The St Louis Rams have an incredibly young team that is chock full of potential. In the first article we covered the 2nd year players that the Rams are going to be counting on as primary contributors and looked at their progress from promising rookies to productive second year players. In this article we will discuss the rookies that the Rams are going to be counting on and their progress throughout the offseason/preseason, and try to set reasonable expectations for their production levels. Now that the final preseason game against the Ravens is in the books we at least have a small sample from which to base our regular season expectations on. We will go down the list of rookies in order that they were drafted, while not all of them will be starters this season they all have a chance to see some reps in the regular season.
Tavon Austin. When the Rams traded up to snag Austin with the 8th pick of the draft they were doing so with hopes that Austin could be the explosive, multi-use player that Offensive Coordinators dream about. The Rams have largely kept Austin under wraps, but he did flash his explosive abilities against the Denver Broncos with two punt returns for 104 yards, the first one being an electric 81 yard return that nearly made pay dirt. Of course Austin has still shown he is a rookie, and in his first touch of the preseason finale he put the ball on the ground. As far as preseason goes Austin definitely showed his quickness and explosiveness on special teams, as well as an ability to consistently win at the line of scrimmage which should bode well for the regular season.
Alec Ogletree. If Alec Ogletree hadn’t been arrested for a DUI just a few days before the NFL Combine he could have been a top 10 selection. Jeff Fisher has even compared him to the likes of Patrick Willis and Keith Bulluck. Ogletree really struggled with coverage in the first two preseason games and even early in the game against the Broncos, but had a 2nd quarter that more than made fans forget about early struggles. He showed his amazing coverage skills on an interception of Peyton Manning and ability to diagnose a play and come “down hill” on the play where he forced a fumble, recovered it and ran 13 yards for the score. Again Ogletree showed early in preseason that the speed of the NFL game was something he needed to adjust to, but has been impressive in the second half of the preseason. Ogletree is bound to make some mistakes this season that could result in big plays for the other team, but I would be willing to bet he makes more highlight reels because of his outstanding plays as opposed to his mistakes.
TJ McDonald. Most draft analysts questioned his selection in the 3rd round as a bit of a reach, most citing his struggles in coverage during his senior season at USC. McDonald did have his struggles in coverage early in the preseason as well, as he and Ogletree both struggled identifying responsibilities. However since the first couple of games in the preseason McDonald has looked very solid in coverage, and has also flashed big play ability. In the game against the Broncos he had a blocked field goal and played generally good coverage alongside Rodney McLeod. I don’t know what it says about the quality of the safety position in general, but McDonald definitely isn’t likely to be the weak link in the secondary this season.
Barrett Jones. Jones was a steal for the Rams in the 4th round out of the University of Alabama. Jones was an All-American at Tackle, Guard and Center during his time with the Crimson Tide and won the Outland Trophy in 2011 and the Rimington Trophy in 2012. While Jones has been recovering from a Lisfranc injury he has been getting quite a few snaps along the offensive line. Jones will likely play the “versatile backup” role for the Rams as he can fill any of the interior line positions and do so competently. Honestly there isn’t much to say about Jones, since offensive lineman can be difficult to evaluate for casual fans, except that if he can get up to speed and fully recovered from his injury he provides the Rams with an excellent technician for a utility lineman.
Brandon McGee. McGee is a speedy cornerback out of the University of Miami with decent size for an NFL cornerback, but is probably best suited to fill the nickel corner role. There was plenty of talk during the earlier parts of training camp about McGee pushing Trumaine Johnson for that 3rd corner spot on the depth chart but it appears as if Tru has done enough to maintain that job. McGee has apparently suffered some sort of injury that has limited him during the second half of the preseason, which is too bad because you can never have too many good young corners on your roster. Hopefully he can get fully healthy for the regular season to give the Rams a 4th corner with starting level talent.
Zac Stacy. Stacy had a very productive career at Vanderbilt, which is probably why the Rams traded back up into the 5th round to select him. At 5’8″ and 218 lbs Stacy is a bit of a bowling ball type, while his 40 time of 4.55 seconds was adequate he impressed on the Bench Press and the 3 Cone drill at the combine. Unfortunately we haven’t gotten to see much of Stacy this preseason as he has been struggling with minor injuries throughout training camp. Stacy finally appeared healthy against the Ravens in the preseason finale, and while his statistics wont blow you out of the water he put in some excellent work pushing Pead for the #2 spot. He rushed 11 times for 37 yards and a touchdown, with the 1 yard touchdown run being a nice display of power at the goal line. Stacy probably wont see as much work as Richardson and Pead do between the 20 yard lines, but expect him to be the go to back when there is a must have 3 yards or less.
Ray Ray Armstrong. Ray Ray Armstrong is the undrafted free agent rookie out of Miami that has been the buzz of the Rams preseason and training camp. Having played safety in college he is a bit undersized for an NFL linebacker, but you would never know when you see him lay a hit on a running back or receiver. Armstrong has been one of the most impressive rookies of the preseason and has certainly locked down a spot on the 53 man roster. While Armstrong isn’t likely to see much action in the regular season on defense, he could contribute on special teams and fill in if injury strikes further up the depth chart. Armstrong is still fairly raw as a linebacker, but his athleticism and coverage ability make him an enticing developmental prospect.
Overall the Rams are going to be counting on significant contributions from a handful of rookies in 2013. One thing that can be said about the Rams rookie contributors is that they are all elite athletes for their position with the potential to develop into pro bowl caliber players. Of course as the preseason has shown these players are still rookies and will make rookie mistakes, but based on what we have seen in the preseason I believe the big plays will far outnumber the mistakes. The Rams may not be able to overcome the youthful mistakes that are bound to come with the NFL’s youngest roster to make the playoffs in 2013, but they should be in the hunt clear down the last snap of the season. Thank you for reading and as always Go Rams!!!