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2014 Team Report: St. Louis Rams

Quarterbacks

Starter: Nick Foles
Backup(s): Austin Davis, Case Keenum

Starting QB: Nick Foles enters his first season with the Rams as the projected starter. After a gaudy stat line in his surprising 2013 breakout with the fast-break Philadelphia Eagles offense, Foles struggled in 2014. Besides avoiding sacks in 2014, Foles' efficiency marks were subpar across the board. With the Rams, Foles joins an offensive line that was one of the worst in the NFL in pass blocking last season and has an unsettled pecking order of pass-catchers. without an uptempo Chip Kelly offensive design or an above-average set of weapons, the Rams passing game hinges on a rebound from Nick Foles.

Backup QB: Austin Davis saw his final NFL action in 2014, filling in for the injured Sam Bradford to open the season. After an efficient first six games, Davis turned back into a pumpkin with five interceptions over his final three starts. Case Keenum, like Davis, had a hot start early in his NFL career, only to revert into a solid backup caliber, at best, in Houston. Sean Mannion is an intriguing rookie with upside to challenge for the primary backup spot out of the gate.

Running Backs

Starter: Todd Gurley [R]
Backup(s): Tre Mason, Benny Cunningham
Fullback(s):

Starting RB: The Rams shocked the 2015 NFL Draft by selecting Todd Gurley at No.10 overall despite a solid rookie season from Day 2 pick Tre Mason in 2014. Gurley was the consensus top talent at running back in the draft class, clouded only by a recovery ACL injury to close his Georgia career. Gurley checks all the boxes as a big and fast three-down back with solid hands and pass protection acumen. Tre Mason may see a majority of the snaps to open the season with Gurley eased into the lineup, but Gurley projects as a high-volume back by the second half of the season at the latest. The biggest question mark with Gurley's upside resides in the St.Louis offense being dynamic enough to produce consistent red zone opportunities.

Backup RBs: Tre Mason had a promising rookie season in 2014, however, the Rams promptly selected top-tier talent Todd Gurley in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Mason is a talented runner with questionable pass-blocking skills and now projects as one of the more talented primary backups in the league. If Gurley misses time finishing his ACL recovery early in the season, Mason is the main benefactor with significant touches. Benny Cunningham exceled as a pass-catcher in 2014, Tre Mason's weak spot in the backfield committee. Todd Gurley's addition tempers Cunningham's role substantially when healthy.

Fullback:

Wide Receivers

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

Starting WRs: The light coming on for Brian Quick in 2014 was short-lived as a significant shoulder injury ended his promising third NFL season. For 2015, Quick is projected to see very little offseason activity leading up to Week 1 and Kenny Britt flashed with Quick out of the lineup to close last season. With new quarterback Nick Foles under center, Britt has the chance to build early chemistry and gain the lead receiver edge. Britt has been a model citizen since his change of scenery from Tennessee, but is now a year-to-year proposition to maintain a relevant NFL role. Britt is the more athletic upside option, while Quick has shown plenty of struggles transitioning from lower level college to the NFL stage. Regardless of which takes hold of the lead job, Britt and Quick form one of the least established starting duos in the league.

Backup WRs: Stedman Bailey was a major benefactor of the Brian Quick injury in 2014, seeing a marked uptick in snaps over the second half of the season. While an unappealing athlete, Bailey outproduced college and now NFL teammate Tavon Austin at West Virginia. Bailey, the classic over-achiever, looks to carve a steady No.3 role in the Rams passing game. Chris Givens' role and productivity has diminished in consecutive season following a promising 2012 rookie season. Now, Givens is in a competition with Tavon Austin, another reduced role receiver in St.Louis, for situational snaps. Austin has struggled to find consistent opportunities on offense after his surprising selection at No.8 overall in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Tight Ends

Starters: Jared Cook
Backups: Lance Kendricks

Jared Cook has logged near-identical stat lines in his two St.Louis seasons. While Cook can stretch the seam with his straight-line receiver-level speed, Cook is an ancillary weapon more than a featured target. Lance Kendricks has found a home has a secondary tight end after limited success since being a second round NFL draft pick, exceling in the red zone.

