From now until the start of the season, fans and analysts alike will be debating which players are primed for a breakout season in 2013. However, for every player that steps up into stardom, there is an equal or greater number of players that will inevitably regress.
In the field of psychology, there is a phenomenon called “regression to the mean,” which essentially means that “extreme” performance will typically be followed by performances closer to the average. For example, in 2010, Chris Johnson ran for 2,006 yards on the ground, one of the single greatest performances in the history of the NFL. The next year, he ran for an impressive 1,364 yards; a drop from the extreme end back towards the average for an upper-tier running back.
Naturally, there will be a handful of players on the Rams that take a step back from a stellar season in 2012. This could be from a number of things: attempting to follow an “extreme” performance, getting fewer opportunities due to new acquisitions, or even as a result of more talent around them on the roster. So, who might those players be for the St. Louis Rams this season?
Jo-Lonn Dunbar made a case for himself as a Pro Bowl player in 2012, showing competency in every area pertinent to a weakside 4-3 outside linebacker. Dunbar was excellent in the pass rush, tallying five sacks (5th among 4-3 OLB), five hits on the quarterback (5th), and nine hurries (7th). In coverage, Dunbar managed three pass deflections (6th) and 2 interceptions (5th), while allowing only 10.0 yards per reception (18th). Last, but most importantly, Dunbar was a monster on the ground, racking up 120 combined tackles (5th), all while making 62 defensive stops, the third most in the NFL, after only OLB Lavonte David (70) and ILB Derrick Johnson (72).
However, Dunbar could see his role as both a pass rusher and a coverage man decrease in 2013, following the drafting of Alec Ogletree. As of now, the St. Louis Rams have Ogletree slotted as the strongside linebacker on the roster; but, conventional wisdom would suggest he will play more of a weakside role, including remaining on the field in the nickel package. The regression of Dunbar might simply be the result of less opportunity on the field.
The third year tight end has progressed in each of the last two season, including pulling in 41 receptions for 500 yards and four touchdowns last season. Kendricks finally rid himself of the “dropsies” of 2011, ending the 2012 season with an impressive 71.9% catch rate, up from 52.8% the previous year. He also provided his worth as a utility player, stepping in as the Rams’ No. 1 fullback on the depth chart after the departure of Brit Miller; in fact, he is still listed as the top fullback.
However, a tight ends’ worth is typically measured by their production on the field in the passing game. With the acquisition of Jared Cook as the pass catching tight end, as well as the drafting of Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, it is significantly less likely that Kendricks will see 60 targets in 2013. The St. Louis Rams figure to be running out of the spread more often in the coming year, meaning more frequent use of four and five receiver sets. More pass catchers on the field will inevitably lead to Bradford spreading the targets around, especially considering the Bradford-Kendricks’ combination never fully caught on in the past. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Kendricks see fewer targets and more snaps in the backfield this season, which will appear to the untrained eye as regression from the young tight end.
Harvey Dahl has been one of the few constants on the St. Louis Rams’ offensive line over the last two seasons. However, Dahl is aging quickly and will be coming back from a torn bicep injury that sent him to the IR for the final two games of the regular season. In 2011, Dahl graded out as the 34th overall guard in the NFL, allowing 1 sacks, 2 hits on the quarterback, and 12 hurries. He essential matched that same number of pressures in 2012, albeit in two fewer games, all while grading out negatively as a run blocker.
Harvey Dahl specializes as a mauler in the run game, and has always been “average, at best” in terms of pass protection, even back in Atlanta. With the Rams likely switch to a more pass-friendly offense, Dahl could set career highs in pressures allowed on Sam Bradford. On top of playing in an offense that highlights his weak point in blocking, the Rams will also matchup against some of the most dominant pass rushing teams the NFL this season, with games against the Carolina Panthers, Dallas Cowboys, Chicago Bears, Tennessee Titans, Houston Texans, and the Seattle Seahawks, twice; all of which ranked in the Top 10 last season (according to Pro Football Focus).