2015 NFL Offseason: St. Louis Rams

St. Louis Rams (Last Year: 6-10)

2015 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
QB Nick Foles, QB Case Keenum, G Mike Person, DT Nick Fairley, OLB Akeem Ayers.
Early Draft Picks:
RB Todd Gurley, OT Rob Havenstein, OT Jamon Brown, QB Sean Mannion, OT Andrew Donnal. Rams Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
QB Sam Bradford, QB Shaun Hill, RB Zac Stacy, OT Jake Long, OT Joseph Barksdale, G Davin Joseph, C Scott Wells, DT Kendall Langford.

2015 St. Louis Rams Offense:
The Rams never had a chance last year because Sam Bradford tore his ACL during the preseason. Of course, this was expected, given how injury-prone Bradford has been over the years. St. Louis fans always had to hold their breath every time Bradford was tackled or simply fell down on his own, so it must be a relief for them that they no longer have to do that.

Having said that, Nick Foles isn’t completely durable either, having missed eight games in 2014. Foles did well in Chip Kelly’s offense and was on pace for a 4,000-yard season prior to going down with a broken collarbone. Foles’ numbers will definitely decrease in a lower-volume, run-based offense, as the Rams will ask him to manage games instead of throw 40 times. This could be an issue because of Foles’ accuracy – he completed 59.8 percent of his passes this past season – though being more reliable than Bradford, he’s obviously an upgrade over the two backup signal-callers who quarterbacked the Rams in Bradford’s absence last year.

It’ll be ideal if St. Louis can establish a constant, dominant ground attack to keep Foles’ passes to a minimum. The front office had this in mind when it spent the No. 10 overall selection on Todd Gurley. The Georgia product was considered the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson, and one team thought so highly of him that it labeled him to be the next Jim Brown. The current problem is that Gurley is coming off a torn ACL, so he might miss the first few weeks of the season. Tre Mason, who gained 765 yards as a rookie last year, will carry the load in his absence.

Gurley and Mason are talented, but will they have adequate running lanes to burst through? That’s a legitimate concern, as both tackles from last year, Jake Long and Joseph Barksdale, are gone. The Rams will go with the underwhelming duo of Greg Robinson and Rob Havenstein as replacements. Robinson, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, struggled mightily when thrust into action during his rookie campaign. He might improve, but he looked like he had a long way to go. Havenstein, meanwhile, was widely considered a reach in the second round this spring. Being completely unproven, Havenstein could perform poorly, and it wouldn’t surprise anyone.

It’s only better in the interior of the offensive line by default. Left guard Rodger Saffold is the best blocker the team has by a wide margin, but he also has durability concerns. Last year’s starting center and right guard, Scott Wells and Davin Joseph, are also off the team, so two of Tim Barnes, Barrett Jones or Andrew Donnal will start in their place. Barnes, an undrafted free agent back in 2011, has just four career starts under his belt, and didn’t look good in any of them. Jones, a fourth-round choice in 2013, has barely seen the field. Donnal is a fourth-round rookie, so it’s impossible to know what he’ll bring to the table.

It’s likely that Foles won’t have much time in the pocket, so he obviously will have to lean on throwing the ball to solid intermediate target Jared Cook rather than connecting with his band of No. 2 receivers. Brian Quick is the best of the bunch – he had some big performances early in 2014 – but missed nine games because of a shoulder injury. Kenny Britt is the other starter, while Stedman Bailey will man the slot. Britt, only 26, is capable of being extremely productive – he had a 9-103 line in Week 16 – but injuries and lack of motivation are concerns with him. Bailey is a neat option, but I’m sure St. Louis would rather have former first-rounder Tavon Austin be more productive. Austin, who had 31 catches this past season, has been nothing more than a gimmick player thus far. Offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti told the media that he plans on getting Austin more involved, but it remains to be seen how realistic that plan is.

2015 St. Louis Rams Defense:
The Rams will once again have to lean on their defense to carry them, at least until Todd Gurley returns from injury. It didn’t look like the St. Louis stop unit was going to have much success this past season when it surrendered multiple 30-point performances in the early going, but the team limited the opposition to just 19.9 points per game beginning in Week 6. The difference? Aaron Donald.

