QB Bruce Gradkowski, QB Trent Green, FB Dan Kreider, WR Reche Caldwell, TE Anthony Becht, G Jacob Bell, CB David Macklin, K Josh Brown.
WR Donnie Avery, WR Keenan Burton, OT John Greco, G Roy Schuening, DE/OLB Chris Long, OLB David Vobora, ILB Chris Chamberlain, CB Justin King.
QB Gus Frerotte, WR Isaac Bruce, TE Dominique Byrd, TE Aaron Walker, OT Ken Shackleford, OT Todd Steussie, G Milford Brown, C Andy McCollum, DE Trever Johnson, OLB Brandon Chillar, OLB Raonall Smith, S Hanik Milligan, K Jeff Wilkins.
2008 St. Louis Rams Offense:
The Rams never even had a chance last year. Orlando Pace played just one game before tearing his rotator cuff and missing the rest of the season. Thanks to poor pass protection, Marc Bulger was bombarded by rib injuries and concussions. Steven Jackson also missed four contests with various injuries.
With all of this firepower out of commission, it's no surprise St. Louis finished 28th in scoring, averaging 16.4 points per game. Everyone is slated to be back healthy in September, so the Rams will return to their Greatest Show on Earth ways, right? Well, I wouldn't bet on it.
Orlando Pace is coming off a torn shoulder. He may be one of the best offensive tackles of all time, but the fact is that he turns 33 in November. He has also missed 23 games the past two years. I don't know about you, but relying on an oft-injured guy in his mid-30s to protect the starting quarterback of my franchise doesn't sound too appealing. I'm actually willing to bet Pace misses extensive time in 2008. Once that happens, the Rams will once again be forced to depend upon Alex Barron to protect Bulger's blind side, which was a disastrous proposition in 2007. St. Louis needs third-round rookie John Greco to develop quickly; he may be the team's only hope.
Right guard is also a major issue. Mark Setterstrom is slated to start there, but he is coming off a nasty knee injury that caused him to miss 13 contests last season. Roy Schuening, another first-year lineman, will also need to progress quickly.
Despite the serious lack of depth at offensive tackle and right guard, the Rams' offensive line should be better than it was last season. One of their two major signings this offseason was former Titans guard Jacob Bell. Bell, who agreed to a 6-year, $36 million with his new employers, was widely considered as one of the top free agents this spring. He was right behind Alan Faneca on my guard list. He'll be a force at left guard.
Another boost to St. Louis' front five is the return of Richie Incognito, who missed 12 games in 2007 with a high ankle sprain. Incognito is a solid lineman and should beat out Brett Romberg for the starting center gig.
Now, I know I said the Rams' offensive line has improved, but I don't know if they made enough upgrades to keep opposing defenses from racking up tons of sacks each week (48 in total last season), especially if Pace is misses tons of time again. Thanks to the beating he took, Bulger threw more interceptions (15) than touchdowns (11). This was by far the worst ratio of his career; prior to the 2007 campaign, Bulger had always thrown at least as many scores as picks. I was actually impressed that Bulger missed only four starts. I don't think he'll be as lucky in 2008.
Making things much more difficult for Bulger is a depleted receiving corps. He lost Shaun McDonald and Kevin Curtis last year. Now, he had to say goodbye to Isaac Bruce. I understand Bruce, a soon-to-be 36-year-old, was a declining player, but St. Louis found no immediate replacement, unless rookies Donnie Avery and Keenan Burton can contribute right away. Who else is going to fill in for Bruce's production? Drew Bennett? Dane Looker? Regressing tight end Randy McMichael?
I'm expecting Steven Jackson to receive more touches than ever. Jackson had only 237 carries and 38 receptions last season, but that was because hampered by a groin injury. As long as he stays healthy, Jackson should be able to match his 2006 numbers (1,528 rushing yards, 90 receptions, 806 receiving yards, 16 touchdowns). The Rams have no one behind Jackson if he misses time, but keep in mind that this is his contract year. He'll play hurt if he has to.
St. Louis' offense has the potential to be great again. Potential's a scary word, and "great" would require Pace, Incognito and Setterstrom to stay healthy; Barron to improve; Bulger to keep all his ribs intact; and one of the rookie receivers to step up. That's a lot of conditions to be met.
