In the NFL is it never too early to make predictions, even if the outcome you are predicting is months, even a year away! This morning, Ramblin’ Fan dropped our game-by-game winners for the entire St. Louis Rams’ 2013 schedule. Now we are going to move on to the Pro Bowl.
St. Louis, over the last decade, has had the double-wammy of negative marks against it, at least in terms of getting players into the Pro Bowl. First, they are a “small market” team, making it difficult to garner the “fan votes” necessary to squeak in. Second, the Rams have been bad… real bad… “record-breakingly” bad. Being in a small market and winning only three games per year should be the blueprint for not getting players in the Pro Bowl. Hopefully, not anymore.
The Rams improved significantly last year, after falling prey to a nasty injury plague in 2011 that wiped out nearly the entire secondary, offensive line, and most of the skill players. You could have easily made the case that a handful of players on the St. Louis roster were “worthy” of a spot last season; the name Chris Long jumps out immediately. However, sometimes is takes an extra year to really send that message home. So, who might make the Pro Bowl this year? We’ll start with the offense…
For the first time in Bradford’s career, he will be playing for the second consecutive season within the same offensive system with the same offensive coordinator. The quarterback himself mentioned that is was a “relief” to be able to go into an offseason fully understanding what needs to improved in the offense, instead of having to learn a new playbook and new language. Outside of Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees, there are no “locks” in the NFC to make the team. Players like Eli Manning and Matt Ryan will be front-runners, but if Bradford can continue to progress in his fourth season, there is no reason he can’t throw his name into the mix (pun intended). The addition of actual weapons in the offense should help too!
The rookie has yet to take a step on the football field in the NFL and is already seeing his name thrown in the ring for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Austin was the most electric player in the 2013 NFL Draft class, prompting the St. Louis Rams to jump up to the 8th overall pick and snag him before he fell into the hands of the New York Jets or Buffalo Bills. As a receiver and a return man, Austin will have twice the opportunity to make the Pro Bowl. His already “high profile” status in the league should help his case. If he can be two-thirds the player he is hyped to be in the NFL, Austin should make the all-star game… at least as a PR/KR man. Last year’s NFC kick returner was Leon Washington, who returned only 27 kickoffs, and scored on only one return on both punt and kickoff. The bar has not been set too high…
Jared Cook is a physical freak that was “misabused” in Tennessee… that is a combination of misused and abused. Then again when Jake Locker and Matt Hasselbeck are throwing the ball, and Chris Johnson is demanding to get 35 touches in an attempt to relive his glory year, it is hard to get anything accomplished. One thing we have learned about Sam Bradford, via his brief time with Brandon Lloyd and Mark Clayton, is that he will find a way to get the ball into the hands of playmakers on the field. With defenses likely to focus on stopping Tavon Austin and Chris Givens, Cook should reap the benefits in the receiving game. Cook is the ultimate mismatch, and if he gets paired with a safety or linebacker in man-to-man coverage, you can go ahead and chalk up a 20+ completion.
Jake Long is the household name when it coming to left tackle, which will instantly grant a player “benefit of the doubt” when it comes to Pro Bowl voting. Tack on the fact that he is likely entering a situation where a team is poised for a breakout year, and you have the perfect formula for getting into the game. Long has struggled with injury over the last two season, but neither injury was substantial enough to have any long-term, lingering effect on the one-time first overall pick in the NFL Draft. Upper-body, soft tissue injuries are freak occurrences. With an offseason to recover and a new atmosphere to thrive in, Jake Long should be the front-runner in the St. Louis offense to make the Pro Bowl.
Givens is the “wildcard” on the St. Louis Rams’ offense! After showing his dominance in the latter half of the season, Givens will likely be the only receiver on the roster with a guaranteed spot in the starting lineup. Speed is clearly the key to Givens’ success, but how much will be able to use that “take off the top” potential if he is being relied on to be the No. 1 guy on the outside? Tavon Austin, Brian Quick, and Stedman Bailey will be a huge factor in the success of Givens in 2013. Givens showed he can be productive regardless of his role in the offense. However, will he be the 5 reception, 115 yard down-field monster like he was against the Arizona Cardinals or will be the 11 reception, 92 yard possession receiver like he was against the San Francisco 49ers? Maybe both…?