TE Jared Cook, OT Jake Long.
Early Draft Picks:
WR Tavon Austin, OLB Alec Ogletree, S T.J. McDonald, WR Stedman Bailey, C/G Barrett Jones, CB Brandon McGee, RB Zac Stacy. Rams Rookie Forecast Offseason Losses:
RB Steven Jackson, WR Danny Amendola, WR Brandon Gibson, TE Matthew Mulligan, C Rob Turner, CB Bradley Fletcher, S QUintin Mikell, S Craig Dahl.
2013 St. Louis Rams Offense:
St. Louis' front office can definitely be described as aggressive. The team landed Jake Long in free agency after what seemed like a month-long courtship. They gave tight end Jared Cook a 5-year, $35 million deal on March 12. When the draft came around, they moved up from No. 16 to No. 8 in order to obtain speedy wideout Tavon Austin. All of this was done to make Sam Bradford better.
Bradford, the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, threw for 3,702 yards, 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions last season. He YPA (6.7) and completion percentage (59.5) were pretty pedestrian, however. It's unclear if Bradford's limitations were the culprit, or if it was just a lack of talent surrounding him. We'll definitely have an answer after the 2013 campaign.
Long is a high-risk, high-reward signing. On one hand, a healthy Long will tremendously bolster a weak St. Louis offensive line that surrendered 35 sacks in 2012. Long will be stationed on the blind side, allowing Rodger Saffold to move over to right tackle. Having a forceful bookend like that is crucial in the NFC West, a division comprised of many talented pass-rushers. On the other hand, Long's play has declined in recent years, thanks to numerous injuries. If Long continues to get hurt and/or regress, this acquisition will be compared to Houston obtaining Tony Boselli at the end of his career.
Cook is another new player who could easily bust. He's super athletic and has tremendous potential, but he never lived up to it in Tennessee. Acquiring him is very reminiscent of San Diego landing Robert Meachem last spring. Like Meachem, Cook is an underachiever who took way more money than he deserved in free agency. He could always blossom and live up to his talent level, but chances are that he'll be seen as a bust signing.
Moving up for Austin is likely the best of the three bold moves. Austin is a dynamic slot receiver capable of going the distance at a moment's notice. He'll be an upgrade over Danny Amendola, who signed with the Patriots. The Rams will be hoping that Austin will be way more durable than Amendola ever was.
The rest of the receiving corps is comprised of Chris Givens, Brian Quick, Austin Pettis and rookie Stedman Bailey. Quick was chosen earlier than Givens in the 2012 NFL Draft, but the latter was the rookie receiver who stood out last year. Givens caught 42 passes for 698 yards and three touchdowns in 2012, standing out with an 11-reception, 92-yard outing against San Francisco in Week 13. Quick, meanwhile, didn't do much, but like Cook, he possesses a massive amount of upside. Pettis hasn't done much in his career thus far, but he's having a terrific offseason. As for Bailey, it'll be interesting to see if he and Austin can work as well together as they did at West Virginia.
The two areas St. Louis didn't address on offense this spring, aside from the quarterback position, was the interior of the offensive line and the running back corps. The former is in decent shape, as long as center Scott Wells stays healthy. The former Packer missed nine games in 2012 with a knee problem. Right guard Harvey Dahl, formerly of Atlanta, performed well last season. The one hole up front is at left guard, currently manned by Shelley Smith. A fourth-rounder was used on Alabama's Barrett Jones, but he's unlikely to be ready for the opener because of his own injuries.
The Rams' running back stable is in poor shape. Steven Jackson packed his bags and flew to Atlanta, leaving a group comprised of Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead in his wake. Richardson showed some flashes in his rookie campaign last season, but probably isn't good enough to be a starter. Pead, who was also in his first year, has reportedly lost his passion for the game of football. This is why the Rams spent a fifth-round selection on Zac Stacy, but there's no telling how good he'll be. If St. Louis liked Stacy a lot, it would have picked him earlier than the fifth round.
2013 St. Louis Rams Defense:
The 49ers and Seahawks are praised for their tough defenses, but the Rams don't have a bad unit themselves. St. Louis' defenders did a great job of keeping the team in games when the offense sputtered last year.
It all starts up front for the Rams, who have a tremendous duo of defensive ends. Chris Long and Robert Quinn recorded 11.5 and 10.5 sacks, respectively. Long's figure could have been higher, as he had some bad luck in some instances. Quinn, meanwhile, is just entering his third NFL season, so the sky is the limit for him.
