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2007 Season Previews
St. Louis Rams (Last Year: 8-8)
Veteran Additions:
WR Drew Bennett, TE Randy McMichael, DE James Hall, MLB Chris Draft, CB Lenny Walls, CB Mike Rumph, S Todd Johnson, KR Dante Hall.
Draft Picks:
FB Brian Leonard, WR Derek Stanley, OT Ken Shackleford, C Dustin Fry, DE Adam Carriker, DE Clifton Ryan, DT Keith Jackson, CB Jonathan Wade.
Major Subtractions:
RB Stephen Davis, RB Tony Fisher, FB Paul Smith (DEN), WR Kevin Curtis (PHI), WR Shaun McDonald (DET), G Adam Timmerman, C Larry Turner, DE Brandon Green (SEA), DT Jimmy Kennedy (DEN), DT Jason Fisk, OLB Dexter Coakley, MLB Isaiah Kacyvenski, LB Jamel Brooks, CB Travis Fisher (DET), CB Jerametrius Butler (WAS), S Dwaine Carpenter, P Matt Turk, KR Willie Ponder.

Offense This Year: When Scott Linehan took over the head-coaching job in St. Louis and the Rams failed to score more than 20 points in each of their first three games of the 2006 season, I was concerned that the "Greatest Show on Turf" that we've all loved to watch over the past half decade had disappeared and never would be seen again. Well, I was relieved to notice that St. Louis was able to score 24.6 points per game the rest of the campaign - which was only .4 less than last year's average when Marc Bulger was in the lineup.

Speaking of Bulger, I was shocked to see that he started all 16 games in a season for the first time in his career. That's a pretty impressive feat, considering he was sacked 49 times. If Bulger's healthy, he's one of the best and most underrated quarterbacks in the NFL. What he, Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce have done over the years is amazing, especially when you take into account how atrocious the offensive line has been.

I already mentioned Bulger's 2006 sack total. Rams quarterbacks have been taken down 46 times in 2005; 50 times in 2004; 43 times in 2003; and 46 times in 2002. I thought Linehan would decrease that total, though to be fair, it should be noted that left tackle Orlando Pace missed eight games. The right side of the front looks better, as guard Richie Incognito and tackle Alex Barron started every single contest last season. However, left guard Mark Setterstrom, taken in the seventh round of the 2006 Draft, and 37-year-old center Andy McCollum will both be liabilities. Oh, and if someone gets hurt, forget about it. The Rams have no depth behind their starting offensive line.

McCollum isn't the only one whose age Rams fans need to be concerned about. Bruce turns 35 in November, which hurts because receivers Kevin Curtis and Shaun McDonald defected for other teams via the free-agent market. Drew Bennett was signed, but I'm not sure how effective a replacement he'll be. Newly acquired tight end Randy McMichael should fit well into the offense, but the man who makes the entire unit work is running back Steven Jackson. Jackson, free of Mike Martz's pass-happy scoring attack, rumbled for 1,528 rushing yards, 806 receiving yards and 16 total touchdowns, establishing himself as one of the most potent weapons in the NFL. Jackson could be in for better numbers if Pace stays healthy.

Defense This Year: I've been mocking St. Louis' defense for years now, calling the "Greatest Show on Turf's" counterpart the "Worst Defense on Earth." After continuously being torched week after week, and ranked last against the run season after season, the stop unit finally showed some signs of life in 2006, allowing 23.8 points per contest (a drop from 26.8 in 2005) and moving up to 31st versus opposing ball-carriers from 32nd.

OK, maybe the improvement hasn't been that substantial, but you can tell the Rams are definitely headed in the right direction. They spent their first-round pick on Adam Carriker, who can only upgrade St. Louis' horrendous play at defensive tackle. It remains to be seen who will start next Carriker. Second-year Claude Wroten, 33-year-old La'Roi Glover and impressive seventh-round-rookie Keith Jackson will all be competing for the job. Rounding out the defensive line are Leonard Little, who has generated an average of 11.4 sacks over the past six seasons, and James Hall, who is two years removed from collecting 11.5 sacks. With offensive coordinators concentrating on Little and Carriker, Hall could be in for another big campaign.

Carriker's the second-consecutive defensive player taken by St. Louis in the first round. Last year, the team selected cornerback Tye Hill, and was definitely not disappointed. Hill picked off three passes in 2006 and quickly established himself as the No. 1 guy on the squad. Fakhir Brown, who starts across from Hill, isn't bad, but the Rams saw the need for more depth at the position and consequently drafted Jonathan Wade in the third round, and signed free-agents Mike Rumph and Lenny Walls. Strong safety Corey Chavous, one of the smartest players at his position, will compliment the corners well once again. However, there is a glaring hole in the secondary, which happens to be the free safety position. I've seen O.J. Atogwe make some abysmal plays that college kids are never guilty of.

