QB Shaun Hill, WR Kenny Britt, G Davin Joseph, DE/DT Alex Carrington.
Early Draft Picks:
OT Greg Robinson, DT Aaron Donald, CB/S Lamarcus Joyner, RB Tre Mason, S Mo Alexander, CB E.J. Gaines. Rams Rookie Forecast Offseason Losses:
QB Kellen Clemens, TE Mike McNeill, G Harvey Dahl, G Shelley Smith, G Chris Williams, CB Cortland Finnegan, S Darian Stewart.
2014 St. Louis Rams Offense:
The Rams have to be wondering if Sam Bradford will ever take the next step toward becoming a franchise quarterback. Bradford had a solid rookie campaign back in 2010, but has since missed 15 games in the past three seasons. His YPA has never been above 6.7, and it was a very pedestrian 6.4 in 2013. He maintained a 14-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio, but most of those scores were thrown in garbage time when his team was way behind.
If Bradford fails again this year, he's as good as gone because he'll be owed about $13 million in 2015. There are no more excuses for him; for the second-consecutive offseason, St. Louis did everything in its power to upgrade the talent around him.
The big name the Rams added this offseason was Greg Robinson, the No. 2 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Unfortunately, left tackle Jake Long tore his ACL and MCL in December, so he may not be ready for the opener. There's a chance he'll make it back, but even if he doesn't, St. Louis should be in good hands with Joseph Barksdale, who performed well down the stretch at right tackle this past season. If Long can play, he'll be on the blind side, and Robinson will be used at guard.
The best St. Louis can do up front is: Long-Robinson-Scott Wells-Rodger Saffold-Barksdale. Saffold was nearly lost this offseason when the Raiders signed him to a big contract at the beginning of free agency. However, inept owner Mark Davis vetoed the deal, so Saffold was able to return to the Rams at a cheaper price. Wells, meanwhile, is the weakest link up front, but only by default. He's a pretty average center.
The Rams also added Kenny Britt in free agency. The talented receiver has dealt with injuries and personal issues over the years, but he was at his best under Jeff Fisher. Perhaps Fisher will be able to get the former first-rounder to thrive again. If so, he should be able to form quite the tandem with second-year Tavon Austin, who struggled early in 2013, but ended up making some big plays in November before missing the final three games of the season. Fisher told the media that he plans on doing a better job of utilizing Austin now that he knows what he's capable of.
Bradford's other targets include Chris Givens and Austin Pettis, a pair of mediocre wideouts, and Jared Cook, who predictably was a big disappointment last year. Cook has tons of athleticism, but has never been able to put it together mentally. There's still time for that to change, but St. Louis fans should not be optimistic about that.
Something the Rams should feel good about is the rushing attack. The offense really took off in the second half of this past season despite the absence of Bradford because of Zac Stacy's emergence. Stacy posted four 100-yard rushing outings beginning in Week 8, including a 26-134 line versus Seattle on Monday Night Football. With Bradford back in the lineup, opposing defenses won't be able to stay as close to the line of scrimmage as they did when Kellen Clemens was under center.
Speaking of Clemens, the Rams did a good job in securing a capable backup this offseason. Clemens was barely functional when he took over in 2013, but St. Louis now has Shaun Hill if Bradford goes down again. Hill obviously won't be leading the Rams, or any team, to the Super Bowl, but he's a very good backup who can hold down the fort if Bradford gets knocked out for a few games.
2014 St. Louis Rams Defense:
What the Rams are doing on defense is downright scary. They already possessed one of the league's top pass rushes, yet they spent the No. 13 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft on Aaron Donald, an explosive interior disruptor. Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick and Carson Palmer all had to be fuming when that selection was made.
St. Louis' sack total this season could be astronomical if Donald pans out right away. The defensive line is led by Robert Quinn, who had 19 sacks in just his third NFL campaign. Quinn is only 24, so he's just going to get better over the next few seasons. Meanwhile, Chris Long, starting across from Quinn, has a total of 33 sacks in the past three years. He's still in the prime of his career, so there's no reason to expect any sort of dropoff.
The Rams are solid on the interior with Donald joining 2012 first-rounder Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford. Brockers tallied 5.5 sacks this past season and is poised to break out. Langford is only above average, but he'll provide great depth as a decent run-defender.
