St. Louis Rams: Five No-Name Players Who Could Explode in 2013
5 No-Name St. Louis Rams Who Could Have Breakout Seasons
Each season the NFL is filled with players who step up and become difference makers for their team. Since the St. Louis Rams have only 19 players with more than two years of NFL experience, it is important that they have some players make themselves household names this year. Luckily, with all the young players that the Rams have drafted and brought in as undrafted free agents over the past two offseasons, this is a very realistic possibility.
Though new contributors certainly are anticipated on both sides of the ball, the Rams probably will be expecting more players to step up and make a name for themselves on offense. Several players who are projected starters, including Daryl Richardson, Austin Pettis, Chris Givens, and possibly Shelley Smith and Joe Barksdale, weren't really big names coming out of college. But since they have arrived in St. Louis, each of them has shown skills that could allow them to stand out from the pack in the NFL.
On defense, the Rams are pretty set as far as the starting lineup goes, but it will be fun to see which role players step up and show their worth this season. One player on the defensive side who did this in 2012 was defensive lineman William Hayes. After leaving the Tennessee Titans, Hayes reunited with head coach Jeff Fisher on a one-year contract in St. Louis. The move paid off, as he had a career year and was rewarded with a three-year, $10.5 million contract this offseason. With depth concerns at linebacker and defensive back, and defensive line coach Mike Waufle preferring to employ a large rotation of players, anyone could have a breakout year just like Hayes did.
Here are five largely unknown Rams who are the most likely to reach stardom in 2013.
5. Rodney McLeod, S
McLeod, an undrafted rookie last year out of Virginia, was the Rams' leading special teams tackler last season and began to get some time playing safety near the end of the season. This year, he was brought back to compete for a safety position and quickly was able to assure himself a spot with a solid showing during training camp practices.
Last week in a preseason contest with the Green Bay Packers, Darian Stewart, who had been penciled into a starting safety spot, re-aggravated a hamstring injury that caused him to miss most of 2012. McLeod took over in his place and was impressive, registering three tackles plus an interception that was called back by a penalty. If Stewart continues to struggle with injuries, McLeod could end up getting a lot of time on defense this year and will have a great chance to prove himself.
4. Eugene Sims, DE
In the 2011 season, the New York Giants won the Super Bowl largely because of a group of defensive ends comprised of Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, and Dave Tollefson. This year, the Rams' top three ends—Chris Long, Robert Quinn, and William Hayes—have the opportunity to equal Pierre-Paul, Umenyiora, and Tuck's production, and Sims has the opportunity to play Tollefson's role, a pretty lofty accomplishment considering that Tollefson started two games that year and had five sacks.
The 6-foot-6, 265-pound Sims showed some serious potential last season, dealing with injuries that limited him to 13 games but still finishing with 20 tackles, three sacks, and an interception. Last year, though, he also spent a lot of time at defensive tackle while the Rams played shorthanded early in the year due to injuries. This year, with the team having a full complement of talented tackles, he should be able to spend much more time at end. If he can stay healthy this season, Sims should be able to show even more pass-rushing ability and perhaps establish himself as a starting-quality defensive end.
3. Matt Conrath, DT
Conrath very well could have made himself well-known in 2012 if things had gone his way. As an undrafted rookie out of Virginia, the 6-foot-7, 290-pound defensive tackle worked with the first-team defense on the first day of training camp and was impressive during the preseason. Unfortunately, he suffered a knee injury in the preseason finale, fell behind, and he ended up only dressing for one regular-season game all year.
This year, Conrath has looked even better during training camp and has once again gotten a lot of action with the number one defense during practice. He's flashed the ability to knock down passes at the line of scrimmage and seems to have earned himself a spot on the regular season game-day roster. If Conrath can rotate in with the defense and continue making plays, he can become well-respected as one of the biggest and most athletic 4-3 defensive tackles in the game.
2. Daryl Richardson, RB
Coming into last season, Richardson was as much of a no-name as one can be, having been taken with the second-to-last pick in the 2012 NFL Draft out of Division II Abilene Christian. However, he quickly put the small-school label behind him by passing up the Rams' second-rounder Isaiah Pead on the running back depth chart. He was able to force the closest thing starter Steven Jackson had had to a time share since his rookie season, with Richardson getting 98 carries for 475 yards.
This season, with Jackson having departed for the Atlanta Falcons, Richardson will inherit the starting running back position, and he may get a large majority of the carries if none of the Rams' other backs step up. Look for Richardson to step up in 2013 and prove himself as a legitimate starter.
1. Chris Givens, WR
Though Givens was the second-most productive rookie receiver in the NFL in 2012, averaging 16.6 yards per catch with three touchdowns over 42 receptions, he did not get a lot of publicity outside of St. Louis and is still unknown in many circles. Givens is expected to be Sam Bradford's primary receiving option in 2013, and if he can put up great numbers once again, he can add his name to the list of elite receivers from the NFC West.