If Carriker and Hall work out on the defensive line, the weakest link of St. Louis' defense easily becomes the linebacking corps. Brandon Chillar is solid on the strong side, but Will Witherspoon's playing out of position in the middle, while Pisa Tinoisamoa, occupying the weak side, is coming off a season in which he struggled on the field and was hampered with injuries. Second-year Jon Alston will see action if Tinoisamoa spends time on injured reserve again, but Alston's future with the Rams is at strong safety once Chavous begins to decline. St. Louis needed an upgrade at outside linebacker this offseason but failed to obtain one.

Schedule and Intangibles: Last year, I wrote that Linehan had to fix the Rams' inability to score points on grass and win on the road. Despite averaging only 16 points per game on the green (a decrease from 18.3 in 2005), they managed to finish 4-4 outside of the Edward Jones Dome. However, that means they were only 4-4 at home. How do you lose to Kansas City and Arizona in your own house? ... Jeff Wilkins is one of the top kickers in the NFL; he nailed 14-of-19 from beyond 40 yards, including 3-of-3 past 50. ... St. Louis' special teams is a mess. The team failed to return a punt or a kickoff for a touchdown, while surrendering three of its own. They brought in Dante' Hall to be the new return specialist, but he's not the same player who was so dangerous in 2003. Still, he's better than what the Rams have had on their roster. ... Four of St. Louis' first five opponents are squads that failed to qualify for the playoffs last year, but that doesn't mean the entire schedule is easy. In fact, two consecutive road games at Baltimore and Seattle follow that initial stretch. The Rams will also play New Orleans, Cincinnati, Carolina, Dallas and Pittsburgh.

Additional Reading: Endless Banter coming soon.

Positional Rankings (0-4 stars):
Quarterbacks
Offensive Line
Secondary
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams
Receivers
Linebackers
Coaching


Divisional Rival History:
Arizona Cardinals: Don't ask me how, but the road team has won the past four meetings. This rivalry's so bizarre it'll probably happen again this year.
San Francisco 49ers: San Francisco has claimed three of the previous four battles between these two squads. Each game has been decided by seven points or less.
Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks have won all four matchups after the Rams knocked them out of the playoffs in 2004. Could be six by the end of this season.

Fantasy Football:
Marc Bulger: Fantasy owners were happy to see that Marc Bulger played all 16 games for the first time in his career. Can it happen again? Maybe - just make sure you have a quality backup if you make Bulger your starter.
Projected Stats: 3,900 passing yards. 22 passing TDs. 35 rushing yards. 1 rushing TD.
Projected Fantasy Points: 336.

Steven Jackson: There's a reason I gave the Rams a four-star rating at running back. Not only did Steven Jackson rush for 1,528 yards, he also caught 90 passes. Ninty passes!
Projected Stats: 1,450 rushing yards. 750 receiving yards. 15 total TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 310.

Randy McMichael: Joe Klopfenstein caught 20 passes for 226 yards in St. Louis' offense last year, so Scott Linehan decided to go out and sign Randy McMichael. The former Dolphins tight end had triple whatever Klopfenstein was able to muster. Not sure what to make of McMichael; he's talented but will be playing in a brand-new system.
Projected Stats: 550 receiving yards. 3 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 73.

Torry Holt: Definitely should be one of the first receivers taken in your fantasy league.
Projected Stats: 1,250 receiving yards. 10 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 185.

Isaac Bruce: You should be able to get Isaac Bruce a little late because his age makes him a bit underrated. Bruce will start declining soon, but he probably has two or three solid years left in the tank. A decent No. 3 wide out in fantasy land.
Projected Stats: 1,020 receiving yards. 4 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 126.

Drew Bennett: Drew Bennett is taking the spot of Kevin Curtis, who registered 40 receptions for 479 yards and four scores in 2006. Bennett had 737 yards and three touchdowns with the Titans. Either way, he's not worth drafting.
Projected Stats: 600 receiving yards. 4 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 84.

Jeff Wilkins: Sign me up for Jeff Wilkins. He hits 50-yarders and kicks inside for half the games.
Projected Stats: 29-34 FG (4-5 50+). 36 XP.
Projected Fantasy Points: 141.

St. Louis Defense: You'll get Leonard Little's sacks and Tye Hill's interceptions, but that's about it. Worth starting Week 8 against Cleveland if you want to do defense by committee.
Projected Fantasy Ranking: Spot-Starting Defense.

Analysis: There's no doubt that the Rams have improved themselves this offseason, but have they done enough to pass Seattle or offset the moves San Francisco made? The Rams need a lot to happen if they want to make the playoffs, but the odds definitely aren't in their favor.

Projection: 7-9 (Tied 3rd in the NFC West)


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