In the NFL, it is (apparently) never too early to start talking about the next season, regardless of how far away that may be into the future. A perfect example of that is the 2014 NFL Mock Drafts that were being posted in April, before the 2013 rookies had even been fitted for shoulder pads and helmets. So, in the spirit of that, we thought we would jump on the prophesy-train and attempt to predict how the St. Louis Rams roster will look in 2014…
Sam Bradford, Kellen Clemens, 2014 3rd-Rounder
Depending on how the rest of the season plays out, the St. Louis Rams’ quarterback “situation” will likely get a lot of buzz this offseason. Should Kellen Clemens and Co. wrangle together three or four more wins in their final six games, many will wonder if Sam Bradford, who had essentially posted a 3-4 record this season before tearing his ACL, is worth his massive, salary cap-consuming contract. Without getting into too much debate, the answer is: Yes, of course he is! However, there are a number of “game managing” quarterbacks that will be available in the mid- to late-rounds of this year’s draft, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Rams take a flyer on an “A.J. McCarron-type” of player to develop as a backup.
Running Back (3)
Zac Stacy, Daryl Richardson, Benny Cunningham
As you can see, Isaiah Pead was not on that list, nor has he really been a factor on the roster since he joined the league back in 2012. Meanwhile, Zac Stacy is building a strong case as a candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year, and Benny Cunningham, aside from the “ghost fumble,” has done well as his stand-in over the last couple of weeks. Moreover, Daryl Richardson was one of the top receiving running backs in the league through the opening quarter of the season and, when healthy, will provide a nice 1-2-3 punch out of the backfield. It is doubtful the Rams will waste any picks on a running back this offseason, especially after drafting three in the last two years.
Wide Receiver (6)
Austin Pettis, Chris Givens, Brian Quick, Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin, 2014 5th-rounder
Austin Pettis’ isn’t a free agent until 2015, which means, given he is the eldest of the receiving corps, the St. Louis Rams should be in good position heading into next season. Many will be clamoring for the St. Louis Rams to take a stab at Sammy Watkins or Mike Evans, but unless one of those Top 3 receivers tumbles down the draft board in the first round, it is unlike that Les Snead and Jeff Fisher will add another piece to the already-mangled wide receiver puzzle. However, with much fewer question marks this offseason on the offensive side of the ball, the St. Louis Rams may use a “luxury pick” on a “boom-or-bust” or red-flagged receiver on the second or third day of the draft.
Tight End (4)
Jared Cook, Lance Kendricks, Cory Harkey, 2014 4th-Rounder
Despite heading into the season as a “strength” of the offense, the position will likely end the year as a massive question mark. However, that might be blown slightly out of proportion by some of the wild expectations that were heaped on the group prior to the start of the year. The reality is that the Rams tight ends have contributed 500+ yards and 7 touchdowns through 10 games this season, with one-third of those games being played without their starting quarterback in a rush-heavy offense.
Mike McNeill is a free agent at the end of the season, and the St. Louis Rams will likely let him walk with the hopes of finding a replacement tight end in the upcoming draft. Unlike last season, where there were two arguable 1st-rounders, the 2014 class is loaded on the backend with “projects,” one-dimensional players, and above-average talent. However, there are a handful that might be “diamonds in the rough,” especially a behemoth like C.J. Fiedorowicz (Iowa), who has the size (6’7 tall, 265 lbs.) to quickly form into a competent blocker and redzone receiver in the NFL.
Offensive Tackle (3*)
Jake Long, Joe Barksdale, 2014 2nd-Rounder
Here is where things should get interesting. Joe Barksdale has played well above expectations as a “reliever” for Rodger Saffold this season… so much so, that the St. Louis Rams are now trying Saffold at right guard, where he will likely start for the remainder of the regular season. Barksdale has been hot-and-cold as a run blocker, but in pass protection he’s ranked 7th in the NFL among right tackles. Potentially more important may be the fact that the former third-rounder is playing for table scraps, earning an average of $555,555 per season. With the Rams already struggling to duck under a low ceiling, in term of the salary cap, having an inexpensive starting tackle would be key to retaining/extending some of the other players on the roster.
With Jake Long wrapped up until 2017, the St. Louis Rams will also likely look for a young, stud lineman to groom as an eventual replacement and competent backup. Most in Rams Nation will be campaigning for Jake Matthews or Taylor Lewan, but given Jeff Fisher’s history with drafting offensive linemen, it is doubtful that he would “waste” a Top 15 pick on an offensive tackle. Instead, sticking to his overall philosophy, the Rams may shoot for a player like La’el Collins (LSU) or Cyril Richardson (Baylor); high-caliber talents with quality experience at both guard and offensive tackle.
Chris Williams, Rodger Saffold, Shelley Smith
Heading into the 2014 season, Harvey Dahl will count $4 million against the St. Louis Rams cap, making him one of players on the shortlist for offseason “cap casualties.” Rodger Saffold played competently in his lone start at right guard last week, and all indications are that he will maintain that spot as a “starter” until his performance dictates otherwise. Saffold is likely the only true question mark on the offensive line… and just so happens to be the only player in a “contract” year, with free agency pending at the end of the season. Having been plagued with injury since his inception into the league, Saffold is likely at a disadvantage on the bargaining table, and would be unlikely to fetch a better deal outside of St. Louis with the perception of being “double-demoted” by the Rams’ coaching staff lingering on his resume for the season. If he can play convincingly at guard, it would not be surprising to see the Rams release Dahl, and sign Saffold to a slightly lesser deal as an interior lineman.
For Jeff Fisher and Les Snead, this would be a dream scenario, having two starting guards who can competently perform at four different spots on the offensive line. The addition of another OT/G through the draft would only sweeten the pot, especially with Barrett Jones already sitting in the “on-deck circle” as a interior line specialist.
Scott Wells, Tim Barnes, Barrett Jones
Scott Wells has been playing to near perfection since returning to full health this season, currently ranked as the top overall center in the league in pass blocking efficiency; allowing 5 total pressures in 382 offensive snaps. However, with Wells’ massive contract eating up a ton of cap space, the St. Louis Rams cannot afford to have too much padding behind him. The coaching staff appears to be comfortable with Tim Barnes and Barrett Jones as potential backups, with Jones likely to be the eventual replacement starter in either 2015, the last year of Wells’ contract, or 2016 when he is scheduled to be a free agent.