Home > NFL, Roster Roundouts > Roster Roundouts ’10: A St. Louis Rams Season Preview

Roster Roundouts ’10: A St. Louis Rams Season Preview

See all of the previous LiveBall Roster Roundouts articles: BucsBrownsChiefs, Jaguars.

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St. Louis Rams (Projected Finish: 4-12)

Team synopsis: The Rams probably made the correct decision to take the plunge on quarterback Sam Bradford with the first overall pick.  It’s hard to “get value” on any first overall pick (and in probability, the Rams won’t here), but if the Rams concluded that building a top defense wouldn’t make them any more than an also ran in the NFC West if their offense couldn’t score, whatever lumps they have to take for playing Bradford this season will pay off in the long run.  Unlike the rookie years of Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, or Mark Sanchez, this is probably going to be a lost season for the Rams.

Best Players

  • RB Steven Jackson (drafted — Oregon State/2004 1st round pick)
  • LG Jacob Bell (signed — Tennessee/2008 free agent)
  • C Jason Brown (signed — Baltimore/2009 free agent)
  • DE Chris Long (drafted — Virginia/2008 1st round pick)
  • LB James Laurinaitis (drafted — Ohio State/2009 2nd round pick)
  • S OJ Atogwe (drafted — Stanford/2005 6th round pick)

Best Prospects

  • QB Sam Bradford (drafted — Oklahoma/2010 1st round pick)
  • WR Donnie Avery (drafted — Houston/2008 2nd round pick)
  • LT Jason Smith (drafted — Baylor/2009 1st round pick)
  • RG/RT Rodger Saffold (drafted — Indiana/2010 2nd round pick)
  • LB David Vobora (drafted — Idaho/2008 7th round pick)

The Rams didn’t find many answers after a 1-15 season in 2009, but at least they defined some questions.  Going into the year, it was hard to say whether or not there was a long-term issue at QB for the Rams — people wanted to see if Marc Bulger could rebound from a bad two year run from 2007-08 after he had one of the best half decades in all of football from 2002-06.  Bulger himself did just fine when he was in there, but his season lasted all of five games.  Without any reason to expect Bulger to have a healthy season in the future, the ability for HC Steve Spagnuolo to see what happens when you play an entire three months with Kyle Boller and Keith Null at quarterback was an invaluable learning experience, and pretty much sealed the deal for Sam Bradford being a Ram.

Bradford goes into a pretty good situation in St. Louis with lowered expectations, a good offensive line (more on then later), some oddball receiving prospects, and most importantly, a division that can be won with just a bit of success in any given year.  His accuracy is the reason that NFL scouts fall all over his natural abilities, but there are two main worries about Bradford as a prospect.  The first is the decline of his pocket presence in his three starts last year: he could get himself into some bad habits early in St. Louis.  The other is his shoulder: the sprained AC joint that ended his career at Oklahoma prematurely suggests the sort of fragility that will prevent Bradford from obtaining franchise quarterback status with the Rams.

The Rams need to keep Bradford both healthy and clean in order to get the passer who dominated defenses in the Big XII in 2007 and 2008, which is a tall task.  The players who will be given this task are the five offensive linemen, who will include LT Jason Smith, the second overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft, and this years 33rd overall selection, Rodger Saffold. Saffold could begin his career inside at guard if the team thinks he’ll dominate there, but no matter where Saffold plays from day one, Jason Smith is going to be asked to handle a lot more responsibility than last year, when he started just five games.  Smith has a major advantage on the interior, with veterans Jacob Bell and Jason Brown, who were both developed by winning organizations, providing the leadership for the unit which appears to be the best Rams OL on paper since the pre-Alex Barron days with Orlando Pace in his prime.

As important as the OL is to Bradford’s success as a Ram, I’d be remiss to not dedicate a paragraph to Steven Jackson, who in his 7th NFL season finds himself as a superstar runner in the prime of his career, and having accomplished what he has behind a very bad offensive line and in front of a largely apathetic fan base.  Jackson is a great runner, but he’s also very underrated as a receiver.  He’s a feature back in an era that hasn’t been kind to feature backs: DeAngelo Williams might be the best back in the NFL today, but even he shares the spotlight with another top 15 back, Jonathon Stewart.  Jackson, though, handles his role in the St. Louis backfield alone.  The end for Jackson is creeping closer every wasted season, but he’s just another weapon that Sam Bradford inherits on what appears to be a pretty sound Rams offense.

Whatever Bradford has going for him in way of offensive teammates and poor defensive competition pales in comparison to the fact that his defense will do him no favors, and that he’ll likely be chasing points the whole season.  The best player on the defense is widely thought to be safety OJ Atogwe, a heady player who plays very deep from the line of scrimmage.  While he is one of the best play recognizers in the NFL, Atogwe is merely a damage limiter back there in Spagnuolo’s defense, and isn’t really much of a factor on game days.  The Rams admitted as much when they weren’t willing to pay Atogwe $7+ million a year to take him off the free agent market, but Atogwe hit the market after the big dollars had dried up (i.e. after the Bears had spent to their 2010 payroll), and came back to the Rams where he is happy.  He will lead the secondary again in 2010.