2008 St. Louis Rams Defense:
And we haven't even gotten to St. Louis' defense yet! No surprise that the Rams were ranked 31st in points allowed. In an attempt to fix this, the front office considered drafting Glenn Dorsey and Chris Long in April. They couldn't decide, and had to go golfing in order to figure things out. The consensus apparently was Dorsey, and the plan was to utilize the No. 2 overall selection on the LSU defensive tackle. The Rams' general manager, however, was friends with the Long family, and decided on the Virginia end instead. And they want $850 to $900 million for this franchise?
That said, I believe Long was the best choice. St. Louis defensive ends managed a grand total of five sacks in 2007. You read that right - FIVE SACKS. James Hall led this talented group with two. The team cut Hall and was able to re-sign him for a much cheaper price because no one else wanted him. Leonard Little will be back from a fractured toe, but he turns 34 in October. He didn't even do much when he was in the lineup; Little managed only one sack in the seven contests he participated in.
If the Rams stay in the 4-3, Long's addition will allow Adam Carriker to stay inside at defensive tackle next to La'Roi Glover. Clifton Ryan will also see some action on a rotational basis, as he showed some promise as a rookie last season. St. Louis may also transition to the 3-4 - the team operated in this scheme last year, and Jim Haslett expressed interest in switching to it on a full-time basis - meaning Long could play one of the rush linebacker positions.
St. Louis may have added Long to its defensive front, but it suffered a significant loss at strongside linebacker with the departure of Brandon Chillar. The team needed Chillar in place because it has no solid replacement; Quinton Culberson has only one career start under his belt. Meanwhile, weakside linebacker is a mess with Pisa Tinoisamoa always spending time on the IR. Tinoisamoa, coming off a torn MCL, has missed 12 contests the past two years. The Rams are at least set at middle linebacker, where Will Witherspoon had 110 tackles and seven sacks in 2007.
It's tough to cover anyone when your defensive ends get five sacks a year, but the secondary deserves a ton of the blame for the team's inability to stop the pass. Corners Tye Hill and Fakhir Brown were horrendous last season. Hill, who missed half the year with hand surgery, was really disappointing after a solid rookie campaign. Brown, meanwhile, failed a drug test, but won't be suspended because he won his appeal. Brown, 31 in September, should now work on an appeal to the higher powers to grant him better coverage skills.
The safety position is also an issue. Strong safety Corey Chavous is a smart player, but his skills already have begun to decline; he turned 32 in January. Free safety O.J. Atogwe qualified for the Pro Bowl with his eight interceptions, but that statistic was very misleading. Atogwe was able to accumulate so many picks because opposing quarterbacks felt comfortable throwing his way. Atogwe is very sub par in coverage.
It boggles my mind that a team ranked second-to-last in defense added just one player of significance to its stop unit this offseason (two if Justin King can play right away). Then again, maybe I shouldn't be so shocked; the Rams are 17-31 the past three years.
2008 St. Louis Rams Schedule and Intangibles:
Remember when the Edwards Jones Dome was such a huge advantage for the Greatest Show on Turf? Now, not so much. Of St. Louis' three victories, two were on the road. Its lone home win came against the Falcons. The team lost as hosts to numerous non-playoff squads, including Carolina, San Francisco and Arizona.
Jeff Wilkins is gone, but no problem! The Rams brought in Josh Brown, one of the top kickers in the NFL. Brown nailed 28-of-34 attempts in 2007, including 3-of-5 from 50-plus. And this was done in the rainy Pacific Northwest. Brown's numbers can only improve inside the Taxpayer Dome.
Punter Donnie Jones has a pretty strong leg (47.2-yard average), but his accuracy needs work. Jones hit only 18 punts inside the opponents' 20. St. Louis' foes had just one more, but on 12 less punt attempts.
In 2006, the Rams failed to return a punt or kickoff for a touchdown and they surrendered three of their own. They made some noise by trading for Dante' Hall, who helped them finally score on special teams. Unfortunately, St. Louis still yielded two returns to opponents.
