The St Louis Rams watched Steven Jackson, Brandon Gibson, and Danny Amendola all walk out the door in free agency. Those three players accounted for 2,728 total yards from scrimmage during the 2012 season and were the 1st, 3rd, and 4th highest producers for the team. The loss of the franchise’s all-time rushing leader is clearly the largest of those losses, as he accounted for 1,363 total yards from scrimmage in 2012 as well as being the teams heart and soul. The Rams have added a couple of key pieces since the start of free agency with the addition of TE/Slot receiver Jared Cook and four time pro-bowl LT Jake Long. The Cook signing didn’t seem to generate much excitement among the media, as he largely failed to live up to expectations during his time in Tennessee. The signing of Jake Long also lost a little bit of its luster following the long and drawn out medical evaluation and contract negotiation process that had fans just praying for a resolution regardless of the outcome. I personally am excited about both of those additions and how they could potentially improve the Rams offense in 2013 and help Sam Bradford come closer to playing up to his potential and lofty draft status. Compared to the splashy moves that the Rams division rivals, the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers, made last week it is hard not to think that the Rams are falling further behind in the race for NFC West supremacy. When you look at the Rams offensive roster you will find a glaring lack of proven playmakers, and at this point in free agency with the available salary cap space available its safe to assume that wont change prior to the start of the 2013 season. Yes the Rams may target an offensive playmaker in the 1st round of the NFL Draft with either the 16th or 22nd picks, but that player would still lack the “proven playmaker” label.
So does that mean that the St. Louis Rams offense will be devoid of playmakers and/or big plays in 2013? Jeff Fisher and Les Snead seem to believe that they already have some of the pieces in place for 2013, and are very high on the offensive players from their inaugural draft class. The Rams have a very young and therefore unproven group at the offensive skill positions, however the brass at Rams Park seem to have faith in their young players. The Rams offense suffered from a less than stellar offensive line last season, but the addition of Jake Long and the potential addition of a player like Chance Warmack or D.J. Fluker could have the Rams offensive line go from a weakness to one of the teams greatest strengths. Improvement along the offensive line is going to be important if Sam Bradford and his collection of young receivers and backs are going to succeed. Last year the inadequacies along the offensive line led to an awful lot of use of the tight ends and running backs as help in pass protection. When you only send 2 or 3 guys out into pass routes it makes the defenses job a whole lot easier. Even with an improved offensive line that should require less use of max protection and/or chipping with backs and tight ends, do the Rams have the weapons to be a good offensive team in 2013? Lets take a look at the young offensive skill players, starting with the runningbacks.
Running back. The St. Louis Rams lost one of the best “every down” backs of the last 15 years when Steven Jackson signed with the Atlanta Falcons. While wide receiver has been the perennial “need position” for the Rams since Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce left town, many are starting to see running back as a more pressing issue. The Rams have Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson on the roster as running backs who have taken NFL snaps. Their combined 108 carries for 529 yards shows a very respectable per carry average, but the limited sample size and the fact that those carries came in relief of the bruising Jackson do leave some cause for concern. Jeff Fisher has shown a preference for running back by committee and could use Pead, Richardson and the larger Terrance Ganaway as the situation warrants. Of course with 2 first round draft picks in the upcoming 2013 draft it is possible the Rams try to find a player who fits the “every down” mold. While the historical production hasn’t been there for Pead and Richardson they each have big play ability. Pead is listed at 5′ 10″ and 197 lbs and ran the 40 in 4.41 seconds at the NFL Combine, his ability and athleticism are undeniable and recent rumors suggest he was passed on the depth chart by Richardson for disciplinary reasons and not his ability as a player. Richardson is listed at 5′ 10″ and 192 lbs and ran a 4.47 40 prior to the 2012 draft. Richardson showed his ability to get north and south, slicing through some of the modest openings provided by the Rams offensive line in 2012. Pead and Richardson bring similar skill sets to the Rams offense, both with the ability to hit a big play with nearly every touch but lacking the power to control the clock by moving the ball between the tackles. Perhaps that is why the Rams held onto Ganaway through the 2012 season, at 6′ and 239 lbs Ganaway brings the size that the other two lack. Ganaway only ran a 4.67 at his pro day prior to the 2012 draft (hey that’s fast enough to outrun Manti Teo), which isn’t breakaway speed but should still be adequate to get chunks of yards in the NFL. With as high as Les Snead and Jeff Fisher are on Pead I don’t see the Rams drafting a running back with either the 16th or 22nd pick of the draft, instead they may try to find a quality guy in the 2nd or 3rd round while filling more pressing needs in the first round.
