ST. LOUIS RAMS
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
A lot of St. Louis fans out there actually thought that 2009 was going to be different. But the countdown continued. Three, two, one...as in, the Rams' win total in each of the last three seasons. Granted, injuries and a house cleaning were huge reasons why they suffered. In all, the club saw 13 starters go on the IR at one point or another, and the Rams traded former first-round pick Tye Hill, starting middle linebacker Will Witherspoon and starting guard Richie Incognito during the season. That's a lot of talent to lose, especially when you don't have much to begin with. The end result was a ticket to snatch potential franchise quarterback Sam Bradford, providing a new dash of hope for an organization that has plummeted from the pinnacle of the sport to the cellar within the last decade.
The Rams didn't hit the free-agent market this past offseason as hard as they did in 2009, bringing in just a few low-level free agents like Na'il Diggs and Hank Fraley. They were just as quiet on the re-signing front, allowing starters like Randy McMichael, and Leonard Little to move on, while cutting Marc Bulger. The club did bring in 11 new draft picks and signed 13 rookie free agents, so competition in camp should be fierce for any number of positions. The team's receiving corps is healthy again, and the addition of Mardy Gilyard is a nice bonus. The O-line should be better with Rodger Saffold on board and Jason Smith having that full year of experience under his belt.
Ultimately, Bradford's performance will dictate how this offense does. If he's competent early on, then it should help open things up for Steven Jackson. If Bradford struggles, then it might end up being another year of Jackson vs. nine-in-the-box, which is a recipe for another double-digit loss season.
Defensively, the club is still a ways away. Adam Carriker's exit won't be felt too much, but that doesn't mean the club is strong at defensive tackle. O.J. Atogwe's return at free safety is almost a must, although Kevin Payne does provide needed depth and, along with James Butler at strong safety, will complement the team's good, young corners. James Laurinaitis was huge in his rookie year, and he anchors a linebacking unit that possesses average speed, but plenty of football smarts.
The Rams are getting better overall, but they still lack the run stoppers and linebacking depth to field even an above-average unit. They'll play hard for head coach Steve Spagnuolo on both sides of the ball, but there will still be a fair amount of points both scored by opponents and left on the field by the Rams this season.
Round, Overall, Player
1. (1) Sam Bradford, QB, Oklahoma-Past injuries a concern but potential to be face of the franchise for next 10 years.
2. (33) Rodger Saffold, OT, Indiana-Penciled in as starting right tackle.
3. (65) Jerome Murphy, CB, South Florida-Could see action in nickel package.
4. (99) Mardy Gilyard, WR, Cincinnati-Good potential as returner and slot receiver.
5. (132) Michael Hoomanawanui, TE, Illinois-Suspect receiver, but excellent blocker who could see goal-line action.
5. (149) Hall Davis, DE, Louisiana-Lafayette-Great potential but is too raw to see a lot of action in rookie year.
6. (170) Fendi Onobun, TE, Houston-Unbelievable athleticism combined with minimal experience equals “project.”
6. (189) Eugene Sims, DE, West Texas A&M-At least a year away from contributing along line.
7. (211) Marquis Johnson, CB, Alabama-Good fundamentals, but doesn’t have physical gifts to make a huge impact.
7. (226) George Selvie, DE, South Florida-Intriguing player who could make a serious impact in rookie year.
7. (254) Josh Hull, LB, Penn State-Should find time on special teams.
Kevin Payne, S (Bears) Nice insurance policy in case O.J. Atogwe doesn’t return.
Hank Fraley, C (Browns) Brings versatility and depth to a battered O-line.
Adam Carriker, DT (Redskins) Oft-injured former first-round pick was caught in DT numbers game.
Randy McMichael, TE (FA) Production tapered off following departure from Miami.
HOW GOOD IS BRADFORD GOING TO BE?
Nobody truly knows if Bradford will be a bust or a savior. However, one thing that you can bet on is that he will have his rookie moments. Even if he is the next Troy Aikman, as one scout put it, Aikman's horrific first year provides evidence that even future Hall of Famers don't just walk in and become superstars out of the gate. We do know that Bradford's surgically repaired shoulder seems to be holding up well, the Rams' offensive line will be better, and he'll have healthier and more experienced receiving targets at his disposal than his predecessor. Honestly, can he really be worse than Marc Bulger was over the last three years? Moreover, having a freight train like Steven Jackson behind him should help ease some of the pressure.
WILL STEVEN BE LEAVIN’ EARLY?
Steven Jackson had offseason back surgery but he and his doctors insist it was just a “minor” procedure, nothing to worry about. We'd all love to believe that Jackson is simply going to shake off the surgery and grind his way to another big season. Unfortunately, we've seen way too many great backs suffer what seemed like an inconsequential injury only to have it turn into a nightmare scenario of setbacks and missed games. That's why it's important to identify who the most likely candidate is to replace Jackson if things go south. Obviously, if Brian Westbrook decides to give it a run, he'd be a risky, but intriguing, option. For now, Kenneth Darby, raw second-year project Chris Ogbonnaya, and undrafted rookies Keith Toston and DeMaundray Woolridge are in the mix. If one of them can step up to claim the No. 2 spot outright in camp just make sure you remember the guy's name when you're making your final pick, especially if you drafted Jackson.
WHO’S GOING TO CATCH THE BALL?
Let's be honest, 2009 for the Rams' receiving corps wasn't pretty. Donnie Avery led the club with a mere 589 yards and five touchdowns, and Steven Jackson, a running back, led the team in catches with 51. Of course, injuries had a lot to do with that and that's why we think there could be some good sleeper picks when it comes to the team's wideouts. Laurent Robinson is the most intriguing, as he came out of camp as the No. 1 receiver last year, posted 167 yards and one touchdown on 13 receptions in 2.5 games and then promptly broke his leg. The drafting of Mardy Gilyard also gives the team a player who is perfect for the slot. Whether or not he can get up to speed and become one of Bradford's prime targets early in the year has yet to be determined, but the opportunity is there for him to seize.
Rising: Donnie Avery finally got a full season under his belt and seems primed for a career year.
Declining: Steven Jackson has to be running on fumes after carrying this club on his (balky?) back for six miserable years.
Supersleeper: Mardy Gilyard seems like a perfect fit in the slot and his return yards could be the icing on the cake.
Chris Long, DE Had five sacks and 43 tackles in 2009 and keeps improving.
Oshiomogho Atogwe, S May not return to team, but racked up 156 tackles, nine forced fumbles and seven interceptions over the last two years.
James Laurinaitis, LB Had 120 tackles as a rookie, including 107 solo.
RotoWire Rank: 28