St. Louis Rams 2015 NFL Off-Season Preview

Positions of Need

Center

Despite all the money and resources they put into it, the Rams still have massive issues on the offensive line. Nowhere on the offensive line do they have bigger issues than at center. The Rams gave Scott Wells a 4-year, 24 million dollar deal three off-seasons ago, after he was Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked center in 2011 with the Packers, but it didn’t pan out at all. Wells missed 13 games in 3 seasons, graded out below average all 3 times, including a 2014 season in which he was Pro Football Focus’ worst ranked center, the only season in which he played all 16 games. Owed 3.75 million in 2015, he’s not expected back. The Rams will need a replacement. 2013 4th round pick Barrett Jones is one option, but he’s managed just 23 snaps in 2 seasons behind Wells and they’ll need competition for him at the very least.

Quarterback

Sam Bradford is owed a 12.985 million dollar salary in 2015, so the Rams have a very big decision to make. Bradford hasn’t lived up to his billing as the #1 overall pick in 2010, completing 58.6% of his passes for an average of 6.29 YPA, 59 touchdowns, and 38 interceptions in his career, while missing 31 of 80 games with injuries. However, he might still be the best quarterback they have on the roster. The Rams may try to negotiate a paycut with him or cut him outright and even if they keep him, they need to add competition. With Bradford missing all of last season, Shaun Hill and Austin Davis split starts. Hill completed 63.3% of his passes for an average of 7.24 YPA, 8 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions, while Davis completed 63.4% of his passes for an average of 7.05 YPA, 12 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions. Hill is a free agent, going into his age 35 season, while Davis has the look of a long-term backup.

Guard

As I mentioned, the Rams have serious issues on the offensive line and guard is no different. When Jake Long tore his ACL mid-season, Greg Robinson, the 2nd overall pick in 2014, moved to left tackle, leaving a huge hole at left guard. Veteran Davin Joseph moved into the starting lineup, but ended up grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 75th ranked guard out of 78 eligible. A free agent going into his age 32 season, he won’t be back as a starter in 2015. Robinson is expected to stay at offensive tackle long-term, with Jake Long’s future in doubt with injury and Joe Barksdale headed to free agency, so the Rams will need to find a long-term solution at left guard this off-season.

Wide Receiver

Like the offensive line, the Rams have put a lot of resources into the receiving corps and it hasn’t really panned out. They’ve used 7 picks in the first 4 rounds on wide receivers since 2010 and it’s yielded Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Chris Givens, Austin Pettis, Greg Salas, Mardy Gilyard, and Brian Quick. Kenny Britt’s 748 yards last season were the most by a Rams receiver since 2008 and he was signed for the veteran’s minimum. He’s a free agent this off-season and, even if he’s brought back, he’s not the #1 receiver they need. After Britt, their next best wide receiver was Stedman Bailey with 30 catches for 435 yards and a touchdown. Brian Quick was having a decent year before a season ending shoulder injury. He’ll be back in 2015, but that will be his contract year and he doesn’t have #1 receiver abilities. Tavon Austin was the #8 overall pick in 2013. There’s still time for him to turn it around, but after a 31/242/0 sophomore campaign, he is looking like a bust.

Offensive Tackle

Like guard and center, the Rams have issues at offensive tackle. Jake Long could be cut or retire this off-season, after tearing his ACL twice in less than a calendar year. He had injury issues before that and might not be able to make it back. Meanwhile, right tackle Joe Barksdale will be a free agent this off-season. Greg Robinson is expected to play one offensive tackle spot long-term, but he’s only one player and he struggled mightily as a rookie, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 78th ranked offensive tackle out of 84 eligible.

Middle Linebacker

James Laurinaitis signed a 6-year, 42.12 million dollar deal three off-seasons and has graded out below average in all 3 seasons since, including 45th out of 60 eligible in 2014, the worst season of his career. His 3.625 million dollar salary for 2015 isn’t guaranteed so the Rams could move on from him, though it’s unlikely. If they did, they’d need an immediate replacement and I think either way they need a long-term replacement. Laurinaitis, as much as the organization likes his leadership, isn’t that good.

Outside Linebacker

Both of the Rams’ starting outside linebackers graded out below average last season. Alec Ogletree was a first round pick in 2013 so he still has job security, but an upgrade is needed over JoLonn Dunbar, who graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 37th ranked 4-3 outside linebacker out of 40 eligible in 2014 and is going into his age 30 season in 2015.

Key Free Agents

OT Joe Barksdale

Barksdale was a 3rd round pick of the Raiders in 2011, but he barely played in his first 2 seasons in the league, playing 282 snaps in 2011-2012 combined. He became a starter in 2013 with the Rams, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 25th ranked offensive tackle in 13 starts. He couldn’t quite match that in 2014, grading out slightly below average in 16 starts, but he should be looking at starter’s money this off-season. The Rams would be wise to bring him back because, even though he’s not great, but might be their best healthy offensive linemen.

