STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
Steve Spagnuolo's second full year as Rams' head coach did nothing but solidify the belief around the league that the guy knows his x's and o's and his players respect him and play hard for him. Sure, 7-9 isn't necessarily a record you write home to mom about, but let's face it, when he came on board, this team was in major rebuild mode, and Spags was able to get them within a whisker of the playoffs after just two seasons. Two solid drafts and two good free agency periods later the club looks ready to bust out and once again become a club nobody wants to have on their schedule.
Nothing summed up these new Rams last year more than the solid all-around play from rookie quarterback Sam Bradford. After getting selected with the first overall pick in the 2010 draft and inking a $50 million deal, the pressure was on the youngster. He did not disappoint, however, completing 60 percent of his passes for a team rookie record 3,512 yards with 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Truth be told, the play calling was bland, limiting Bradford to a lot of short, quick throws. However, that philosophy also kept the rookie upright for all 16 games, allowing him to grow into the clubs bona fide offensive leader. That's right, even more than Steven Jackson, who once again busted the 1,000-yard mark in rushing while also adding close to 400 yards receiving.
The club did lose safety O.J. Atogwe and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur during the offseason, but they responded by bringing in ex-Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels to be the new offensive coordinator-a potentially huge upgrade for the fantasy prospects of St. Louis' offensive players. The Rams were also eager to improve in free agency, adding right guard Harvey Dahl, veteran RBs Jerious Norwood and Cadillac Williams, WR Mike Sims-Walker and former Pro Bowl strong safety Quintin Mikell. The team also added top talents like Robert Quinn (DE) and Lance Kendricks (TE) in the draft.
The 2011 Rams are looking well-built for a playoff run, and not just as a result of playing in a bad division. Spagnuolo has the defense overachieving with consistency, and McDaniels has a surprising amount of talent at his disposal in the Bradford-led offense.
1. (15) Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina
Injuries dropped his stock but he's got top 5 potential.
2. (47) Lance Kendricks, TE, Wisconsin
Has all the tools and has already snagged the starting job.
3. (78) Austin Pettis, WR, Boise State
Not the fastest, but great hands, height and technique should ensure him a job.
4. (112) Greg Salas, WR, Hawaii
A precise, high-motor runner who can really fight for the ball.
5. (158) Jermale Hines, S, Ohio State
Has some potential but will start on special teams.
7. (216) Mickail Baker, CB, Baylor
A converted wideout who is still learning and injury prone.
7. (228) Jabara Williams, LB, Stephen F. Austin
Has special teams written all over him.
7. (229) Jonathan Nelson, S, Oklahoma
Has a lot to learn but could help on special teams.
Harvey Dahl, G, (Atlanta)
Hardnosed right guard with a mean-streak who is a major upgrade in the running and passing game.
Cadillac Williams , RB, (Tampa Bay)
Finally, legit insurance for Jackson.
Zac Diles, LB, (Houston)
Not necessarily a pro bowler but still a major upgrade on the weak side.
O.J. Atogwe, S, (Washington)
He'll be missed, especially in run support.
Laurent Robinson, WR, (San Diego)
Probably wasn't going to make the team anyway.
Larry Grant, LB, (San Francisco)
Started seven games at weakside linebacker in 2010.
Action Jackson or Passive Jackson?
Steven Jackson has gone over 1,000 yards rushing in six straight seasons and has become equally adept at pass receiving, having cleared 300 yards receiving in five of those seasons. Of course that was all done with, for the most part, mediocre backups in place. This year the club has brought in proven veteran backs Cadillac Williams AND Jerious Norwood to help take the pressure off. Throw in the addition of a pass-first OC like Josh McDaniels and we just have a hard time seeing Jackson even matching last year's statistics, let alone exceeding them.
How Good Can Bradford Be?
In a word, VERY! If there was one thing that last year taught us it was that Sam Bradford is capable of throwing for 3,500 yards to third and fourth string receivers behind an average line. This year the club has its top receivers healthy and the club has given Sam more weapons in Mike Sims-Walker, Jerious Norwood, and rookie Lance Kendricks. The only thing that could end the party would be a major injury along an O-line that lacks depth.
Wide Receivers A'Plenty!
We don't know if we've ever seen seven or eight wide receivers who all rate out about the same, but that's what the St. Louis Rams have on their roster during 2011 training camp in Brandon Gibson, Mike Sims-Walker, Greg Salas, Austin Pettis, Danario Alexander, Donnie Avery, Danny Amendola, and Mardy Gilyard. While Amendola is a lock for the slot, all the other positions on the depth chart seem entirely up for grabs. The most obvious thing to keep in mind from a fantasy standpoint on a club like this is that whoever gets the starting job in Week 1 isn't guaranteed to be there in Week 2, let alone Week 16, so tread lightly.
Will the Defense be Offensive?
With the exception of first-round pick Robert Quinn, the Rams focused on their offense in early portion of the draft. That meant they were forced to turn to free agency to plug some major holes by grabbing Justin Bannan, Dan Muir, Zac Diles, Brady Poppinga, Quintin Mikell and Al Harris. The real question now is whether or not these guys can gel and form a cohesive unit that other clubs really have to worry about. If they had an offensive-minded coach we'd have our doubts, but with Ken Flajole and Steve Spagnuolo running the show we think the answer is an unequivocal yes!
Rising: Danny Amendola is more in synch with Bradford than anyone on the team.
Declining: Steven Jackson is a year older and might not get as many rushing attempts under McDaniels' watch.
Sleeper: Danario Alexander is injury prone, but athleticism stands out.
Super Sleeper: Lance Kendricks is tearing it up in camp and can be a problem for linebackers and safeties.
Chris Long, DE
Improved interior should leave him one-on-one more.
James Laurinitis, LB
Team-high 114 tackles with three sacks last year.
Bradley Fletcher, CB
Ron Bartell might be the No. 1 corner, but Fletcher led with four picks in 2010.
Robert Quinn, DE
If he realizes his potential he could be huge.