Place Kicker

Greg Zuerlein: Kicker Greg Zuerlein quietly made 26 of 28 (92.9%) field goals and added 34 extra points last year. The fanfare from his rookie year subsided since his number of long range and extra long range attempts dropped from 13 to 2. He’ll once again be working with the same two co-specialists this year – holder/punter Johnny Hekker and long snapper Jake McQuaide. The latter will once again be spelled/pressed by camp wrist Jorgen Hus. The Rams have ranked in the bottom third in kicker scoring attempts the past three years: 31st in 2011, 24th in 2012 and 27th last year.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Benny Cunningham, Tavon Austin, Chris Givens, Stedman Bailey

Running back Benny Cunningham moved into the primary kick return job primarily due to injuries to the Rams receiving corps. The 27.5 yard average he maintained through 35 returns may go a long way towards him keeping the job in 2015. As Tavon Austin continues to struggle as a wide receiver, there is always the possibility that St. Louis may give him some kickoff returns to increase his touches. Last season, however, the Rams settled Austin into the punt returner role and rarely turned to him on kickoffs.

Punt Returners: Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey

Tavon Austin emerged in 2014 as the punt return threat many expected him to be, racking up an 11.2 yard average and taking one punt back 78 yards for a touchdown. It is unclear who his backup will be, though Stedman Bailey and Austin Pettis were the only other players to see a punt return last season. Pettis is no longer with the team.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Jake Long, LG Greg Robinson [R], C Scott Wells, RG Rodger Saffold, RT Joe Barksdale
Key Backups: T Mike Person, G/C Barrett Jones, C Tim Barnes, G Davin Joseph, T Mitchell Van Dyk [R], T Demetrius Rainey [R], G Brandon Washington

The Rams’ offensive line currently grades out among the league’s best units. Among the key issues for this line is the health of former All-Pro left tackle Jake Long. Long tore his ACL and MCL toward the end of last season, and his rehab is a situation to be watched closely. If he’s healthy, Long is among the league’s most dominant left tackles. If he isn’t healthy, the Rams have many options to replace him. First on that list is probably right guard Rodger Saffold. Saffold signed an enormous deal with the Raiders this offseason, who failed his physical (probably not a real injury but rather regret about the price paid). Saffold landed on his feet and returned to the Rams on a more moderate deal. Saffold has played well at guard, but should the need arise, could swing back to the left side. Joe Barksdale, currently the right tackle starter, is a hugely underrated player, who could also swing back to the left side in an emergency. First round selection Greg Robinson played left tackle at Auburn, but is more likely to start his career at left guard, which was his position as a prep. Robinson is a ridiculously talented prospect physically, but extremely raw in pass protection. It could take multiple seasons before this player can be trusted to be an island against top pass rushers. At center, Scott Wells is another player who is great when healthy, but like Long, finished the year on the injured reserve. Wells is likely to be full go for week one, after rehabbing his broken leg. Overall this is a very talented group of starters, and the depth picture is also interesting. Former fourth round pick Barrett Jones can back up at guard and center, but Tim Barnes is more likely to be the first on the field should Wells get injured again. Former Pro Bowl guard Davin Joseph recently signed with a team on a “show me” deal that is unlikely to see him challenge for a starting position. Still, if Long gets hurt or suffers a setback, he could step in for Saffold at that right guard spot. Brandon Washington appears to be on the way out, as Greg Robinson is going to get his starting position and it’s questionable if the team still has him in their plans. Other depth names at tackle include Mike Person, Mitchell Van Dyk and Demetrius Rainey. Person is a seasoned player but the other two names are recent late round picks and could be candidates for the practice squad. Overall this line has a lot of talent, and can be the best line in the league, should Long and Wells return healthy and Robinson acclimates to the pro game.

Team Defense

Robert Quinn is just flat out unblockable at times and it really helps him to have Chris Long on the other side of the line. They've added Aaron Donald inside, who should add even more on passing downs. There's not a huge drop off behind this great line, with team leader James Laurinaitis and Alec Ogletree leading the linebackers. Ogletree, like Quinn, is still young enough that we can expect some improvement as he moves forward. The secondary is the only concern on this unit. Janoris Jenkins is a scrappy little corner with talent, but not enough size to consistently handle bigger receivers. Trumaine Johnson was brought in to help resolve that, but the Rams also have questions at safety. They don't have to be great in the secondary because they're so good up front.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Chris Long, DE Robert Quinn, DT Michael Brockers, DT Kendall Langford
Backups: DT Aaron Donald [R], DE William Hayes, DE Eugene Sims DE, DE Michael Sam [R]

