The Rams won 7 games in 2010 in Sam Bradford’s rookie year, but regressed and won just 2 in 2011 thanks to injuries. This year, they won 7 again (plus a tie), but there’s a lot more hope for the future. Their defense went from 26th in 2011 to 14th and they are still one of the youngest defenses in the NFL. In fact, the Rams came into this season as the NFL’s youngest overall roster.
They knocked off some quality opponents and hung close with a few others, beating Seattle, San Francisco, and Washington, tying the 49ers again, and came within a touchdown of beating the Seahawks in Seattle week 17. Their schedule was actually pretty brutal, as they played 9 games against teams who won 10 or more games, going 3-6 in those 9 games, which is respectable.
They won those 7 games in spite of injuries this time and it appears Sam Bradford took another step in his development. He didn’t post eye popping numbers or anything, but, unlike in 2011, the 3rd year quarterback was able to have success in spite of the loss of his left tackle Rodger Saffold and top receiver Danny Amendola for a significant period of time. In 2011, he was completely lost without them, but improved coaching, as well as improved maturity on Bradford’s part, allowed him to adapt.
The Rams need to continue to build around the former #1 overall pick and they have two 1st round picks in each of the next two years to do so. A lot of Rams fans might be kicking themselves for not drafting Robert Griffin and essentially trading away his draft rights, but it’s easy to say that now when we know Griffin is good. Unless you absolutely need a quarterback, like the Redskins did and the Rams didn’t, it’s always safer to take the extra picks. Both teams won that trade and the Rams have a bright future in part because of it.
Building around Sam Bradford starts on the offensive line. When healthy, Rodger Saffold is a more than adequate left tackle, but he’s missed more than half of the team’s offensive snaps over the last 2 seasons. Swing tackle Wayne Hunter has to play at left tackle when Saffold is out and that’s not pretty. He’s due 3.95 million next season anyway and almost definitely won’t be brought back at that salary. Also possibly not back is right tackle Barry Richardson, who is better than Hunter, but only by default. He’s a free agent. They need at least one new tackle, a starter at right tackle, and while they may be able to get away with Richardson as a swing, they should look at other options because of how often Saffold is hurt.
Offensive tackle wasn’t the only issue on their offensive line. The Rams had 4 different players start at left guard this season, Rokevious Watkins, Quinn Ojinnaka, Shelley Smith, and Robert Turner. Turner closed out the season there and played the best of the bunch, but only by default. He played much better at center when Scott Wells was hurt and if he’s retained as a free agent this off-season, it should be as a reserve center, rather than a starting left guard. 2012 5th round pick Watkins might be seen as the 2013 starter now, but they shouldn’t write that in stone. Guards should be considered early in the 2013 NFL Draft.
The Rams played good defense, but the worst full time player on the unit was free safety Craig Dahl, who frequently missed tackles. The career journeyman is a free agent this off-season and the Rams should take this opportunity to find an upgrade. It’s already being reported that he won’t be welcomed back. With two first round picks, expect them to give safeties a look early.
The Rams locked up middle linebacker James Laurinaitis last off-season and Jo-Lonn Dunbar surprisingly played well this season, though who knows if that will continue long term. They really need an upgrade at the 3rd linebacker spot regardless as one year rental Rocky McIntosh did not impress, even getting benched for Mario Haggan week 17, who wasn’t any better.
I don’t think the answer here is more youth and drafting another receiver. The Rams have used a 2nd, 3rd, and 4th round pick on a wide receiver over the last 2 drafts, taking Austin Pettis in the 3rd in 2011 and then Brian Quick and Chris Givens in the 2nd and 4th respectively last year. They need to wait on some of that talent to develop, rather than just adding more raw talent. Givens looked great for a 4th round rookie, actually leading the team in receiving, while Pettis has had his moments. Quick barely played as a rookie, but you can never write off a receiver after one year, especially one as athletic as Quick. They obviously need to re-sign Danny Amendola and adding another veteran to replace mediocre free agent Brandon Gibson makes sense, but the only way drafting another receiver makes sense is if it’s the best available player.
Here’s where I think they could draft someone. Lance Kendricks was a 2nd round pick in 2011, but he hasn’t been the player they were expecting. He’s a product of the Steve Spagnuolo/Billy Devaney regime so Jeff Fisher/Les Snead won’t have any loyalty to him. They should at least bring in some competition because they don’t have anyone behind him on the depth chart who can catch passes.