Tight End. The Rams top two tight ends are Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks. We will start with Lance Kendricks who is listed at 6′ 3″ and 243 lbs with a 4.75 40 yard dash time at the NFL Combine in 2011. In 2012 Kendricks hauled in 42 passes for 519 yards and 4 touchdowns. While 42 receptions isn’t that impressive of a number by itself, consider that he was only targeted 64 times which helps to illustrate just how often the Rams relied on him to play as a blocker. Kendricks has quietly developed into one of the more complete tight ends in the NFL, and while he may lack the blazing speed of his new running mate Jared Cook, he still has the ability to work the seam and make big plays. The Rams first big free agency acquisition of 2013 was tight end Jared Cook, although labeling him as a tight end is sort of misleading as he only lined up as an in-line blocker around 20 times for the Titans in 2012. Cook is really more of a slot receiver and at 6′ 5″ and 248 lbs he possesses remarkable speed running the 40 yard dash in 4.49 seconds. Cook posted remarkably similar numbers to Kendricks in 2012 with 44 receptions for a total of 523 yards and 4 touchdowns, although inconsistent quarterback play in Tennessee probably didn’t help his numbers either. The Rams appear to be set to lean heavily on these two tight ends for offensive production, following the NFL trend of using two tight end formations to create mismatches.
Wide Receiver. The Rams have seemingly been searching for a wide receiver since the end of the Greatest Show on Turf era. With both Brandon Gibson and Danny Amendola leaving town via free agency the Rams are yet again very thin on the outside. A very young offense in general is especially young at wide-out where Austin Pettis serves as the most seasoned member of the receiving corps entering his 3rd NFL season. At 6′ 3″ and 207 lbs Pettis serves mostly as a redzone threat, and having hauled in 30 passes for 261 yards and 4 touchdowns helps to confirm his role as a possession/red zone target. The Rams leading receiver in terms of yardage in 2012 was actually Chris Givens who hauled in 42 receptions for 698 yards and 3 touchdowns. While Givens primarily served as the deep threat (Givens is listed at 6′ 0″ 198 lbs with a blistering 4.37 40 yard dash time) early on in the season, when Amendola went down with injury Givens stepped up in a big way and showing he wasn’t just a one trick pony. In the Rams win over the San Francisco 49ers Givens hauled in 11 passes for 92 yards. Brian Quick possesses the physical tools to be the prototypical #1 wide receiver in the NFL, at 6′ 3″ and 220 lbs he has drawn comparisons to Terrell Owens and Vincent Jackson. Like Vincent Jackson, Quick came from a small school and had a little bit of trouble adjusting to life as an NFL receiver catching only 11 passes for 156 yards and 2 touchdowns in 2012. Of course if you remember those two touchdown receptions by Quick you may recall they were two of the best offensive plays the Rams had in all of 2012 and definitely showed us glimpses of the type of playmaker he is capable of being. This trio of young wide-outs presents a very nice collection of skills and playmaking potential, although clearly the Rams will be looking to add receivers before the start of the 2013 season, and if each of these players progresses further towards reaching their potential the Rams offense should be just fine.
So there you have it, a very basic breakdown of the Rams offensive roster. The Rams have plenty of speed with players like Pead, Givens and Cook. One thing that stands out in this breakdown is most of the descriptions of these players include the word “potential”. Before anyone gets too excited about the 2013 Rams and their offensive “potential” we should remind ourselves of the famous coaches saying “Boy, your potential is going to get me fired!” Thanks for reading and as always Go Rams!!!