Donald, the 2014 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, was just a part-time player until Jeff Fisher made the decision to insert the Pittsburgh product into the starting lineup. The impact was tremendous, as Donald dominated the trenches in all aspects. He clogged running lanes and aside from Robert Quinn, he happened to be the team’s best pass-rusher, accumulating nine sacks. That’s a big number for a defensive tackle who didn’t make a start until Week 6. And what’s scary is that he did this as a mere rookie. He could be even better in 2015.

The Rams have a very talented group up front overall with Donald, the otherworldly Quinn, Chris Long and Michael Brockers as the starters. Long didn’t perform well last season because he played through the final few weeks on one leg. Brockers has never developed into the pass-rusher the Rams were hoping he would be when they chose him in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, but he’s very effective at containing the run. Besides, St. Louis can substitute Brockers with the newly acquired Nick Fairley on passing downs. Fairley has work-ethic concerns, but his talent level is off the charts, and when motivated, he can be an absolute terror on the interior.

St. Louis will once again be able to generate tons of pressure, which will continue to aid the secondary. All four starters plus the nickel will return in 2015, as no changes were made to this group. The top corner, Janoris Jenkins, didn’t perform especially well this past season because he was hampered by a lingering knee injury. He should bounce back to form, if healthy. He’ll start across from E.J. Gaines, who surprised many by being effective despite being a sixth-round rookie. Trumaine Johnson will reprise his role as an adequate slot corner.

Rounding out the secondary, T.J. McDonald and Rodney McLeod figure to start at safety, though Mark Barron, acquired via trade during the 2014 campaign, will fight for playing time. Both McDonald and McLeod were solid, but unspectacular last season. Barron, being a former first-round choice, is more talented than them, so it’s possible that he could crack the lineup.

The weakest group in St. Louis’ defense is the linebacking corps. James Laurinaitis is a big name, but he hasn’t played well in years, and he actually has regressed each season. Former first-rounder Alec Ogletree also needs to step up, as he has disappointed thus far in his career. Akeem Ayers, signed over from the Patriots, figures to be a solid contributor on the first two downs.

2015 St. Louis Rams Schedule and Intangibles:
Remember when the Edwards Jones Dome was such a huge advantage for the Greatest Show on Turf? The magic is gone, as the Rams went just 3-5 as hosts last year. They lost by double digits at home on three occasions.

Greg Zuerlein’s nickname is “Greg the Leg” because of his massive kicking power. He blasted 5-of-7 tries from 50-plus this past season, but hit just 80 percent of his kicks overall. He nailed 92.9 percent of his tries the year before.

Johnny Hekker maintained the highest net-punting average at 44.2 in 2013, and he was fourth in that category this past season (42.3).

St. Louis was great on special teams last year, though it did have some trouble defending kickoffs. However, the team scored twice on punt returns, outgaining the opposition by more than six yards on those.

Four of the Rams’ initial five games are against the Seahawks, Steelers, Cardinals and Packers. A 1-4 start could capsize their playoff hopes, though their slate definitely gets easier after that.

2015 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.

2015 St. Louis Rams Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2015 St. Louis Rams Analysis: The Rams will once again be very competitive, but a brutal early schedule, a weak offensive line, and Todd Gurley’s expected missed playing time could do them in. St. Louis will once again be close to owning a .500 record, but it probably won’t be able to make the push into the playoffs.

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

NFL Draft Team Grade: D+ Grade

Goals Entering the 2015 NFL Draft: The Rams replaced their injury-prone quarterback with another one who gets hurt often (but not nearly as much). They absolutely need to make sure their offensive line is upgraded so that Nick Foles remains healthy. Various positions can be addressed as well, but the offensive line is key.

2015 NFL Draft Accomplishments: I’m convinced that the Rams’ front office was caught in a time vortex on Day 2 and believed that they were drafting in the seventh round. That’s the only explanation I have for the second-day selections they made. Everyone wants to talk about the Todd Gurley pick, but the wasted opportunities in Rounds 2-3 is the story of the Rams’ draft.

Rob Havenstein was a late-round prospect. Jamon Brown was possible UDFA fodder. The Rams did look at big positions of need when selecting those two players, but they reached egregiously. I guess they were asleep during Senior Bowl practices when Havenstein was abused against almost every pass-rusher he went up against. And yet, he’s still better than Brown!

The Rams wasted many other choices as well. Sean Mannion won’t be anything more than a backup. Andrew Donnal was just OK. The Bud Sasser choice could have been better. Bryce Hager was a nice pick-up in the middle of the seventh round, but that was too little, too late.