Defensive tackles Kendall Langford and Michael Brockers complement the two stud ends. As a rookie last season, Brockers stopped the run well and also registered four sacks - a decent number for a player at his position, especially when considering the LSU product missed the first three games of the year. As for Langford, the former Dolphin disappointed in his first season with the Rams, notching just two sacks. If Langford doesn't improve, St. Louis will likely be looking for an upgrade next spring.
If Long, Quinn and Brockers can continue to place great pressure on opposing signal-callers, the secondary will obviously continue to benefit from that. The talent level of St. Louis' defensive backfield is a bit mixed. On one hand, the team has a pair of stud cornerbacks, Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins. The former didn't allow a single touchdown all season, while the latter, despite being a rookie, didn't surrender a score after Week 8. Trumaine Johnson, another 2012 rookie, performed well as the team's nickel corner.
Unfortunately, the safety position is a disaster. Last year's starters, Craig Dahl and Quintin Mikell, are no longer with the team. Two players named Darian Stewart and Rodney McLeod were slated to start there before the Rams spent a third-round pick on USC's T.J. McDonald. That selection won't cure St. Louis' safety woes because McDonald is not good in coverage. Stewart was a wreck as a starter back in 2011.
The Rams spent one other pick in the first four rounds on a defender. Their second first-rounder was used on linebacker Alec Ogletree. The Georgia product has some off-the-field issues, but there's no denying his talent level. Jeff Fisher has experience with turning troubled players around (Janoris Jenkins), so Ogletree could definitely pan out in St. Louis. If so, he and middle linebacker James Laurinaitis will be a solid tandem. Jo-Lonn Dunbar, who is good against the run, will go back to playing two downs.
2013 St. Louis Rams Schedule and Intangibles:
Remember when the Edwards Jones Dome was such a huge advantage for the Greatest Show on Turf? Sam Bradford will have to rekindle that magic, much like Matt Ryan did with the Georgia Dome. The Rams were 1-7 as hosts in 2011, but improved to 4-3 last season.
Greg Zuerlein's nickname is "Greg the Leg" because of his massive kicking power. He blasted 7-of-7 tries from 40-49 and 7-of-13 attempts from 50-plus. However, he was just 23-of-31 overall and missed eight of his final 16 kicks.
Punter Johnny Hekker ranked in the middle of the pack in both net average and attempts inside the 20.
St. Louis was outgained in both punt and kickoff returns, but there were no touchdowns involved on either side.
The Rams have a pretty difficult schedule. In addition to battling the 49ers and Seahawks twice each, they also have to deal with the Falcons, Saints, Panthers, Bears, Texans and Colts.
2013 St. Louis Rams Rookies:
Go here for the Rams Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.
2013 St. Louis Rams Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2013 St. Louis Rams Analysis: The Rams are a tough team. They went 7-8-1 last season, but fought hard, losing by more than 10 points on just three occasions. They'll be better in 2013, but the 49ers and Seahawks have also improved. St. Louis would have a decent shot at a playoff berth in another division, but life is much more difficult in the NFC West.
Please note that the overall grade is not an average of all the individual grades. Other things are taken into account like team needs and goals.
Goals Entering the 2013 NFL Draft: The Rams are stuck with Sam Bradford for at least one more year, so they need to continue to bolster their offensive line to make sure their brittle quarterback is protected as best as possible. Bradford also needs help at receiver and running back. On the defensive side of the ball, St. Louis must find upgrades to its back seven.
2013 NFL Draft Accomplishments: St. Louis pretty much accomplished all of its goals without reaching often, so this has to be considered a successful draft for them.
It started early when the Rams made a big splash to move up to No. 8 for Tavon Austin. There was no way Austin was making it to No. 16 - the Jets were reportedly set to take him at No. 9 - so St. Louis did a nice job of landing the top play-maker in the class. The front office then came back and recouped its traded selections when it moved down from 22 to 30, all while managing to land its intended target, Alec Ogletree. The Georgia linebacker has off-the-field issues, but the Rams have a strong coaching staff that has worked well with these types of players before. If Janoris Jenkins can thrive in St. Louis, so can Ogletree.
I really liked some of the Rams' other choices, most notably Barrett Jones. The versatile Alabama lineman was considered a first-round possibility once upon a time, but his medical sunk his draft stock. He'll eventually be healthy though, so St. Louis was lucky to land him at No. 113. Stedman Bailey, meanwhile, chosen at No. 92, should work well with Austin, considering that the two starred together at West Virginia. It's all up to Sam Bradford now.