The front four had to carry the defense for stretches last year because the back seven was atrocious at times. The secondary was especially brutal, as Cortland Finnegan was torched mercilessly on a weekly basis before the Rams benched him in mid-October. Trumaine Johnson stepped in as the starter and did a much better job, though he's probably best off in a nickel role. Second-round rookie Lamarcus Joyner will be used there instead, as he'll join Johnson and Janoris Jenkins in an improved, but still underwhelming cornerback group.
With that in mind, the cornerbacks look like Pro Bowlers compared to the safeties. That position was completely neglected, save for a fourth-rounder used on Mo Alexander. T.J. McDonald and Rodney McLeod will both start there again, yet they were brutal in 2013. On the bright side, McDonald is entering just his second season, so he should be better.
As for the linebacking corps, Alec Ogletree is in the same position as McDonald. A 2013 first-rounder, Ogletree was just mediocre as a rookie, but he figures to improve in his sophomore campaign. James Laurinaitis will also have to up his play after a mediocre season. Jo-Lonn Dunbar will reprise his role as a two-down run-defender.
2014 St. Louis Rams Schedule and Intangibles:
Remember when the Edwards Jones Dome was such a huge advantage for the Greatest Show on Turf? Some of that magic appears to be back. The Rams are 9-6 as hosts the past two seasons despite their sub-.500 overall records. St. Louis was 5-3 in 2013, which included a blowout victory over the Saints and a near-win over the Seahawks with Kellen Clemens under center.
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 as a rookie, but attempted just two from 50-plus in 2013, hitting one. However, he was an impressive 26-of-28 overall.
Johnny Hekker maintained the highest net-punting average at 44.2, but didn't have very many kicks placed inside the 20.
St. Louis was outgained in both punt and kickoff returns in 2012, but that changed dramatically this past season. Tavon Austin had the only touchdown for or against the Rams on special teams, and the team's punt coverage was one of the league's best.
The Rams have a mixed schedule. In addition to battling the 49ers, Seahawks and Cardinals twice each, they also have to deal with the Broncos, Chargers and Eagles. However, they get to beat up on the other NFC East teams, as well as the Raiders, Vikings and Chiefs.
2014 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.
2014 St. Louis Rams Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2014 St. Louis Rams Analysis: Once the Rams established Zac Stay last season, they were dominant down the stretch despite having Kellen Clemens at quarterback. They'll definitely carry that over into 2014, but the Seahawks and 49ers will be standing in their way. A wild-card berth is very realistic, though that would require Sam Bradford to stay healthy, which is something he has failed to do in two of the past three seasons.
Goals Entering the 2014 NFL Draft: The Rams have a loaded roster and would have a high chance of making the playoffs if they were in any other division. They need to add more talent around Sam Bradford, including a No. 1 receiver and protection up front. Many expect the Rams to address the latter in the first round, particularly at No. 2 overall via Greg Robinson, but Jeff Fisher's M.O. is to wait on linemen. Thus, St. Louis is in position to take the best player available with its two first-round choices to make its team even stronger.
2014 NFL Draft Accomplishments: Everyone is praising the Rams for having a great draft, but I just don't see it. I absolutely loved the Aaron Donald pick - how is sick is that defensive line going to be? - and Lamarcus Joyner and E.J. Gaines were some solid choices to help improve the secondary, but St. Louis' other decisions didn't make much sense to me.
Greg Robinson was locked in at No. 2 overall, but why? The Rams were already set at tackle with Jake Long and Joseph Barksdale, and Jeff Fisher has a history of turning mid- and late-round tackles into studs. I get that protecting Sam Bradford is paramount, but why not take Sammy Watkins over Robinson, and then snag a tackle later on? Elsewhere, Mo Alexander was a mega reach, while Tre Mason didn't fill any sort of need, though he did provide good value in the third frame.
The Rams improved their roster after the draft, but that was natural, given that they had two top-13 picks. There was just potential for so much more.
