The St. Louis Rams 7-8-1 finish in 2012 showed marked improvement over the Rams teams of recent memory. Even the 7-9 Rams team of 2010, lead by the Offensive Rookie of the year Sam Bradford, felt more like an anomaly than something you could build off of. The 2012 Rams went 4-1-1, and probably a fumble recovery in the final game away from 5-0-1, against the rest of the NFC West including 1-0-1 (undefeated) against the NFC Superbowl representative San Francisco 49ers. Even as competitive as the Rams were this season, there is still much work to do for Les Snead and Jeff Fisher in their second offseason. The following is my top 5 list of Rams offseason priorities.
Sign Steven Jackson. Steven Jackson has been the heart and soul of the Rams franchise for the last 6 years and the Rams current administration would be wise to ink him to a long term deal. SJ39 isn’t the same dynamic player he used to be, but he is still a do-it-all workhorse back who provides great leadership to this young Rams team. The Rams have young running backs waiting in the wings, but they need Jackson to shoulder the load and be an every down back while Pead and Richardson develop. For a team that still has several holes to fill, bringing Jackson back to finish out his career in St. Louis would take running back off that list.
Defensive Coordinator. This could easily be the number one priority, or at the very least a 1b. The Rams defense did a great job last year in spite of not having a defensive coordinator, however there is a reason that the other 31 teams in the NFL had one and at times it showed. The Rams are beginning to put together a defensive unit full of talent and depth, especially along the defensive line, and what they need is a person on their staff full time to help them improve as a unit. It is for that reason I am not sad that the Rams decided to pass on Rob Ryan, the Rams don’t need a boisterous coordinator causing distractions. Some people say the Rams are looking for a defensive play-caller to manage Jeff Fisher’s system as opposed to a true coordinator. I imagine that Fisher will want to have his system in place as long as he is in St. Louis, but that the person selected to be coordinator will have a much larger role than just play caller or we might have already seen them make a hire.
Offensive Line. The Rams offensive line actually graded out towards the middle of the league in overall rating, but were absolutely dreadful in the running game most of the year. Another reason they graded out better than anticipated is the Rams often brought in extra tight ends or left the running back in the backfield to protect Sam Bradford, which helped to reduce the number of sacks that they surrendered. The Rams have 3 solid players on the offensive line to build around in Roger Saffold, Scott Wells and Harvey Dahl. There is room for improvement at both the left tackle and left guard positions, and with a draft that is relatively deep at quality offensive lineman the Rams should be able to make improvements. The question is do the Rams go with two offensive lineman in the first round of the draft? It has been widely chronicled that Jeff Fisher has never drafted an offensive lineman in the first round, but if Chance Warmack were there at #16 I almost guarantee he would jump at the opportunity. As for left tackle there are several players in free agency that would represent an upgrade for the Rams, but they are most likely going to need to address that position in the draft given their limited available cap space. If the Rams want Bradford to realize his potential (not to mention Isaiah Pead) they need to improve the offensive line this offseason.
Safety. The Rams defense played very well this season, bolstered by the strong play of offseason additions Michael Brockers, Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson, Cortland Finnegan, William Hayes, Kendall Langford and JoLonn Dunbar. The Rams added 4 quality starters to their defense last offseason and improved depth nearly across the board. One area on the defense that is still seriously lacking is the safety position, as it is currently manned by Quinten Mikell and every Rams fans favorite scapegoat, Craig Dahl. If the Rams had a good “centerfielder” type of playmaker at one safety position that they could pair with the “in the box” style of Mikell they could see a big improvement in 2013. Fortunately for the Rams this years draft is fairly deep at the safety position, including a few impact players that could help transform the Rams from a top 15 to a top 5 defense. If the Rams could pickup a player like Kenny Vaccaro or Matt Elam in the first round they would have one of the best secondaries in the NFL.
Tight End. Tough call as to whether the Rams should target an outside linebacker or a tight end with the #5 priority for the offseason, but considering how much further along the defense is than the offense I am going tight end. I think Lance Kendricks is a very good do everything tight end, but he isn’t the dynamic pass catching tight end that Bradford desperately needs. There is also the issue of depth/variety at the tight end position where it seems all of the players on the Rams current roster fall into the “blocking TE” mold. Tyler Eifert and Zach Ertz aren’t likely to be available when the Rams make a selection, but perhaps they can make a move in free agency or pluck a lesser known gem in round 2 or 3.
It isn’t very likely that the Rams will have as successful an offseason as they did last year, but as long as Fisher and Snead continue to make great value picks in the draft and shrewd free agency decisions the Rams could be poised for a playoff run in 2013. The Rams have already made a low risk-high reward decision to bring in Titus Young, the troubled young receiver who was cut by the Detroit Lions. If Fisher and staff can manage to help him keep his mind on football they may have gotten a huge steal. There are also early reports that the Rams have hired Tim Walton as their defensive coordinator, but at the time I am writing this nothing official has been released by the Rams. So there you have it my top 5 offseason needs for the Rams, please feel free to tell me what you think the Rams offseason priorities should be in the comments section and as always Go Rams!!!