In each organization there are a handful of players that a team can genuinely not afford to lose. For most, that player is their superstar, a Calvin Johnson in Detroit, Adrian Peterson in Minnesota, or Tom Brady in New England. For other teams the glue that holds the team together might not be a “superstar,” because, well, they do not have any on their team!
While the St. Louis Rams do have some notable players on the roster, the vast majority of the depth chart is comprised of rookie or sophomore players and low-mileage veterans. In fact, there are only a handful of players that have ever been invited to the Pro Bowl, and none of them went as a representative of the St. Louis Rams. However, that doesn’t mean their aren’t key players on both sides of the football that the Rams absolutely cannot lose. At Ramblin’ Fan, we have deemed them the “Healthy Five,” meaning the five player the Rams need to have on the field this season in order to succeed.
Scott Wells, C
Scott Wells missed all of last years’ offseason workouts recovering from surgery, then missed most of the regular season recovering from a different surgery. His injury bug had major repercussions on the Rams’ offensive line, essentially starting a domino effect of badness. With Wells out, Rob Turner was moved from left guard to center, leaving a gaping hole on the left side. Rok Watkins immediately filled in, but got injured, forcing the Rams to go out an sign the recently-cut Quinn Ojinnaka. It was all downhill from there, with St. Louis, at one point, starting their fourth-string guard and third-string tackle. With Rob Turner being signed by the Tennessee Titans and Barrett Jones still recovering from surgery, the healthy return of Wells is essential for the Rams’ success this season. Wells is slotted to make $5.5 million in base salary, with an additional $1 million as a signing bonus. He will need to earn that money this season!
Sam Bradford, QB
The quarterback is the obvious choice for this pick, but that will always be the case as long as it is the most important position in the sport. For the Rams, it might be even more vital this season, with Steven Jackson leaving for greener pastures in Atlanta. The offense is now solely laid on Bradford’s shoulder, made evident by the offseason acquisitions and aggressive drafting of speed and talent on the offensive side of the football. If Bradford goes down with injury, Austin Davis will be the next man up. While Jeff Fisher might love the young player’s ability, handing the reins to an undrafted sophomore with no NFL experience throwing the football might not be the ideal situation in St. Louis. By all accounts, this offense is tailor-made for Bradford, resorting back to his Oklahoma days when he dominated the NCAA football field. If Bradford goes down, the season might be a wash, which will not go over well with anyone at Rams Park.
James Laurinaitis, MLB
Last season, Laurinaitis, Fisher, and a handful of secondary coaches worked together as a make-shift defensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams, in the absence of Greg Williams. Even with the hiring of Tim Walton, Laurinaitis will still be the man in charge of the defense on Sunday, leading a pack of extremely young players. Aside from leadership, the Rams can simply not afford to lose his production on the field. Laurinaitis has led the team in tackles since 2009, when he stole the reins from Pisa Tinoisamoa. In fact, only four players have tallied as many overall tackles as the Ohio State alum since 2010 and no player has more solo tackles. Obviously, Laurinaitis’ skillset makes him a valuable asset on the field. However, a more pressing concern than a potential lack of production on the field is the lack of talent that would replace him should he fall prey to injury. Currently, Josh Hull and Jabara Williams are filling the depth chart at middle linebacker. However, if the situation were to arise, the St. Louis Rams would likely defer to their 2012 scheme, shifting heavily to the nickel package while keeping Jo-Lonn Dunbar and Alec Ogletree on the field. While that was effective in stretches last year, any team with an above-average offensive line should be able to rip apart the Rams on the ground… much like they did last season.
Williams Hayes, DL
It seems odd that a rotational player would make this list, but Williams plays a much larger role than merely “giving the starter a breather.” Hayes is the glue that keeps the Rams’ dominate front-four together, filling in were needed in any number of situations. Williams is essential the stunt-double for Robert Quinn on obvious run downs, and typically gets slotted inside on obvious passing downs, replacing Kendall Langford. In fact, Hayes was the highest ranked defensive lineman for the St. Louis Rams, finishing 5th in terms of run stoppage and 15th overall among 4-3 defensive ends (according to Pro Football Focus). When he played at least 33.3% of the total defensive snaps, St. Louis’ record was 5-2-1, with those two losses coming against the red-hot Adrian Peterson and the red-hotter Seattle Seahawks at the end of last season. The Rams were 2-6 when Hayes played fewer than 33.3% of the total defensive snaps. Enough said…
Tavon Austin, KR/PR
Most would refrain from putting a rookie on this sort of list, considering no one has any clue how they will perform and produce in the NFL as this point in the offseason. However, Austin is not on this list as a “must-have” asset in the offense, but, rather, for his expected contributions on special teams. Last season, Janoris Jenkins, Isaiah Pead, Austin Pettis, and Chris Givens all gave their best shot at returning kicks, to no avail. With Danny Amendola, our only reliable returner, gone to New England, the St. Louis Rams are in desperate need of some help from a returnman. Last season, the Rams were ranked 31st in punt return average, 26th in kick return average, and did not manage a single punt return for more than 30 yards. If the Rams want to improve offensively, they need to give Sam Bradford some decent field position to start from… beginning every drive from inside their own 20 yard-line will not work this season.