The Rams started 0-8 last year, and it looks like history may repeat itself. Just look at their schedule prior to Week 9 (Arizona): Eagles (road), Giants, Seahawks (road), Bills, Redskins (road), Cowboys and Patriots (road). Looks like a 1-6 or 2-5 start, but it definitely could be 0-7. Fortunately, things get easier for St. Louis. After the Cardinals, the team gets the Jets, 49ers (twice), Bears, Dolphins and Falcons.
2008 St. Louis Rams Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2008 St. Louis Rams Analysis: St. Louis has done very little to improve its defense, which means its offense will have to average about 25-28 points per game. With a questionable offensive line and receiving corps, and the uncertainty of Marc Bulger and Orlando Pace's ability to stay healthy, I don't see that happening.
The Rams have a few recognizable stars like Bulger, Steven Jackson, Torry Holt and Pace, but they're clearly one of the worst teams in the NFL.
Projection: 4-12 (Tied 3rd in NFC West)
2008 Fantasy Football Rankings:
Marc Bulger: Marc Bulger lost his No. 2 option. His blind-side protector has major injury issues. He's coming off his worst season, and he's played all 16 games only once in his career. The Rams will be throwing the ball a lot because their defense sucks, but I'm not sure if Bulger is always going to be the one under center.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 2,800 passing yards. 18 passing TDs. 20 rushing yards. 0 rushing TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 250.
Steven Jackson: A groin injury limited Steven Jackson's production in 2007. In 11 full games, Jackson totaled 961 rushing yards, 36 receptions and 262 receiving yards. Not bad for a running back whose best blocker missed 15 contests. With Isaac Bruce off in San Francisco, Jackson will be featured more often in the passing game. Now in his contract year, Jackson's numbers may revert to 2006 form, when he had 1,528 rushing yards and 90 receptions.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 1,450 rushing yards. 600 receiving yards. 11 total TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 271.
Randy McMichael: Random fact - Randy McMichael has never missed a game in his NFL career. And, uhh... that's about all the positive things I have to say about McMichael. Once one of the better second-tier tight ends, the Dolphins parted ways with him because of character issues. So, it's no surprise McMichael's production dropped. In 2007, he had 39 receptions and 429 yards - both of which were career lows.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 475 receiving yards. 3 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 65.
Torry Holt: Torry Holt just turned 32, but I have to believe he still has a few more productive seasons left in the tank. In a down year for St. Louis' offense, Holt managed 93 receptions, 1,189 yards and seven touchdowns.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 1,175 receiving yards. 8 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 165.
Drew Bennett: The Rams did Marc Bulger and their fans a disservice by not finding someone who can be the No. 2 receiver across from Torry Holt. Drew Bennett sucks. His 2007 numbers (33 catches, 375 yards, three touchdowns) will improve because he'll actually be starting, but don't even think about drafting him.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 650 receiving yards. 4 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 89.
Donnie Avery: Donnie Avery should be able to win the job as St. Louis' slot receiver, but I'm going to write what I write about 99 percent of all rookie receivers: Don't draft them.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 400 receiving yards. 2 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 52.
Josh Brown: One of the NFL's most lethal kickers goes from the rainy Pacific Northwest to a nice, comfy dome. Josh Brown hit 28-of-34 tries last season, including 3-of-5 from 50-plus. Keep in mind, however, that Brown will be playing for a much worse offense, so his attempts may drop.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 26-31 FG (4-6 50+). 36 XP.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 130.
St. Louis Defense: Don't even think about it.
Projected Fantasy Ranking: Bottom 10 Defense.
2008 NFL Draft Grade:
The Rams made the right move taking Chris Long second overall. Defensive tackle wasn't as big a need as defensive end. The 3-4 also wouldn't be an option for Jim Haslett. And Glenn Dorsey's knees and back were obviously a concern; otherwise he wouldn't have slipped down all the way to five ... John Greco was a solid choice atop the third round. Orlando Pace may never have a healthy season again, so insurance was a must ... I can't believe Justin King was available in the fourth round. His work ethic is questionable, but maybe slipping all the way to No. 101 will put a chip on his shoulder. He'll help a thin Rams secondary ... Two more second-day steals for the Rams: Keenan Burton and Roy Schuening. Burton might actually be better than the other wide out St. Louis took (more on him later), while Roy Schuening was projected to go in the second round by some. Marc Bulger needs all the help he can get up front, and Schuening will definitely help protect him.