I liked that St. Louis selected Gurley – one team called him “the next Jim Brown,” so he’ll have a huge impact on the offense when he gets healthy – but he won’t be enough to offset all of the other poor selections the front office was guilty of.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

10. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia: B+ Grade
I ordinarily wouldn’t be a fan of a team drafting a running back in the top 10 of the NFL Draft, but we’ve spoken to enough teams that were super high on Todd Gurley. In fact, one team considered him to be the next Jim Brown. If it wasn’t for his torn ACL, Jacksonville probably would’ve chosen him at No. 3. Gurley definitely could be considered the top prospect available, so this is a solid choice. However, the need is questionable after Tre Mason looked so good last year. Still, I don’t know what the Rams could’ve done otherwise. They wanted either Ereck Flowers or Brandon Scherff, but both were off the board.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

WOW. Did Pisa Tinoisamoa read the wrong name off the card? That was the first thought I had when the former Ram linebacker announced the selection. Rob Havenstein barely made my mock draft; I had him slotted in the seventh round. I guess the Rams didn’t watch or scout the Senior Bowl practices because Havenstein was abused in every practice. He didn’t look like he belonged. Blegh.

72. Jamon Brown, OT, Louisville: D Grade
Can someone alert the Rams and tell them that we aren’t in the seventh round? What are they doing? Why are they picking offensive linemen who should be going in the final rounds of the draft? They’re taking players at positions of need, but… I just don’t get it.

89. Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State: C Grade
This is one of the Devin Funchess selections the Panthers curiously traded away. The Rams, however, aren’t taking advantage of Carolina’s error, drafting a quarterback who some didn’t think was going to be taken in the first five rounds. Mannion has mechanical issues on top of his poor pocket awareness, and he was responsible for a ton of turnovers throughout his collegiate career. The Rams probably could’ve waited another round to take him.

119. Andrew Donnal, OT, Iowa: C+ Grade
How many tackles does this team need? Seriously. I guess this isn’t a bad pick like the other ones because Andrew Donnal actually fits the range. Donnal, unlike the other tackles, isn’t as strong, but he has more upside.

201. Bud Sasser, WR, Missouri: C+ Grade
I didn’t have Bud Sasser being drafted, but he was right on the cusp. He’s a big receiver (6-3, 219) with decent athleticism. He also fills a need, as the Rams were expected to take a receiver much earlier than this.

215. Cody Wichmann, G, Fresno State: B- Grade
This seemingly is the Rams’ 5,000th pick used on an offensive lineman, but this selection isn’t bad like some of the other ones. Wichmann fits the range at the end of the sixth round and could eventually fight for a starting gig.

224. Bryce Hager, ILB, Baylor: A+ Grade
I’ve bashed some of the Rams’ selections in the 2015 NFL Draft, but this is an outstanding one. Bryce Hager was productive at Baylor and showed off great athleticism at the Combine, so I figured he’d go much earlier than this. In fact, I had him going in the fifth round. St. Louis dealt Zac Stacy for this pick, so it’s safe to say that it won that trade.

227. Martin Ifedi, DE, Memphis: B Grade
The Rams have strong depth on the defensive line, so it might be difficult for Martin Ifedi to make the roster. That doesn’t mean he’s a bad prospect though, as he’d have a good chance on other teams. He fits the range at this spot.

Season Summary:
It never seems like the Rams can luck out with injuries. Sam Bradford went down before the season began, and then Jake Long and Chris Long were both hurt, dooming St. Louis to yet another losing year. It’s unclear if Bradford would’ve made much of a difference anyway, so it’s clear the Rams need to find a talented, reliable quarterback. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done.

Offseason Moves:
  • Chargers sign OT Joseph Barksdale
  • Rams re-sign WR Kenny Britt
  • Rams sign DT Nick Fairley
  • Rams sign DE/OLB Akeem Ayers
  • Vikings sign QB Shaun Hill
  • Colts sign DT Kendall Langford
  • Rams re-sign TE Lance Kendricks
  • Falcons sign G Mike Person
  • Eagles acquire QB Sam Bradford, 2015 5th-round pick, 2016 3rd/4th-round pick from Rams for QB Nick Foles, 2015 4th-round pick, 2016 2nd-round pick
  • Rams acquire QB Case Keenum from Texans for 2016 7th-round pick
  • Rams cut C Scott Wells
  • Rams cut OT Jake Long
  • Rams re-sign DT Kendall Langford

    Team Needs:
    1. Quarterback: Sam Bradford has proven that he can’t stay healthy. It’s not like he was this All-Pro quarterback anyway. The Rams are out of position to take either Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston, so they’ll have to settle on someone during the second day of the draft. Traded for Nick Foles and Case Keenum

    2. Center: The Rams desperately need to upgrade their offensive line, beginning with the center position, where Scott Wells was absolutely horrific this past season. The front office will be able to find a new center on Day 2 of the 2015 NFL Draft.