WR Kenny Britt

The 2009 1st round pick looked on his way to a promising career in 2010 and 2011. After averaging 1.86 yards per route run as a rookie in 2009, Britt averaged an absurd 3.07 yards per route run in 2010 and 2011, catching a combined 59 passes for 1064 yards and 12 touchdowns on a combined 347 routes run. However, a torn ACL suffered 3 games into 2011 derailed his career big-time. He averaged just 1.49 yards per route run in 2012, his first year back after the injury. In 2013, his final year in Tennessee, he was a train wreck. He only caught a third of his 33 targets, with 11 catches for 96 yards and he dropped 7 passes. He averaged just 0.48 yards per route run on 201 routes run. He bounced back in 2014 with the Rams, catching 48 passes for 748 yards and 3 touchdowns, but he still won’t draw much interest on the open market with his injury history and his 9 career arrests. He’d be wise to re-sign in St. Louis and stick with Jeff Fisher, who was his coach in Tennessee and under whom he’s always played his best football.

TE Lance Kendricks

Lance Kendricks was a 2nd round pick in 2011, but only caught 129 passes for 1388 yards and 13 touchdowns in 4 seasons with the Rams. He maxed out with 42 catches for 519 yards and 4 touchdowns in 2012, when he played 875 snaps, and largely served as a #2 tight end and blocking tight end over the past 2 seasons with Jared Cook in town. He’ll probably serve a similar role in his next destination and won’t command a lot of money on the open market.

QB Shaun Hill

Shaun Hill’s career numbers aren’t bad. He’s completed 62.2% of his passes for an average of 6.80 YPA, 49 touchdowns, and 30 interceptions. However, he’s going into his age 35 season and wasn’t overly impressive in 2014, his first extended action since 2010. He completed 63.3% of his passes for an average of 7.24 YPA, 8 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 26th ranked quarterback out of 39 eligible. He’ll have to sign as a cheap backup somewhere, if he wants to continue his career.

G Davin Joseph

Joseph is going into his age 32 season and has really struggled over the past few seasons. He was Pro Football Focus’ 82nd ranked guard out of 82 eligible in 2010, missed all of 2012 with injury, and then graded out 80th out of 81 eligible upon his return in 2013, leading to his release from Tampa Bay. He signed as a backup in St. Louis last off-season, but ended up starting 13 games because of injury and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 75th ranked out of 78 eligible. He had to wait until the summer to sign last off-season and could have to wait a while for the phone to ring this off-season, if it ever does.

Cap Casualty Candidates

C Scott Wells

Wells was Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked center in 2011, which led to him getting a 4-year, 24 million dollar deal from the Rams the following off-season. He hasn’t lived up to that deal at all though, missing 13 games in 2012 and 2013 combined, grading out worst at his position in 2014, and not grading out above average once. Owed a non-guaranteed 3.75 million in 2015, he’s expected to be released this off-season, which would save that amount on the cap immediately.

OT Jake Long

Long, the 1st overall pick in 2008, was arguably the best offensive tackle in the game from 2008-2010, grading out 10th, 2nd, and 3rd respectively on Pro Football Focus in those 3 seasons. However, back problems slowed him in 2011 and 2012, causing him to finish 20th and 46th in those 2 seasons respectively and miss a combined 6 games. As a result of these back problems, Long had to settle for a 4-year, 34 million dollar deal from the Rams, when he could have gotten upwards of 10-12+ million dollars yearly if he had continued to play as well as he did from 2008-2010. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 7th ranked offensive tackle in 2013, in his first year with the Rams, but he tore his ACL week 17 and then tore it again week 8 in 2014, leaving his future in serious doubt. The Rams can save 9.25 million in cash and 8 million in cap space by releasing him this off-season and they’re reportedly seriously considering it. He could also retire, even only going into his age 30 season.

QB Sam Bradford

Sam Bradford is going to be a tough decision for the Rams this off-season. He’s the best quarterback they have on their roster, but he’s owed 12.985 million in non-guaranteed salary and he’s not worth that. In 5 seasons in the NFL, he’s missed 31 games (including 25 over the past 2 seasons with a twice town ACL), completed 58.6% of his passes for an average of 6.29 YPA, 59 touchdowns, and 38 interceptions. Some sort of paycut/cheaper extension might be the best move for both sides.

DT Kendall Langford

Langford is a decent player, but he’s owed a non-guaranteed 6 million dollars in his contract year in 2015, after signing a 4-year, 24 million dollar deal three off-seasons ago. He’s simply not worth that kind of money in his current role, playing 494 snaps in 2014. He played well and is probably still a starting caliber player, but he’s stuck between former first rounders Michael Brockers and Aaron Donald, both of whom are coming off of strong seasons, and Langford just isn’t worth it to the Rams.

MLB James Laurinaitis

Laurinaitis signed a 6-year, 42.12 million dollar deal three off-seasons ago, but hasn’t been worth it, grading out below average in all 3 seasons. He was Pro Football Focus’ 33rd ranked middle linebacker out of 53 eligible in 2012, 31st out of 55 in 2013, and 45th out of 60 in 2014. The Rams probably won’t cut him yet because they like his leadership, but they can save 2.725 million on the cap and 3.625 million in cash by doing so.

DE Chris Long

This one is a long shot, but Long is owed 10 million in cash in 2015 and the Rams can save 7.5 million on the cap by cutting him this off-season and have him off their cap completely next off-season. Long graded out above average in every season from 2010-2012, but he’s graded out below average in each of the last 2 seasons, including a 2014 season in which he was limited to 238 snaps by injuries and struggled mightily. I do expect them to bring him back though, even going into his age 30 season.

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