Starting DL: The Rams lead the NFL with 105 sacks since 2012, when Jeff Fisher became the HC. Quinn was easily the team’s MVP, and not only made All-Pro, but had a Defensive Player of the Year-caliber season. In a breakout, third year campaign that in retrospect looks like the inflection point of a steep upward curve, he was second in the NFL with 19 sacks and 7 FFs (IND LB Robert Mathis had 19.5 sacks and 8 FFs - no other pass rusher had more than 15 sacks), and also had 50 solo tackles, exceeding his first two seasons combined in all three stat columns. Quinn has emerged as arguably the top DE in the game and is an ascendant player at just 24. Based on the arc and trajectory of his meteoric career, he is positioning himself to become one of the highest paid defensive players in the league in the next year or two. Team leader Long was overshadowed by Quinn in somewhat of an off year (33 solo tackles, 8.5 sacks and 1 FF), but his 41.5 sacks since 2010 were quietly top 5 in the NFL, and at 29, should be in his relative prime. He signed an extension in 2012, making his contract worth $60 million ($37 million guaranteed) over five years. Third year man mountain Brockers was the initial pick of three (with soph LB Alec Ogletree and rookie LT Greg Robinson) comprising the first round part of the compensation from the blockbuster Robert Griffin III trade. Only 23 and a hulking 6’5” 322 lbs., he set career highs with 38 solo tackles and 5.5 sacks, but is merely scratching the surface of his gargantuan run stuffing/pocket collapsing potential. It took a year for 2012 free agent, former Dolphin 3-4 DE Kendall Langford to get acclimated to 4-3 DT, but his improvement last season was marked and pronounced.

Backup DL: If you thought the St. Louis pass rush was dangerous before, prized first rounder Donald’s withering interior pressure (led the FBS with 28.5 TFL in 2013) could further weaponize Quinn and Long and conjure up memories of the Fearsome Foursome. He won virtually every major national award or trophy possible for a DL (Lombardi, Nagurski, Bednarik and Outland), dominated Senior Bowl week, than blew up the combine with a jaw dropping combination of speed and power, setting a record for his position with a 4.68 40 time at 285 lbs., along with 35 BP reps. He has been compared to “undersized” Hall of Fame DT John Randle, as well as contemporary Pro Bowler and league best DT, Geno Atkins. Expected to be used situationally at first, his off-the-charts talent looks like it will inexorably lead to an expanded role and eventual starting gig. Hayes is one of the better third DEs in the league, with the versatility to rotate inside for nickel packages. Seventh rounder Michael Sam was the SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year (with C.J. Mosley of Alabama) but revealed limited, underwhelming athleticism at the combine. The first openly gay player to be drafted by an NFL team will have his work cut out for him to carve out a DPR (Designated Pass Rusher) role in maybe the most stacked defensive line position group in the league.

Linebackers

Starters: MLB James Laurinaitis, OLB Alec Ogletree, OLB Jo-Lonn Dunbar
Backups: OLB Ray-Ray Armstrong, OLB Phillip Steward

Starting LBs: Laurinaitis is another team leader, the signal caller and QB of the defense. He might get wider recognition, if not for playing in a division that featured five of the top ILB/MLBs in the game in 2013 (Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman of San Francisco, Daryl Washington and Karlos Dansby of Arizona and Bobby Wagner of Seattle). Laurinaitis had a career low 85 solo tackles, only the second time in five seasons under the 100 solo tackle threshold, but added a career high 3.5 sacks. Just 27, the former Ohio State star and high second round pick also had 2 INTs for the fourth time during his so far half decade tenure as the St. Louis MLB, and is smart, instinctive and an opportunistic playmaker with exemplary intangibles. He signed a five year extension worth $42 million ($23 million guaranteed) in 2012. Ogletree has a similar resume to Dansby, with the speed, athleticism, three down skill set and explosive playmaking ability of a former safety blown up to LB size. His 95 solo tackles and 1.5 sacks were comparable to Defensive Player of the Year Luke Kuechly, and his 6 FFs tied for second among LBs and third among all defensive players. Just 23, he is a key component to what should be one the top front sevens in the league. Ex-Saint and 2012 free agent Dunbar was released by the Rams after receiving a four game suspension from the league, but the defense performed much better once he was re-signed. He is a spark plug and tone setter with his fiery demeanor and physicality, and has familiarity with the scheme being implemented by new DC Gregg Williams, from their previous intersection in New Orleans. Dunbar is a two down LB replaced by a nickel CB in obvious passing situations.

