(Photo Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports )
The St. Louis Rams are entering year three of the rebuilding process under head coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead. It’s been a long and dreadful journey, seemingly hopeless at points, which has left many St. Louis fans wondering if the Rams will ever rebound to their winning ways. The Rams haven’t been a respectable football organization since the backend of “The Greatest Show on Turf” era in the early 2000’s.
Part of the reason for their recent struggles is that they compete in undoubtedly the best division in the NFL, the NFC West. San Francisco and Seattle are two of the perennial powerhouses, making it challenging for St. Louis and Arizona to succeed as they rebuild their squads piece by piece.
But with another successful draft and some free agent acquisitions the Rams are starting to look like an actual football team once more. Fisher and Snead opted to go offensive line rather than wide receiver in this years draft taking Auburn’s Greg Robinson over Clemson’s Sammy Watkins. While it might not be the sexiest pick, it’s important to understand that in order for a team to succeed you have to protect the quarterback, first and foremost.
The Rams of course started the rebuilding process back in 2010 drafting their “franchise” quarterback Sam Bradford with the first overall pick. I’m using franchise as a loose term here because he hasn’t really done much since joining the organization. And even though the losing isn’t entirely his fault, the general consensus is that this will be Bradford’s make or break year. Except I don’t think its fair to criticize him for his poor output because he’s never had a whole lot of protection around him… until now. For the first time in his career he will have an offensive line that can compete and give him time to throw the ball. Now I’m not saying he has to go out and win a super bowl, but this team is certainly capable of playing above .500 football.
Looking at this team on paper suggests they’re solid at just about every position, except the one the front office ignored during the draft, wide receiver. Both Bradford’s success and the teams overall success moving forward lies in the hands of the young Ram receiving corps. Since Bradford was drafted in 2010 the Rams have shuffled through three different offensive coordinators with Brian Schottenheimer being the latest to join the Rams organization prior to the 2011 season. With Schottenheimer in his third year these young wide receivers have had plenty of time to learn the schemes, now it’s time they step up.
Currently the Rams wide outs include Chris Givens, Tavon Austin, Kenny Britt, Brian Quick, Stedman Bailey, and Austin Pettis. Givens and Pettis are listed as one and two respectively on the depth chart as they were the two biggest playmakers last season. But Austin, Quick, and Britt all have untapped potential that could make them key contributors on this team. Bailey worked his tail off last year to get some snaps, but will miss the first four games of the season due to a PED suspension.
So let’s start with Austin, the Rams 8th overall pick in the first round of the 2013 draft. Ultimately, I would like to see Austin get more targets this season rather than just using him primarily in the return game. He only had 40 catches for 418 yards and four touchdowns a season ago, hardly what you want out of a top ten pick. I know the Rams had a backup quarterback for the second half of the season, but you have to give the guy more opportunities to show what he’s got. He’s a true slot receiver with explosive speed just waiting to erupt.
Quick is another player to keep an eye on this coming season. His production hasn’t been all that great since joining the Rams in 2012, but now is the time for him to change that. He’s never been great at route running or catching the ball, but he certainly has the size and athletic ability to be a big time playmaker. He needs to work out the kinks in his game if he ever wants to be a starter; this is his year to prove it.
(Photo Credit: Joe Robbins- Getty Images)
The Rams also added a veteran this offseason in Kenny Britt. Britt another former product of Jeff Fisher’s Titan team never really flourished with the exception to his decent 2010 campaign. Britt seems to have been brought on as an insurance policy in case the other wide receivers don’t pan out. A fresh start with a new team is just what he needs and Britt could certainly be a leader for some of these younger guys despite only being 26 himself.
Finally Givens and Pettis were the two most reliable receivers in terms of route running and handling the ball last year despite what the numbers say. Pettis was Bradford’s favorite target a season ago, but I don’t see him keeping his starting role this upcoming campaign. If anything Britt should take over his position if Quick isn’t ready. Givens certainly has speed and made plays as the team’s deep man in 2013, but failed to record a single touchdown. With Bradford back in the saddle hopefully that will change.
Let’s also not forget about the Rams run game. The addition of Tre Mason out of Auburn is an excellent compliment to the surprising break out back of last year Zac Stacy. Those two coupled with the new and improved offensive line has the potential to be a lethal asset to this offense. And if St. Louis can find success in the run game then that should open up some holes for these wide receivers to break out as well.
All in all this team certainly has the potential to play above .500, but will they? It’s going to take at least 10 wins for this team to secure a playoff spot and the schedule isn’t all that favorable. Yet the Rams field one of the scariest defenses in the NFL led by the reinstated Greg Williams and solidified their run game and offensive line with this years draft class. So the only real question mark that remains is can Bradford and his receivers make plays and put points on the board? In 99 days, we’ll find out.
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