Donnie Avery. What were the Rams thinking? Avery was the No. 8 or 9 receiver on most boards. They could have obtained him in the third round if they really wanted him. Avery is a small wide out who put up bogus numbers playing in a gimmicky offense in Conference USA. Limas Sweed, Devin Thomas, James Hardy and DeSean Jackson would have been better options. And like I said, if St. Louis really wanted Avery, it could have waited till Round 3.
Grade give on 4/28/08: B+
2008 NFL Draft Picks:
2. Chris Long, DE/OLB, Virginia
I'm shocked. I thought the Rams would make the wrong decision. Instead, they drafted Chris Long, who could become the best player in this class. Glenn Dorsey didn't really make sense because of the team's need at defensive end. (Pick Grade: A)
33. Donnie Avery, WR, Houston
The Rams showcased why they're 17-31 in the past three years. Donnie Avery with Limas Sweed, DeSean Jackson, James Hardy and Devin Thomas available? Typical Rams. Maybe they should have went golfing and voted on this selection too. (Pick Grade: F)
65. John Greco, OT, Toledo
I'm surprised to see the Rams not reach for an offensive tackle, though there were better prospects available (Carl Nicks, Anthony Collins.) John Greco is a decent player, or at least I thought he was. The fact that St. Louis drafted him doesn't bode well for his career. (Pick Grade: B)
101. Justin King, CB, Penn State
A steal in Round 4 and a rare solid pick by the Rams. Once upon a time, Justin King was a first-round prospect. He was projected to go in the second round prior to this weekend. (Pick Grade: A)
128. Keenan Burton, WR, Kentucky
Another second-day steal for the Rams. It's funny that their receiver at 128 may actually be more talented than the one they got at 33. (Pick Grade: A)
157. Roy Schuening, G, Oregon State
How did the Rams get so smart all of the sudden? Roy Schuening could have went in the second round. Major addition to St. Louis' offensive line. (Pick Grade: A)
228. Chris Chamberlain, ILB, Tulsa
Not on my board, but it's the seventh round. (Pick Grade: C)
252. David Vobora, OLB, Idaho
Though he was drafted as Mr. Irrelevant, I actually like David Vobora. I pegged him as a sixth-round prospect. I expect Vobora to be one of the few Mr. Irrelevants to stick. (Pick Grade: A)
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If Marc Bulger wasn't hurt, Steven Jackson was out. When Jackson came back, Leonard Little got injured. But perhaps the most devastating loss the Rams suffered in 2007 was Orlando Pace, who was once again out for the season. St. Louis is better than 3-13; the team merely went through the most key injuries in the NFL.
Rams sign FB Dan "Paperback" Kreider
Rams sign QB Bruce Gradkowski
Rams cut TE Dominique Byrd
Rams sign WR Reche Caldwell
Rams re-sign DE James Hall
Rams sign CB David Macklin
Rams re-sign C Brett Romberg
Rams re-sign S Jerome Carter
Rams sign QB Trent Green
Rams sign TE Anthony Becht
Rams re-sign G Adam Goldberg
Rams sign G Jacob Bell
Rams sign K Josh Brown
Rams announce retirement of K Jeff Wilkins
Rams cut DE James Hall
Rams cut WR Isaac Bruce
Rams cut QB Gus Frerotte
Rams re-sign RB Travis Minor
Defensive End: One reason I think St. Louis goes Vernon Gholston or Chris Long over Jake Long (as of Feb. 22), is because defensive end is the team's paramount need. No defensive end had more than two sacks for the Rams last year. Granted, Leonard Little played only six games, but the 2007 campaign was the second consecutive season he missed 10 contests. Little turns 34 in October and must be replaced. There's a chance St. Louis goes after Glenn Dorsey and moves Adam Carriker over to end, but that would involve Carriker dropping about 20 pounds. Also, after using the 3-4 on occasion in 2007, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is thinking about switching to the scheme on a full-time basis. Gholston is a much better fit in the 3-4 than Dorsey. Drafted Chris Long; re-signed James Hall
