St. Louis Rams Players To Watch For Rest of Season
5 St. Louis Rams Players to Watch in Season's Closing Stretch
The ups and downs of the 2013 season have been a consistent theme for the St. Louis Rams over the last few seasons. Last year featured a Rams team that showed promise, especially when facing divisional foes. This season has been no different for an even younger roster. Head Coach Jeff Fisher and GM Les Snead have made it an obvious point to build through the draft, developing homegrown players with a few additions through free agency.
The attempts to build around franchise QB Sam Bradford have seen the receiving corps completely turnover to young receivers that are unproven and often times projects. The offensive line has improved over the last two years, but it's not producing top notch protection. With the re-addition of Rodger Saffold at RG the line could benefit greatly from the veteran's presence and ability. There have been plenty of disappointments for new acquisitions in Tavon Austin and Jared Cook. Both players have had exactly one game each where they electrified the offense and carried the team. Aside from those outings the new offensive weapons have had a poor season.
The defense has displayed superior ability in a few games this year limiting opponents to 16.7 points per game over the last three weeks. Before the recent stretch they were surrendering 28 points per contest. The defensive backs struggled to contain the elite receivers they saw early in the season. Part of that is due to the struggles and injury of veteran Cortland Finnegan. The defensive line is one of the most disruptive forces in the league thanks to Robert Quinn's All-Pro season and Chris Long's re-emergence as a pass rusher. While they are getting to the QB early and often they can't seem to get a grasp on opposing running backs. The defense has a lot to figure out before this team can excel to the next level and compete week in and week out.
5. Trumaine Johnson
Trumaine Johnson has improved greatly over the course of nearly two seasons. After serving as the team's third corner last season and earlier this year, Johnson is now starting opposite of fellow second year corner Janoris Jenkins. While Johnson has made many mistakes this year after being tossed into the fire thanks for Finnegan's poor start and injury, he has made many great plays. Johnson has the upside to become a solid, if not great corner for the Rams. His length and physical presence will allow him to be a tough matchup for bigger receivers. His ball skills were on display when he made a pick in Week 10 reading and reacting to a route in the end zone.
With Finnegan creating such a big hit on the salary cap it would be a cheaper option to dump him once his guaranteed money is off the table and let Johnson and Jenkins run things on the outside. St. Louis will certainly be looking for a corner this offseason. Finnegan isn't going to get any younger or faster, and his closing speed has dropped of late. Early in the season he was getting beat whether he tried to jam or play back off of receivers. It would be tough to trade a 30 year old corner whose production has dropped in the offseason.
Jenkins' struggles have been against some of the best receivers in the league, but if he is gong to be the top corner in St. Louis he has to step up and perform against every receiver that lines up across from him. Just like Johnson, Jenkins has shown signs of brilliance at times. Still he was abused by Steve Smith just a few weeks ago. Smith is still an elite pass catcher, but he flat out embarrassed Jenkins all day long. Most chalk it up to being another learning experience for a young corner, but for any fan you could see that Jenkins was just overmatched.
4. Rodger Saffold
With five offensive linemen set for free agency the Rams have a lot of decisions to make this offseason. Rodger Saffold is the biggest name set to hit free agency for St. Louis. He has shown the ability to play at a high level at both tackle positions, but injuries have killed his value. A move to RT this season brought his value down and now with Joe Barksdale performing well with another year left on his contract Saffold's days are probably numbered. A new move to RG to replace the injured Harvey Dahl adds to Saffold's flexibility to play anywhere on the line.
He is quickly becoming the Skip Schumaker of the Rams. He can play basically anywhere, but his talent has never gotten him that big payday. If Saffold can get over the injury bug he could play a big role on the line at RT or RG. Harvey Dahl's return could force Saffold or Barksdale out of rotation. Saffold's contract will be affected by where he plays no matter if it is here in St. Louis or elsewhere.
3. Stedman Bailey
The Rams receiving corps is much improved from a few seasons now that they have some promising athletes locked in for a few years. However, those young players are struggling to provide consistent open targets and sure hands. Leading the league in drops is a sure way to hurt your value and your QB's value. Someone has to start producing as a go to receiver or St. Louis could be in trouble. Yes, they have a plethora of receivers with talent and skills, but none of them have really taken charge and said 'I'm the man.' It seems like there is a lack of desire to be the main target. Jared Cook has been vastly underutilized in the offense and Tavon Austin was absent from most games it seemed. Chris Givens is on pace to have an identical season without as many home run strikes.
Brian Quick has progressed but is still searching for his identity in the NFL. I've said it before and I will say it again. Quick really needs to watch some tape of Anquan Boldin and how he uses his hands to get free of defenders. Apparently Austin Pettis is an afterthought in the offense again as well. Bradford and Pettis had good chemistry and worked well together. Clemens doesn't seem to feel the same way about Pettis.
The Rams vowed to get Stedman Bailey involved after he made his first catch of the season, but they didn't need him in their Week 10 destruction of the Indianapolis Colts. That will change soon as the schedule has the Rams facing talented teams and the passing game will be needed. If Bailey steps up to perform the rest of the season Quick and Pettis could see more time disappear. All he really will need to do is prove that he can hold onto the ball and gain some yards after the catch. If he can provide a solid option St. Louis might be inclined to trust him more than they do Quick.
2. Benny Cunningham
The starting running back position should be locked up thanks to Zac Stacy's breakout season. If it wasn't for Stacy the Rams could be looking at much worse than a 4-6 record. The back up RB search is still going on, but Benny Cunningham is beginning to earn more trust and carries as the season goes on while former start Daryl Richardson battles injuries. Cunningham's running style is more similar to Stacy's so he isn't going to fit as a change of pace back, but he provides some pop and quickness.
I still think that the Rams believe in Richardson when healthy. He has the change of pace style that the Rams need. He can't be the starter due to his inability to break tackles or pass block. Isaiah Pead might as well be done as a Ram after his disastrous start. A suspension and fumbles have derailed any thoughts of him being a feature back or returner. St. Louis could find another option in the draft, but those picks would be better spent on other positions of need.
1. Robert Quinn
We all know that Robert Quinn is establishing himself as a big time playmaker racking up 12 sacks and five forced fumbles. He has catapulted his name into the Defensive Player of the Year conversation. He is also in a battle for the first ever Deacon Jones Award for leading the league in sacks. While he is under contract for next year and has an option for 2015, it could be a good idea for St. Louis to try and sign him to a long-term deal to solidify the DE position for years to come.
After being the team that took a chance on the young Quinn out of college they could hope for a discount if they guarantee him money. Quinn came out of college having been suspended for a year and was surrounded with questions about his character. He has answered those questions on and off the field in St. Louis. If he continues on this pace St. Louis should look to lock up the game changer sooner rather than later. If they wait too long he could price himself out of the Gateway City.