St. Louis needed two more upgrades on its defense, both at the safety position. It was able to obtain only one safety, T.J. McDonald, who was chosen a bit too high for my liking because he can't cover. I was also disappointed that the Rams didn't spend an earlier selection on a running back, though Zac Stacy did provide some value at No. 160.
All in all, I really liked what the Rams did on Draft Day. They greatly improved their roster, giving themselves a chance to stay competitive in the NFC West.
2013 NFL Draft Individual Grades:
8. Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia: B Grade
I'm usually not a fan of teams moving up for players because if they end up drafting a bust, their depth is completely destroyed. However, the Rams had the resources to do something like this, and they really needed to find a weapon for Sam Bradford. Tavon Austin is the only player in this draft who has plenty of experience and can go the distance on any play. He'll help Bradford, but hopefully he can stay on the field, unlike Danny Amendola.
30. Alec Ogletree, OLB, Georgia: A Grade
This is awesome work by the Rams. They would have considered Alec Ogletree at No. 16 if they couldn't move up (for Tavon Austin) or down to pick up some selections. St. Louis gambled and still got its man. The reason Ogletree fell is because of character concerns, but the Rams have shown that they don't care about that. Ogletree is extremely talented and will be a huge asset on the defense if he can stay out of trouble.
71. T.J. McDonald, S, USC: C Grade
The Rams are desperate at safety - they need two starters at the position - but there were better players available. T.J. McDonald probably should have been a fourth-rounder at best because he can't cover very well.
92. Stedman Bailey, WR, West Virginia: B+ Grade
The Rams already drafted Tavon Austin, but they needed a second wideout, given that they had only three on the roster entering this weekend (Chris Givens, Brian Quick, Austin Pettis). Stedman Bailey, who could have gone a bit earlier than this, is a solid prospect who should be able to push the disappointing Quick for a starting job across from Givens.
113. Barrett Jones, C/G, Alabama: A+ Grade
This is one of my favorite picks thus far. Barrett Jones would have gone much higher than this if he didn't have injury concerns. He'll eventually be healthy though, so this will be viewed as a steal. The Rams were desperate for offensive line help, and Jones can play pretty much every position up front, save for left tackle.
149. Brandon McGee, CB, Miami: B Grade
The Rams have their starting cornerbacks set, but they had absolutely no depth at the position. They had to spend at least one selection on a corner, and Brandon McGee is a fine choice in the middle of the fifth round.
160. Zac Stacy, RB, Vanderbilt: B+ Grade
I thought the Rams would address the running back position earlier in the 2013 NFL Draft, but with solid talents like Zac Stacy available in the fifth round, they could afford to be patient. Stacy could be the starter this season.
The Rams finished with a losing record, but they were extremely competitive, losing by more than two touchdowns only twice all year. Jeff Fisher did a great job in his first year in St. Louis. Now, he needs to concentrate on building around Sam Bradford because he already has a playoff defense in place.
Titans sign OT Barry Richardson
Rams re-sign QB Kellen Clemens
Packers sign TE Matthew Mulligan
Buccaneers sign WR Steve Smith
Rams re-sign G Chris Williams
Rams cut TE Matthew Mulligan
Titans sign C/G/OT Rob Turner
Rams sign OT Jake Long
49ers sign S Craig Dahl
Dolphins sign WR Brandon Gibson
Falcons sign RB Steven Jackson
Patriots sign WR Danny Amendola
Eagles sign CB Bradley Fletcher
Rams sign TE Jared Cook
Rams re-sign DE William Hayes
Rams cut S Quintin Mikell
Rams cut OT Wayne Hunter
Rams waive WR Titus Young
Rams claim WR Titus Young
Offensive Tackle: Rodger Saffold actually played pretty well in the second half of the year after missing the first portion of 2012. He could be more effective at right tackle or guard though. Regardless, St. Louis needs an upgrade at offensive tackle. Eric Fisher will be an option with the 16th pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Signed Jake Long
Two Safeties: The Rams have made it known that they plan to upgrade the free safety position this offseason. This has to be a priority because Craig Dahl, a free agent, was brutal in 2012. Meanwhile, Quintin Mikell was released, so a new strong safety is needed as well. Drafted T.J. McDonald
Wide Receiver: Danny Amendola is a great slot receiver, while Chris Givens served as a dangerous deep threat, but the Rams lacked a No. 1 receiver. Maybe Brian Quick can become that, but he didn't show any signs of being able to do so as a rookie. The front office could take a receiver with one of their two first-round picks. Drafted Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey
Strongside Linebacker: James Laurinaitis and JoLonn Dunbar played pretty well this past season, but no one the team tried at strongside linebacker did very well. Drafted Alec Ogletree
Left Guard: Another upgrade that must be made up front. Sam Bradford is brittle and needs all the solid pass protection he can get. The front office likes 2012 fifth-round pick Rokevious Watkins, but he looked terrible in his only game last year. Re-signed Chris Williams; drafted Barrett Jones
Tight End: Lance Kendricks was chosen in the second round two years ago, but he has been a disappointment thus far. Another tight end could be an option early on this April. Signed Jared Cook
Defensive Tackle: Kendall Langford signed with the Rams this past offseason, but disappointed in his first year with his new team. The front office should bring in competition for him.
