After each season, fans and analysts typical enjoy looking back at the season and rewarding players for their stellar performances throughout the year. Even on unsuccessful teams, there will naturally be players that stick out. Within the Rams’ organization, each year someone is tagged as the Rookie of the Year, Defensive MVP, and Offensive MVP. We at Ramblin’ Fan wanted to expand on that concept, giving out our awards to the best players on both sides of the football… with a twist. Instead of basing our analysis on events that have already occurred, we want to look into the future, predicting the award-winners from this upcoming 2013 season.
Comeback Player Of The Year
Rodger Saffold, OT
Saffold was injured for a majority of last season, playing meaningful snap in only nine regular season games. As a result, combined with the sub-par performance of Barry Richardson at right tackle, the St. Louis Rams went out and snagged Jake Long in free agency. Consequently, the move pushed Saffold back to the right side. However, that could be the saving grace for the still-young offensive tackle. On the right side of the line, Saffold will play alongside Harvey Dahl, a massive upgrade over the currently non-existent player manning the left guard spot. Not only will he play next to superior talent, but he will also, in most cases, get the less dominate pass rusher to man-up against. Aside from a handful of defensive ends, the most dominating pass rusher typically lines up on the right side of the defensive line, attacking the blindside of the quarterback. Lesser talent to block and greater help on the inside should allow Saffold to stay healthy; and when healthy, he has shown signs that he can become a Top 15 offensive tackle in the NFL.
Honorable Mention: Scott Wells, C
“Sixth Man” Award
William Hayes, DL
It might be a stretch to throw an NBA term onto a football award, but the concept of the “Sixth Man” still holds true, outside of the literal meaning. The award exemplifies the top non-starting player on the team; the coach’s first man off the bench to step into the game. William Hayes was arguably that player in 2012, and figures to do the same in 2013, especially with the entire defensive line rotation in tow for a repeat shot at taking home the “Sack Title.” According to Pro Football Focus, Hayes graded out as the 15th overall 4-3 defensive end in the NFL last season, primarily as a run stuffer, where he ranked 5th among the position grouping. The upcoming season is packed full of below-average offensive lines, with seven games against teams who ranked in the Bottom 10 in pass blocking last season. Between entering the rotation as a run-stopper for Robert Quinn, and filling in for Kendall Langford on obvious passing downs, Hayes will undoubtedly “up” his playing time from last season. Hayes posted Top 25 numbers in sacks, tackles, and defensive stops, despite the fact that 52 4-3 defensive ends played more snaps than him last season. We except both playing time and production to go up, which would undoubtedly make Hayes the St. Louis Rams’ “Sixth Man.”
Honorably Mention: Trumaine Johnson, CB
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Tavon Austin, OW
Tavon Austin is the obvious choice here, but for good reason. Offseason reviews of the player have been off the charts, most notably those from his own teammates. Johnny Hekker, Chris Givens, Sam Bradford, Janoris Jenkins, and Cortland Finnegan have all verbally expressed their positive impressions of the rookie, which is often more telling than the scripted praise from the front office and coach staff. If nothing else, Austin should put up the biggest numbers merely by being on the field more than any other rookie. However, by being positioned on the outside, in the slot, and in the backfield, Austin should see his fair share of mismatched, especially if other dynamic players, like Jared Cook and Chris Givens, are pulling coverage towards them; and we all have seen what happens when he has the ball in his hands and open field to work with… Not only will most have Tavon Austin penciled in as the St. Louis Rams’ OROY, most reputable analysts have the 8th overall pick in their top spot for the overall Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2013. Lets hope he can live up to the hype!
Honorable Mention: Stedman Bailey, WR
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Alec Ogletree, OLB
Naturally, the two first-rounders are going to be highlighted as the “favorites” for the top rookie awards. However, in this case, the two players are undoubtedly the two most talented players in the class and will be stepping into a starting role at a position of dire need from last season. Ogletree, specifically, will likely change the entire defensive scheme for the Rams, allowing them to revert back to their regular 4-3 base, instead of relying predominantly on the nickel package. Even in the nickel, St. Louis should be significantly more effective, with Ogletree likely to replace Jo-Lonn Dunbar, who struggled in coverage last season, as the other linebacker. With his speed as a pass rusher, tackling expertise as an inside linebacker at Georgia, and coverage skills as a converted safety, Ogletree could end up being the best overall defensive player on the St. Louis Rams roster next season.
