfill his NFL potential. Rookie fifth round cornerback Brandon McGee was a multi-year starter for Miami and is slotted to be the dime back.

Last modified: 2014-05-12 16:44:25