First and foremost, Happy New Years to all of our viewers in Rams Nation and beyond. For those in St. Louis, this year will start off like many of them have before; out of the playoffs. Luckily, with two Top 15 draft picks and a rising group of young players, there will be plenty to talk about until “Rams football” starts up again.
Before we move to the future, it is important to look back and analyze the past. For that, we are going to turn to the help of Pro Football Focus, the industry standard for graded player analyses. We will highlight the “top players” at each position, and give a “closing note” on the grouping as a whole…
1. Sam Bradford (+0.5; 20th overall)
Despite playing only six and a half games this season, Bradford finished the year with a career-high grade. That is not surprising considering he has easily on his way to the best statistical season of his young tenure in the NFL, with 14 touchdowns to only 4 interceptions prior to the injury. Assuming there are no setbacks in rehab, Bradford should be back to full health by the start of camp, ready to finally break into that next tier of signal callers in the league.
1. Zac Stacy (+3.1; 20th overall)
The three-headed monster that most had projected prior to the start of the season did not quite come to fruition this year. Turns out, there was only enough room in the Rams backfield for one running back; Zac Stacy. From the moment the late-rounder took over the starting job, he was one of the most consistent and productive backs in the NFL. In his 12 starts, he managed 10 games with 50+ yards, four games with 100+ yards, and six games with at least one rushing touchdown run.
1. Tavon Austin (+2.4; 58th overall)
2. Stedman Bailey (+1.8; did not play over 25% of snaps)
3. Austin Pettis (-0.8; 75th)
No, these are not rankings from West Virginia. The two 2013 rookies were, according to Pro Football Focus, the top graded receivers on the team this season. That is not at all surprising, especially given the historic stretch that Tavon Austin went through in the middle portion of the season. Bailey, on the other hand, did not start seeing real snaps until Week 13, but may have been the most consistent and reliable player on the field for that stretch of time. His 77.3% catch rate easily led the team this season, and (using some projection calculations) would have accumulated roughly 929 receiving yards this season had he maintained his current catching pace and played as many snaps as the Rams top receiver (Chris Givens; 798 snaps). That should be good news headed into the future…
1. Cory Harkey (-3.0; did not play over 25% of snaps)
2. Jared Cook (-4.2; 42nd overall)
3. Lance Kendricks (-6.2; 49th overall)
The St. Louis Rams tight ends are extremely tough to grade, with “standard” measures of the tight end position not necessarily matching their tight end/fullback usage in the Rams offensive scheme. Focusing solely on the pass catching aspect of their game, the “starting duo” of Cook and Kendricks both rank fairly well in comparison to the rest of the league, managing a combined 929 yards and nine touchdowns on the season. Jared Cook, by himself, ranked Top 15 in nearly all relevant statistical categories for tight ends; a good sign considering the money he was paid this offseason.
1. Jake Long (+25.8; 7th among left tackles)
2. Joe Barksdale (+12.2; 10th among right tackles)
3. Rodger Saffold (+9.4; 10th among right guards)
If you ever needed a point out a reason why the Rams shouldn’t draft Jake Matthews with the No.2 overall pick, this would be it. The top three performers on the offensive line this season have all played left tackle for the Rams at some point in the last two seasons. Jake Long was obviously a golden signing his past offseason, and truly shined when St. Louis converted to a ground-and-pound offensive philosophy. Barksdale surprisingly emerged as solid starter on the right side of the offensive line, so much so that he supplanted a “full healthy” Rodger Saffold on the depth chart. However, Saffold might have been the most intriguing player of the year. The fourth-year offensive tackle started off the season by being demoted from left to right tackle, got injured, and then lost his right tackle job to Joe Barksdale; at that point, many had written him off as a core member of the St. Louis Rams. Then, following the annual injury to Harvey Dahl, Saffold stepped in at right guard and emerged as one of the most dominating interior linemen in the league this season. Saffold is now, most likely, the Rams top re-signing priority this offseason, and will undoubtedly have a massive impact on the players that St. Louis will covet in the upcoming draft.