Two Offensive Tackles: Orlando Pace reminds me of Tony Boselli circa 2002. At the age of 32, Pace is coming off multiple injuries and has missed 23 games the past two years. Now, if only the Rams could con a dumb franchise into taking him away like Jacksonville did to Houston... Meanwhile, right tackle Alex Barron, a major disappointment thus far, is inconsistent at best. St. Louis needs to upgrade both tackle positions unless it wants Marc Bulger to be beaten like a rag doll again. Look for the Rams to use a second-round selection on a tackle. Drafted John Greco
Left Guard: Another upgrade is needed up front. Mark Setterstrom, a marginal lineman, played three games in 2007. There could be a solid guard waiting for them in Round 3. Signed Jacob Bell; drafted Roy Schuening
Center: Ditto. Both Rams centers are free agents, but it doesn't matter. Re-signed Brett Romberg
Wide Receiver: Isaac Bruce has been a great receiver for many years, but he turns 36 in November. And call me crazy, but I don't think Drew Bennett is good enough to start in this league. The Rams need a wide out for the future. They can get one in the middle rounds of this deep draft. Signed Reche Caldwell; drafted Keenan Burton and Donnie Avery
Two Outside Linebackers: Make this one if the Rams re-sign Brandon Chillar. Pisa Tinoisamoa is way too injury-prone to be relied upon. Drafted David Vobora
Kicker: Jeff Wilkins, who turns 36 in April, has begun to show signs of declining. He was just 11-of-17 from beyond 40 yards this year. That doesn't sound too bad, but keep in mind he was kicking in a dome, and the opposing kickers St. Louis faced were 14-of-18 from that distance. Signed Josh Brown
Secondary Depth: The Rams are pretty thin at defensive back and could stand to acquire some depth to improve their 21st ranking against the pass. Drafted Justin King; signed David Macklin
St. Louis Rams Free Agents:
Salary Cap (As of Feb. 22): $9.61 million
Brandon Chillar, OLB. Age: 25. Signed with Packers (2 years, $5.2 million)
A solid linebacker coming off a career year, Brandon Chillar's bound to get a substantial sum of money, especially considering how young he is.
Isaac Bruce, WR. Age: 35. Signed with 49ers (2 years)
I can't believe the Rams cut Isaac Bruce. Well, I can... it's just that I got so used to seeing Bruce in a Rams uniform. Bruce had about 750 yards last year, so he can still play. Joining up with Mike Martz in San Francisco is a possibility.
O.J. Atogwe (RFA), FS. Age: 27.
Overrated. O.J. Atogwe's eight interceptions will give him a solid contract, but he was often torched last season. The reason for his eight picks was a product of opposing quarterbacks looking his way.
Brett Romberg, C. Age: 28. - Re-signed with Rams (1 year)
Milford Brown, G. Age: 29. - Signed with Panthers
James Hall, DE. Age: 31. - Re-signed with Rams (2 years)
Gus Frerotte, QB. Age: 37. - Signed with Vikings
Travis Minor, RB. Age: 29. - Re-signed with Rams
Trevor Johnson, DE. Age: 27. - Signed with Chiefs (1 year)
Adam Goldberg, G. Age: 28. - Re-signed with Rams (1 year)
Raonall Smith, OLB. Age: 29.
Jerome Carter (RFA), S. Age: 25. - Re-signed with Rams
Hanik Milligan, S. Age: 28.
Dominique Byrd, TE. Age: 24.
Aaron Walker, TE. Age: 28. - Signed with Ravens
Ken Shackleford, OT. Age: 23. - Signed with Chiefs (2 years)
Andy McCollum, C. Age: 38. - Signed with Lions
Todd Steussie, OT. Age: 37.
Divisional Rival History: Arizona Cardinals: The road team has won five of the past six meetings, but does anyone really care? San Francisco 49ers: San Francisco has claimed four of the previous six battles between these two squads. Each game has been decided by seven points or less. Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks have won all six matchups after the Rams knocked them out of the playoffs in 2004.