Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Offseason Diagnosis: St. Louis Rams

I really feel for Rams fans. They traded the second overall pick to Washington last year and the Redskins went on the draft rookie sensation Robert Griffin III. The Rams got a boatload of picks in return, but the Redskins got the star quarterback. On top of that, Washington is paying RGIII only $1.3 million next year, while the Rams are stuck paying their young QB $9 million next season (Bradford was taken first overall in the last draft without a rookie wage scale). If you have read any of the other previews, you may take notice to one missing ingredient that every one of these teams that have missed the playoffs have in common; inconsistent quarterback play. Sam Bradford will be entering his fourth season, and it's time to earn some of that money. The Rams also have a few other holes on this roster, and have a bevvy of draft picks to work with, along with some very intriguing decisions in free agency.

The Rams need to bring back Amendola,
the teams leading WR.
The first thing on the Rams checklist this offseason will be resigning unrestricted free agent Danny Amendola. This was a breakout season for Amendola, as he tallied 63 receptions for 666 yards and 3 TD's in only 11 games due to a broken collar bone. Amendola reminds many scouts of a young Wes Welker. He has elite quickness, is a top tier route runner, and you will struggle to find a receiver with better hands. Brandon Gibson, the teams number two wide receiver, is also a pending free agent. The Rams have a lot of young receivers, such as Brian Quick, Chris Givens, and Austin Pettis but none have proven they can become every down starters, so it would be smart to retain Gibson or add another veteran wide out before the draft. The Rams have dedicated a lot of high to mid level picks to that position, and should use the draft to strengthen other areas of the team. The line could potentially lose two starters as Barry Richardson (RT) and Rob Turner (C/G) will both be on the open market. One potential problem that St. Louis faces is a lack of cap space. They committed long term to Chris Long and James Laurinaitis, who both deserve it, but these contracts have left St. Louis with some tough decisions. The Rams could look to move veteran running back Steven Jackson. Jackson has never played in the playoffs, and only has one year left on his contract. They also could look to restructure his contract. The Rams will not be too active in free agency, and their lone priority should be the receiving core. All in all, if St. Louis is going to improve their roster, they will have to do it via the draft.

Jenkins was a nice addition via the draft, the Rams
will need more like him this year.
Last season first year head coach Jeff Fisher got a good amount of production from his first draft class. Michael Brockers was solid on the defensive line and while second round pick Brian Quick (WR) was a flop in his first season, Janoris Jenkins was an absolute steal. Jenkins had four picks, three returned for a touchdown, and he also took a fumble to the house. He gave up a few big plays, but improved his coverage skills drastically over the second half of the season. In this years draft, the Rams will once again have a great opportunity to drastically improve their roster. They own two picks in the first round, 16 and the Redskins pick, 22nd and you can almost bet one of them will be used on an offensive lineman. As noted above, there are a few key members of the line hitting free agency, and on top of that, this group wasn't near elite this past season. Some names to remember for Rams fans, Jake Matthews (OT) out of Texas A&M, Eric Fisher (OT) out of Central Michigan, Chance Warmack (OG) out of Alabama, Taylor Lewan (OT) out of Michigan, and if the Rams look to move up, they could grab Luke Joeckel (OT) out of A&M but that would require jumping into the top five. As you can see there are plenty of options available on the offensive line.

The Rams will likely use the 16th pick to grab a O-lineman, and could double up with the 22nd but I believe they will look safety. Robert Lester out of Alabama and Eric Reid out of LSU are maybe the best options. Matt Elam out of Florida and Kenny Vaccaro out of Texas are other options. In this years draft, don't be stunned if Fisher and company take a QB in the later rounds. The team will likely lose Kellen Clemens so they will need a backup. As we saw with Washington this season, having a good backup is something every team should look for. Who knows, maybe the Rams will find their future starter. EJ Manuel out of Florida State is an intriguing prospect who can be had around the 4th round.

Bradford will decide how far the Rams will go in 2013.
The Rams have had some unfortunate luck with injuries, trades, and guys simply not developing. Every NFL team deals with such obstacles, but the Rams have had more than their fair share. The great teams create their own luck. I am expecting a big year from Sam Bradford in 2013. He has a nice young core around him, and through the draft he should have a serviceable line in front of him. The defense could be one of the NFL's best next season. There is a ton of talent on that side of the ball. With that said, the 49ers and Seahawks will be loaded for years to come. If the Rams want to be players in the NFC West, they must become a better team in all aspects, but most importantly under center.

---Lee Kunkel

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