Backup LBs: Dunbar would most likely back up Laurinaitis in case of injury. Ogletree also has positional versatility and experience playing inside at Georgia, though taking on blocks isn't a strength of his game, and his skill set seems to more naturally lend itself to the OLB position. Armstrong was a former blue chip recruit and starting safety at Miami, and has taken a difficult path to the NFL. Following his dismissal from the Hurricanes, he joined St. Louis as a UFA, added weight and has been converted to LB. He was a terror on special teams (for both teams at times!). Steward is a 2013 UFA that provides depth on the outside.

Defensive Backs

Starters: SS T.J. McDonald, FS Rodney Mcleod, CB Janoris Jenkins, CB Trumaine Johnson
Backups: CB/FS Lamarcus Joyner [R], SS Maurice Alexander [R], FS Matthew Daniels, FS Cody Davis, FS Christian Bryant [R], CB E.J. Gaines [R], CB Brandon McGee, CB Greg Reid

Starting DBs: McDonald is another Ram with a famous football player for a father (in addition to Chris Long’s Hall of Fame DL father Howie, Tim was a 6 X All-Pro safety for the Cardinals and 49ers). Like HC Fisher, he is also a USC alumni. With a nice combination of size (6’2” 217 lbs.), speed (4.5), athleticism and interchangeable skill set (SS/FS), the 2013 third rounder is probably better coming up in run support and not as fluid moving in reverse in pass coverage, but has the physical tools, work ethic, football smarts and intangibles to improve with reps and experience. McDonald missed a month and a half in-season with a fractured leg, but showed grit by returning to start a total of 10 games, gaining valuable experience in the process. He finished with 44 solo tackles, 1 sack and 1 INT. McLeod is penciled in as the starter opposite McDonald, but that is probably the single most in flux position on the entire roster. The position should have an Under Construction sign attached to it (on site hard hat required). At this point, his experience is the only thing standing between the rookie safeties and the starting FS gig, and it seems like a matter of when, not if, he is supplanted. Jenkins (another product of the Griffin III trade bounty) was one of the top cover CBs of the 2012 draft, but slid to the second round on off field concerns. After a promising splash play-filled rookie season, he suffered a soph slump last year, but that may have in part been scheme-related. Johnson was a former collegiate safety/CB-tweener (similar to former first rounders Antrel Rolle and Malcolm Jenkins) taken with the first pick in the third round of the 2012 draft that was thrust into a starter role in 2013 with the play of since released Cortland Finnegan unexpectedly falling off a cliff, but has the physical traits and talent to surprise and take a big step up entering the season as a starter for the first time. He offers better size than Jenkins at 6’2” 205 lbs., currently the rage with the Super Bowl success example of Seattle’s towering CB template.

Backup DBs: Fisher and GM Les Snead coveted Joyner’s multi-faceted array of skills enough to part with a fifth round pick, moving up just three spots from #44 to #41 in the second round to snatch him off the board (targeted after a run on the safety position by four teams in round one, including Deone Buchanon and Jimmie Ward to division rivals ARI and SF, respectively). He has the athletic versatility and positional flexibility to excel at FS, CB and nickel CB. The former USA Today National Defensive Player of the Year has drawn comparisons to Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu, Antoine Winfield and Bob Sanders for his diminutive stature (5‘8“ 185 lbs.), explosive striking ability and playmaking skills (5.5 sacks second in the nation among FBS DBs). Joyner is one of the toughest pound-for-pound players in the draft. While initially ticketed for an important nickel CB role, his talent could eventually enable new DC Gregg Williams to move him around to the back end of the secondary on a situational basis (like Mathieu). Fourth round local product SS Maurice Alexander used to clean up the Edwards Jones Dome to help make ends meet after being suspended from Utah State over a fight with a teammate. Now he will get to play in it. A thumper with the athleticism one would expect from a former college LB capable of making the transition to SS, “The Janitor” could be the future at the position for the Rams, cleaning up opposing ball carriers that break past the second level. He has a lot of positional upside given how far he has come in such a short time.

Last modified: 2015-05-10 21:21:40