    3. Right Tackle: Jake Long has discussed retirement because of his injuries. The Rams can’t count on him playing, so they’ll need to find a new right tackle – perhaps at No. 10 overall – with Joseph Barksdale set to hit free agency.

    4. Guard: The guard position will also have to be addressed, unless St. Louis finds a new left tackle and moves Greg Robinson back inside; Robinson was atrocious as the blind-side protector when he had to take over for Long, but he was just a rookie.

    5. Strongside Linebacker: The linebacking corps was the weak point of an otherwise strong defense. James Laurinaitis struggled in 2014, but JoLonn Dunbar was far worse. He was a major liability in coverage. Additional linebacking depth should be added as well. Signed Akeem Ayers

    6. Wide Receiver: The Rams have a couple of decent secondary options at receiver like Brian Quick and Stedman Bailey, but they need to find a legitimate No. 1 target. Perhaps they’ll take a receiver in the first couple of rounds. Re-signed Kenny Britt

    7. Secondary Depth: Most teams wouldn’t mind more depth in the secondary.

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2015 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Nick Fairley, DT, Lions. Age: 27.
      Signed with Rams (1 year, $5 million)

      If Nick Fairley is trying his hardest, he can be one of the best interior defensive linemen in the NFL. Unfortunately, Fairley has a history of lethargy and character issues that make him a big risk.

    2. Akeem Ayers, DE/OLB, Patriots. Age: 26.
      Signed with Rams (2 years)

      Akeem Ayers proved to be well worth the sixth-rounder the Patriots surrendered to get him from Tennessee; his presence helped improve the team’s run defense.

    St. Louis Rams Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Rodney McLeod (RFA), S, Rams. Age: 25.
      Tendered by Rams

      Despite going undrafted out of Virginia, Rodney McLeod has been able to develop into a solid starting safety. He’s good in coverage, and he’ll only be 25 in June, so there’s still plenty of room for growth.

    2. Joseph Barksdale, OT, Rams. Age: 27.
      Signed with Chargers

      Joseph Barksdale is a decent right tackle. He blew open big running lanes for Tre Mason this past season, but struggled a bit in pass protection, surrendering seven sacks.

    3. Cory Harkey (RFA), FB, Rams. Age: 25.
      Tendered by Rams

      Cory Harkey is a sound lead-blocker, and he’ll only be 25 in June.

    4. Kenny Britt, WR, Rams. Age: 26.
      Re-signed with Rams (2 years, $14 million)

      It’s hard to believe that Kenny Britt is still just 26 years old; it feels like he’s been around forever. Britt played well at times this past season, averaging 15.6 yards per reception, but was limited because of the quarterbacking situation.

    5. Kendall Langford, DE/DT, Rams. Age: 29.
      Signed with Colts

      The Rams overpaid for Kendall Langford when they gave him a 4-year, $24 million deal a few offseasons ago. Having said that, Langford is a well-rounded player who can play in both the 4-3 and 3-4.

    6. Jake Long, OT, Rams. Age: 30.
      Remember all of the hype Jake Long received in free agency two years ago? It’s a reminder of how overblown this time of year always is. Long had two injury-ridden seasons in St. Louis and is coming off a torn ACL. His career could be over.

    7. Shaun Hill, QB, Rams. Age: 35.
      Signed with Vikings (2 years, $6 million)

      Shaun Hill is one of the better backup quarterbacks in the NFL, but he had to start this past season because of Sam Bradford’s injury.

    8. Lance Kendricks, TE, Rams. Age: 27. — Re-signed with Rams (4 years, $18.5 million)
    9. Davin Joseph, G, Rams. Age: 31.
    10. Austin Davis (RFA), QB, Rams. Age: 26. — Tendered by Rams
    11. Scott Wells, C, Rams. Age: 34.
    12. Alex Carrington, DT, Rams. Age: 28.
    13. Tim Barnes (RFA), C, Rams. Age: 27.
    14. Mike Person, G, Rams. Age: 27. — Signed with Falcons


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