Jeff Fisher and Les Snead made a statement about the direction of their franchise with the recent signing of left tackle Jake Long. For the second off-season in a row, the St. Louis Rams‘ top brass have signaled just how much they believe in their young quarterback Sam Bradford.
Even though the Rams didn’t make the playoffs, they still finished the season with a 7-8-1 record — a record that gives them the 16th overall pick in the first round of this year’s draft.
Having two picks in the top 22 of the same draft offers the franchise the flexibility to go in different directions. Much is often made about the futility of the Rams’ offense, so the natural expectation is that they will invest heavily on that side of the ball after losing Danny Amendola and Steven Jackson in free agency.
Jackson and Amendola are undoubtedly big losses, and are arguably irreplaceable. However, the Rams had been expecting their departure and made moves as such last year.
Both Brian Quick and Chris Givens arrived in last year’s draft to eventually become the team’s starting wide receivers, while Daryl Richardson and Isiah Pead will be expected to carry the load from the backfield. Richardson and Givens showed a lot of promise as rookies, while Pead and Quick were high draft picks who spent the year developing behind the scenes.
The perception of the Rams’ offense is that it has been blunt and toothless in recent years at the skill positions. However, the Rams have had talented receivers and running backs during Bradford’s tenure, but the impact of those players has been diminished by an awful offensive line.
By signing Long in free agency, and adding Jared Cook to be a starting tight end, the Rams have signalled their intentions this off-season. Left tackle and tight end were the Rams’ two biggest needs on offense. In college, Bradford relied heavily on Jermaine Gresham, and has shown a desire to consistently connect with the position in the pros.
However, he hasn’t had that reliable receiver to rely on yet. Cook should fix that.
Long alone won’t offer Bradford the blindside protection that he desires however. Yes, every NFC West team must have a quality blindside tackle to counter studs such as Aldon Smith, Michael Bennett and Sam Acho, but they must also be able to get top-tier production to counter inside presences such as Justin Smith, Calais Campbell and Brandon Mebane.
One offensive lineman doesn’t cut it in today’s NFL. Defenses are always looking for ways to exploit their oppositions’ weaknesses.
Long’s addition does allow them to kick Rodger Saffold from left tackle to right tackle, giving them two starting caliber tackles at least. Scott Wells, at center, and Harvey Dahl, at right guard, are former free agent additions who may not have lived up to expectations initially, but have the talent to produce consistently.
With one move this off-season (the Long signing) the Rams have pushed themselves to within one more move of creating an offensive line of strength. They could re-sign the relatively impressive Robert Turner from last season, but that wouldn’t elevate the unit to one of strength. That would simply make it a respectable group.
Instead of re-signing Turner, they should look to draft one of the two elite guard prospects in this year’s draft: Chance Warmack or Jonathan Cooper.
The success of young guards such as Kevin Zeitler, Kraig Urbik, Andy Levitre, Mike Iupati and Carl Nicks have all proven in recent years that young guards can have instant impacts on this level. Warmack and Cooper are considered the top two players at their positions, and should be able to replicate the success of a guy like Zeitler or Levitre in their rookie seasons.
By pairing either rookie with Long, the Rams would give Bradford a reinforced blindside wall to allow him time in the pocket.
With time in the pocket, Bradford’s confidence and ability to throw the ball down the field would drastically improve. Even if they invest in a guard in the first round, they could still potentially add a wide receiver such as Cordarrelle Patterson or Tavon Austin.
Having a below-par average line has held the Rams back in recent years. Conversely, turning that weakness into a strength would have a positive impact on the rest of the offense moving into the future.