NFL Draft Individual Grades:
2. Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn: C Grade
I'm really not a big fan of this pick. I don't hate it, but I feel like the Rams should have gone with Sammy Watkins instead. St. Louis has Jake Long and Joseph Barksdale, who played well last year. Greg Robinson is obviously an upgrade over the latter - or the former if he can't return from injury - but Jeff Fisher has a great track record of getting the most out of his linemen. I get that Robinson is very talented, but why not take another great prospect at a different position instead?
13. Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh: A Grade
Chris Long, Robert Quinn, Michael Brockers, Aaron Donald. Holy crap. The Rams already had a ridiculous defensive line, and now it's somehow even better.
I love this pick. Donald should have been a top 10 selection, and he would have gone in that range had the earlier teams not been so incompetent. He was arguably the top player available, and he will be a full-time starter once Kendall Langford moves on. Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson and Carson Palmer are not happy campers right now.
41. Lamarcus Joyner, CB/S, Florida State: B Grade
Lamarcus Joyner was arguably the next-best defensive back on the board, so it shouldn't be a surprise that the Rams selected him. The Rams had terrible corner play this past season from Cortland Finnegan, who is no longer on the roster. An upgrade had to be made, and Joyner could easily qualify as one.
75. Tre Mason, RB, Auburn: C+ Grade
This is like the Buccaneers' Charles Sims pick, except the Rams aren't reaching at all. This is actually solid value for Tre Mason, but it doesn't fill a need at all. The Rams are fine at running back, and there's a better class at that position coming up next year, so I wish St. Louis would have addressed another position.
110. Mo Alexander, S, Utah State: D Grade
Mo Alexander is a reach. He has off-the-field issues, so he was projected to go much later. The Rams, however, have shown that they don't care about such things. They're filling a need, but I don't get why they'd pass on someone like Dion Bailey.
188. E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri: B+ Grade
The Rams are taking their second cornerback of this draft, but I don't have an issue with that because it's a position that had to be addressed. I figured E.J. Gaines would be chosen a bit earlier than this, so I'm a fan of this selection.
214. Garrett Gilbert, QB, SMU: B Grade
Jerry Jones' heart is broken because he wanted Garrett Gilbert in the seventh round. The Rams needed to take a young, developmental quarterback, and Gilbert was one of the top signal-callers available.
226. Mitchell Van Dyk, OL, Portland State: C Grade
There's no such thing as a reach in Round 7, but I highly doubt many teams had Mitchell Van Dyk on their boards.
241. C.B. Bryant, S, Ohio State: C Grade
This is the Rams' second safety, but I don't feel as though they've appropriately addressed the position. I didn't have C.B. Bryant as a draftable player, and there were better options available.
249. Michael Sam, DE, Missouri: A Grade
It's ridiculous that Michael Sam lasted this long. He was the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. Sure, he doesn't have the measurables, but he can be a very good situational pass-rusher, and those type of players go in Rounds 4-5, which is where Sam should have gone. The Rams are getting great value at this spot, and as Jeff Fisher said before the draft began, you can never have enough pass-rushers.
250. Demetrius Rhaney, C, Tennessee State: C Grade
Nothing wrong with offensive line depth, and the Rams need plenty of it. Demetrius Rhaney wasn't viewed as a draftable player, but it's Pick No. 250, so who cares?
Despite missing their quarterback, the Rams were extremely dangerous down the stretch. They defeated the Saints, Colts and Bears, and they nearly knocked off the Seahawks, so imagine what they'll do when they have Sam Bradford healthy for an entire season. Of course, that's more of an "if" than a "when," given that Bradford hasn't been able to stay on the field throughout his career.
Rams sign G Davin Joseph
Rams sign WR Kenny Britt
Rams sign QB Shaun Hill
Rams sign DE/DT Alex Carrington
Ravens sign S Darian Stewart
Dolphins sign CB Cortland Finnegan
Dolphins sign G Shelley Smith
Panthers sign TE Mike McNeill
Rams re-sign OLB Jo-Lonn Dunbar
Chargers sign QB Kellen Clemens
Rams re-sign OT/G Rodger Saffold
Bills sign G Chris Williams
Rams cut G Harvey Dahl
Rams cut CB Cortland Finnegan
Offensive Tackle: Jake Long tore his ACL and MCL in December. Rodger Saffold is a free agent. The Rams have major problems at the tackle position, which is why they could spend the No. 2 overall pick on Texas A&M's Jake Matthews if they don't trade down.