Honorable Mention: T.J. McDonald, S
Offensive Player of the Year
Jared Cook, TE
It is odd to think of a tight end as the best player on the offense, but Jared Cook is not just any tight end. In reality, the former-Titan is a wide receiver in a tight end body, and plays as such, lining up primarily off-line and seeing most of his targets 10+ yards down the field. Multiple reports have placed Jared Cook and Sam Bradford on the same page since he chose St. Louis this offseason. Rams Camp has made is abundantly clear that Cook has been the most dominate offensive player thus far, even posting video of him embarrassing some of the new defensive backs on the team. Bleacher Report just predicted that Cook would be the “most improved” tight end in the NFL next season. If last season is the measuring stick, the means that Cook should be looking for something in the 50+ catches/6oo+ yards/5+ touchdowns range. With Cook putting up similar numbers in Tennessee with no quarterback and no other viable offensive threats in the receiving game, imagine what he could do with Sam Bradford and a handful of mismatch-nightmares in Tavon Austin and Chris Givens.
Honorable Mention: Daryl Richardson, RB
Defensive Player of the Year
Janoris Jenkins, CB
The smart-money would be on James Laurinaitis or Chris Long, both of which have consistently performed at a Top 10 level at their position for the last two seasons. However, Jenkins has an opportunity to improve mightily on his record-breaking rookie season. After his benching in Week 10 against the San Francisco 49ers, Jenkins managed three interceptions, a fumble recovery, and four defensive touchdowns in the remaining seven games. More impressively, he did not allow a single receiving touchdown in coverage, and ended the season against the Seattle Seahawks by not allowing a single reception in the game. This year, he will play against four of the Top 5 interception-throwing quarterbacks from last season (Tony Romo, Drew Brees, Josh Freeman, and Andrew Luck), plus whoever the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans decide to throw into the lineup as their signal caller. Moreover, with the hopeful improvements on the offensive side of the football, the St. Louis Rams figure to be holding leads far more often this season, which means that opposing offenses might come out with guns blazing more often in the second halves of games. More experience, a better supporting cast, and more opportunity could easily make for a “break out” season in Jenkins’ second year in the league. Moreover, if he can match or surpass his turnover and scoring totals from last season, he would be primed to finally break St. Louis’ Pro Bowl drought.
Honorable Mention: James Laurinaitis, MLB and Michael Brockers, DT
Most Valuable Player
Sam Bradford, QB
With Tavon Austin tagged as the best offensive rookie and Jared Cook slotted to be the best overall offensive player, Sam Bradford will clearly be expected to have an amazing season. Last season, Bradford showed tremendous improvement, cutting down on interceptions, and setting career-highs in touchdowns, passing yards, and yards per attempt… and that was with, essentially, no one on the roster to catch the football. With hit-or-miss Brandon Gibson and never-healthy Danny Amendola off the roster, the Rams’ front office stockpiled talent this offseason, picking up Jared Cook in free agency and drafting the most dynamic offensive player, Tavon Austin, and the most productive receiver, Stedman Bailey, in the 2013 Draft class. On top of that, the Rams’ appear to have assembled the best offensive line grouping since Orlando Pace was manning the blindside and Kurt Warner was lining up under center. Lastly, and likely most importantly, the “non-signing” of Steven Jackson means that the offense will now start-and-end with Sam Bradford. Jackson has been the focal point of the offense since he took the reins from Marshall Faulk in the early 2000s, but now it is rumored that the Rams will shift towards the quarterback-centric, spread offense that Sam Bradford dominated in at Oklahoma. Assuming their is no injury plague that sweeps through the roster, this could be Bradford’s chance to breakthrough into the upper echelon of signal callers in the league. The St. Louis Rams’ success will hinge on the arm of Sam Bradford, which is why he will be the team’s MVP in 2013.
Honorable Mention: James Laurinaitis, MLB