The best player on the Rams defense is probably DE Chris Long.  Long has a middling 9.0 sacks in two seasons for the Rams, but is near the top of the league in terms of pass pressure on the quarterback.  The Rams are doing him a major disservice by pairing him with a mediocre player in James Hall, as putting even an above average rusher (such as Aaron Kampman) could push Long into the 8-10 sack range.  If there’s an issue with Chris Long, it’s that he’s already 25, and while you’d like to have him break out this year — before he turns 26 next March — it’s unlikely to come before they get someone better than Hall across from him.  He’s probably in for another 5 sacks this year, serious questions about being a bust, and a breakout season as a 4th year player in 2011.

Clifton Ryan and Fred Robbins are going to clog up the run in the middle and keep blockers off of MLB James Laurinaitis, who should benefit with a fantastic year, but neither Ryan or Robbins is a good bet to push for 3 sacks this year.  The Rams lose Leonard Little’s 6.5 sacks because they’ve opted not to renew his contract.  So without him, where are the sacks going to come from?  Simple answer: they’re not.  Spagnuolo will be able to generate some sacks through creative attacking schemes (gap discipline needs will also creep into Long’s sack totals), but these schemes will have to be scaled back as soon as teams start to get big plays against the Rams’ secondary.

Linebacker David Vobora, who was Mr. Irrelevant in the 2008 NFL Draft, has become quite a prospect himself, and could be the beneficiary of both Spagnuolo’s aggressiveness, and the presence of Ryan and Robbins keeping the interior lineman off of him.  The third linebacker could be Chris Chamberlain, whose 2008 film forced Pisa Tinoisamoa off the roster, but who had a disappointing 2009 season in the new scheme, or it could be veteran Na’il Diggs, signed from Carolina in the offseason, or it could be Bobby Carpenter, acquired from Dallas in the Alex Barron trade.  Those are three very bad options.

A better option would be a liberal use of the nickel package, using Vobora and Laurinaitis as a two-man LB duo, and compensating for little pass rush.  The issue here is terrible depth at the corners, where a league average no. 1 type, Ron Bartell, is joined by FA pickup Kevin Dockery, and the rookie from South Florida, Jerome Murphy.  If those three can be exploited, the players behind them offer little of a solution.  Bradley Fletcher, a second year player from Iowa, and then Rams organizational lifers Quincy Butler and Jonathon King are the other players at the CB position.

The problem with the Rams figures to be a killer: a team with 10 NFL quality defenders is faced with the problem of no team pass rush.  Every quarterback in the league is going to expose Dockery and Murphy if both don’t severely outpace their mild expectations.  This is a problem when combined with the fact that the offense will lack downfield sizzle.  The Rams will rely on a hefty third year development from WR Donnie Avery, who got a taste of being a no. 1 receiver last season, but was hurt most of the year and wasn’t quite up to the challenge.  He’s the best bet of any Rams receiver to make a play this year, but unless he can make a few of them, the Rams will probably find someone else in the draft next year.  His prospect status must be realized this year to be meaningful.

Fighting for a spot on the roster

The Rams ran a base 2.5 reciever offense last year, usually starting three receivers, the second two having to split time between three spots, second TE Daniel Fells (now the starter), and blocking FB Mike Karney.  Time across from Avery was split evenly by Brandon Gibson, Danny Amendola, and Keenan Burton.  With potential no. 1 target Laurent Robinson returning from injury, and Avery written on the depth chart as “WR2”, backed up by Burton, someone’s going to be on the outs.  Competition for the slot receiver position will be between Amendola and rookie Mardy Gilyard, with both likely to break camp with the team.  The Rams will probably keep six receivers, given the wide open-ness of the position, but with second year man Brooks Foster looking for a spot on the roster behind Avery, Brandon Gibson could be out if he doesn’t win his return duties back.  Both Amendola and Gilyard are threats to him there.  Daniel Fells and Darcy Johnson will man the TE position, and Billy Bajema could be used on goal line packages.

Hank Fraley has been brought in to compete at Center.  He might not make the team because the Rams have C/LG Mark Setterstrom who can handle multiple positions.  Florida’s Phil Trautwein was a nice practice squad player last year, and he played well in his Week 17 cup of coffee.  He should make the 53-man roster this year.  Adam Goldberg should shift back to his 6th lineman role, leaving John Greco to start next to Rodger Saffold.  That means either Fraley with be the 8th lineman, or his spot will go to a guard/tackle swingman such as Roger Allen (favorite) or third year man Eric Young (raw, but running out of time to produce in the pros).

Victor Adejanyu and C.J. Ah You are going to get a lot of the playing time vacated by Leonard Little, but neither are pass rushers.  On the contrary, the rams have two rookies: 5th rounder Hall Davis, and 7th rounder George Selvie, who ARE pass rushers.  Selvie, in particular is a favorite of mine; he was far more productive and prolific at USF than first rounder Jason Pierre-Paul was.  It’s possible the Rams could roster 6 defensive ends and just 3 defensive tackles and 6 linebackers.  This is made possible by the sheer number of special teamer bodies on the offensive end.  In probability, Selvie and Hall Davis must both prove more useful than Adejanyu to make the roster this year.  DTs Dorell Scott and Gary Gibson both had plenty of playing time last year, and both should make the roster again, unless they get caught up in a DL numbers game.

Larry Grant and Chamberlain must hold strong to hold their backup LB positions.  Let’s pencil Na’il Diggs in as the starter at WLB.  That gives Bobby Carpenter the inside track as the 6th LB.  Kevin Payne and Craig Dahl are the two backups at safety, a position that has quietly become a strength in the Rams defense.  Payne, in particular, could challenge Spagnuolo favorite James Butler to be the starting strong safety.

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