Safety: Rodney McLeod was one of the worst starting safeties in the NFL this past season. T.J. McDonald wasn't good either, but he at least was just a third-round rookie, so he has some potential. St. Louis will need to upgrade this position, and it could do so with the 13th-overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Two Guards: Chris Williams is a free agent, but the Rams had to find an upgrade for him anyway. A second-day selection could be used to fill this void. Harvey Dahl was cut. Rodger Saffold is a free agent. Re-signed Rodger Saffold; signed Davin Joseph
Wide Receiver: The Rams traded up in the 2013 NFL Draft for Tavon Austin, but they still need help at receiver. They could sign one of the many free-agent wideouts available. Signed Kenny Britt
Strongside Linebacker: James Laurinaitis struggled this past season, but the greatest liability in St. Louis' linebacking corps was Jo-Lonn Dunbar at the strongside position. Re-signed Jo-Lonn Dunbar
Cornerback Depth: Cortland Finnegan was one of the most disappointing players in the NFL in 2013. It'll be surprising if he's kept around, considering he's due $9 million next year.
Defensive Tackle Depth: St. Louis needs to get deeper at this position. Kendall Langford may not be on the team beyond the 2014 season anyway. Signed Alex Carrington
Quarterback: I highlighted this in the season summary. Sam Bradford continues to hurt his team by always being banged up. The Rams will give him another chance as the starter, but they should think about spending a mid-round pick on a quarterback as insurance. Signed Shaun Hill
Kenny Britt, WR, Titans. Age: 25. Signed with Rams (1 year)
Kenny Britt can be a dominant receiver, but a combination of injuries and lethargy have sapped his play-making ability. He's only 25 though, so maybe he can bounce back on a new team.
Davin Joseph, G, Buccaneers. Age: 30. Signed with Rams
Davin Joseph used to be a talented guard, but a torn patellar tendon knocked him out for all of 2012 and caused him to struggle in 2013. He could bounce back, but he'll turn 31 in November.
Shaun Hill, QB, Lions. Age: 34. Signed with Rams
Shaun Hill is one of the top backup quarterbacks in the NFL, but he just turned 34.
Alex Carrington, DE/DT, Bills. Age: 27. -- Signed with Rams
St. Louis Rams Free Agents:
Salary Cap: TBA.
Rodger Saffold, OT/G, Rams. Age: 26. Re-signed with Rams
Rodger Saffold is a quality tackle who can also play inside. However, he's had major issues staying healthy throughout his career. He's a high-risk, medium-reward signing.
Harvey Dahl, G, Rams. Age: 33.
Harvey Dahl played well as recently as 2012 - he even performed admirably at right tackle in some starts back in 2011 - but he missed nine games this past season with knee and ankle injuries. He'll turn 33 in June, so his career is winding down.
Shaun Hill, QB, Lions. Age: 34. Signed with Rams
Shaun Hill is one of the top backup quarterbacks in the NFL, but he just turned 34.
Cortland Finnegan, CB, Rams. Age: 30. Signed with Dolphins (2 years)
In yet another instance of a free agent busting after taking lots of money to play for a bad team, Cortland Finnegan was released two seasons into his 5-year, $50 million deal. Finnegan was one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL prior to moving to St. Louis. He was sub par in 2012 and unbelievably awful this past season. Perhaps this will serve as a wake-up call for Finnegan, who could still turn his career around. Then again, he could be completely done.
Chris Williams, G, Rams. Age: 29. -- Signed with Bills (4 years, $13.5 million)
Kellen Clemens, QB, Rams. Age: 31. -- Signed with Chargers
Jo-Lonn Dunbar, OLB, Rams. Age: 29. -- Signed with Rams (2 years)
Darian Stewart, S, Rams. Age: 26. -- Signed with Ravens
Shelley Smith (RFA), G, Rams. Age: 27. -- Signed with Dolphins (2 years)
Matt Giordano, S, Rams. Age: 31.
Will Witherspoon, OLB, Rams. Age: 34.
Mike McNeill (RFA), TE, Rams. Age: 26. -- Signed with Panthers