Running Back: Steven Jackson has a voidable year on his contract, so he'll be a free agent. If he doesn't come back to St. Louis, the team with have to add a veteran running back to compete with Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead. Drafted Zac Stacy
Defensive End: Depth will be needed if William Hayes isn't re-signed. Re-signed William Hayes
2013 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Jake Long, OT, Dolphins. Age: 28. Signed with Rams
Jake Long has regressed just a bit over the past couple of years because of nagging injuries, but he's still considered one of the better left tackles in football.
Jared Cook, TE, Titans. Age: 26. Signed with Rams (5 years)
Jared Cook has tons of potential, but has never developed. He hauled in 49 receptions for 759 yards in 2011, but regressed this past season. That could be blamed on poor quarterbacking though, so some team should take a chance on him.
St. Louis Rams Free Agents:
Salary Cap: TBA.
Steven Jackson, RB, Rams. Age: 30. Signed with Falcons
Steven Jackson ran like he had plenty left in the tank this past season, averaging 4.1 yards per carry behind a battered offensive line. However, he turns 30 and has 2,385 career attempts under his belt. He could fall off at any moment.
Danny Amendola, WR, Rams. Age: 27. Signed with Patriots (5 years)
Danny Amendola is one of the top slot receivers in the NFL, but he's incredibly brittle. He can't be trusted with a big contract.
Quintin Mikell, S, Rams. Age: 32.
Quintin Mikell will be 33 in mid-September, but he's still a very solid safety. He was released because he was due $6 million. He can still start.
William Hayes, DE, Rams. Age: 28.
William Hayes could start for some teams, but he can't crack the lineup in St. Louis because of Chris Long and Robert Quinn. He's terrific against the run and can get to the quarterback on occasion.
Titus Young, WR, Rams. Age: 24.
There's no questioning Titus Young's talent, but he's a major head case. He started off last season by punching teammate Louis Delmas. He then sabotaged a game against the Packers by intentionally lining up in the wrong spots. And to top it off, he continued to mouth off on Twitter during the offseason, indicating that he hadn't learned his lesson. I wouldn't touch him, but there might be a coach out there who can turn him around.
Barry Richardson, OT, Rams. Age: 27. Signed with Titans
Kansas City fans remember Barry Richardson as an inept right tackle, but he actually improved with the Rams. I still wouldn't be comfortable with him as my starter, but he at least established himself as a top-notch backup and quality spot-starter.
Rob Turner, C/G/OT, Rams. Age: 29. Signed with Titans
Rob Turner had a decent 2012 campaign for the Rams. He played center and guard, and he's capable of lining up at right tackle as well.
Craig Dahl, S, Rams. Age: 28. -- Signed with 49ers (3 years)
Brandon Gibson, WR, Rams. Age: 26. -- Signed with Dolphins
Bradley Fletcher, CB, Rams. Age: 27. -- Signed with Eagles
Rocky McIntosh, OLB, Rams. Age: 30.
Chris Williams, G/OT, Rams. Age: 28. -- Re-signed with Rams
Matthew Mulligan, TE, Rams. Age: 28. -- Signed with Packers
Wayne Hunter, OT, Rams. Age: 32.
Kellen Clemens, QB, Rams. Age: 30. -- Re-signed with Rams
Trevor Laws, DT, Rams. Age: 28.
Steve Smith, WR, Rams. Age: 28. -- Signed with Buccaneers