Editor’s note: This is a guess post from Kevin Roberts of FantasyFootballOverdose.com. You can follow Fantasy Football Overdose on twitter at @NBAandNFLInfo, and for more St. Louis Rams News and Rumors visit Fantasy Football Overdose – your online source for anything about fantasy football.
The Sam Bradford era hasn’t gone quite as it planned. It actually almost did right away in his rookie season, but the St. Louis Rams fell to the divisional rival Seattle Seahawks in the season finale and missed out on the playoffs.
Bradford and his Rams really haven’t even sniffed post-season play since…
The Rams have been pretty competitive, though, and adding head coach Jeff Fisher has helped bring a little more credibility to the table. But finishing right around .500 every year won’t cut it, and sooner or later the Rams need to see all of their investments pay off.
Could that happen in 2014? That’s the big question surrounded by other tiny questions: Is Sam Bradford the answer? Will the Rams bring in a new quarterback? Will they land the true, No.1 wide receiver their passing offense needs? Can they truly compete in the rugged NFC West?
Let’s break down the two biggest questions as we try to assess how realistic a playoff appearance in 2014 really would be for the Rams.
Can the Rams Win With Sam Bradford?
There has been some quiet chatter that the Rams could or should cut the rehabbing Bradford (knee) due to his high salary and mixed results as the would-be franchise passer. And if not cut him, many have at least offered up the idea of drafting some competition.
I don’t think either is really necessary. Bradford is a top-level talent that has looked special when the other talent around him has been playing at a high level. The reality is, Bradford has had to deal with injuries, poor pass protection, inferior supporting talent, bad defenses and numerous offensive coordinator and systems in his time in the NFL. Add in the fact that he plays in the brutal NFC West, and it’s really just not fair.
I think with Bradford, it’s important to realize that he hasn’t been the problem so far, and if anything he’s the solution going forward. The Rams just need to make sure he stays on his feet and can go to work. After that, they need to make sure his weapons are equipped to let him be the best passer he can be.
Last year the protection improved, but Jake Long got hurt and the Rams may want to think about adding more talent at tackle again. With two first round picks in the 2014 NFL Draft, I fully expect them to do that.
The other side of it was two-fold on offense. First, the Rams couldn’t run the ball worth a lick. That puts way too much pressure on Bradford to make something out of nothing on a weekly basis. It makes the offense one-dimensional and allows defenses to blitz all day. Second, the Rams just aren’t great in the passing game. Jared Cook was supposed to be a huge addition, and he pretty much blew up in week one and never showed up again after that. Rookie wide receiver Tavon Austin had to have his touches manufactured early in the year, and once Bradford went down he disappeared, as well.
There is no legit #1 wide receiver on this team that Bradford can go to on a regular basis and feel confident in. Danny Amendola was that guy for a few years, but he’s not even a true #1 guy and he was also always hurt. If the Rams fix the protection issues and get Bradford a guy he can write home about, things could get better rather quickly.
In other words, yes, the Rams can absolutely win with Bradford. He’s the furthest thing from the problem in St. Louis.
Who Will Step up at WR?
Chris Givens is an underrated deep threat who can both makes plays on the ball and move the chains as a possession guy. A number one target, he is not, however. Tavon Austin is a situational player at the moment and needs to have his touches manufactured. He can still make a huge impact, but definitely not as the top receiver and maybe not even as the number two. He should be restricted to the slot, screens, handoffs and return duty until he learns how to run routes and beat the press better.
Unless Brian Quick develops over night, we’ll have to assume he’s just a bust. Either way, the Rams can’t wait around, and that almost surely means drafting a guy to be a true #1 wide receiver in the future. The guy that jumps off the page and screen is Texas A&M big man, Mike Evans. He’s not the fastest or most explosive, but he has insane ball skills, combined with great size, a solid frame and decent speed. He’d be a factor in the red-zone immediately and would at worst be the #3 receiver, if not vault to the top in St. Louis’ offense right away.
His talents wouldn’t just be put to use right away, either. His mere presence would open things up over the middle of the field for Austin and tight end Jared Cook. If Evans is who we think he is, he could dramatically change the Rams offense.
Another guy, but not the only guy, is USC’s Marqise Lee. He’s not nearly as big as Evans and may not be a huge red-zone factor, but he brings speed and play-making ability to the table. More speed in the Rams passing game on that turf certainly shouldn’t register as a negative.
There’s also the idea of signing a veteran. Guys like Eric Decker, Jeremy Maclin and Hakeem Nicks should warrant consideration. Decker would be my choice here, though, as he has the best combination of size, ball skills and speed. Nicks is close, but his play last season was just too awful to get a true vote of confidence from me (and probably anyone else).
Can the Rams Make the Playoffs?
In summary, I really don’t see why not. In my opinion, Bradford is who the Rams thought he was. He’s had some bad luck with injuries and the talent around him, but his offensive line has gotten better, he’s got a running game again, a very helpful defense, and a few shiny weapons in the passing game. St. Louis should only add more toys to the chest heading into next year, too, while the competitive spirit the Rams showcased down the stretch last year is one that truly lives on.
Most importantly, this is a well-rounded team on paper that has the audacity to go toe to toe with the likes of the Seahawks, 49ers and Cardinals. The Rams right now, as constructed, can be better than Arizona. With a healthy Bradford, they can engage in shootouts, and now that Stacy is their man in the backfield, they can also play ball control offense. The kicker, of course, is their defense. If an already elite pass-rush can get better supported by a shaky secondary, the Rams will be that much better.
Suddenly balanced on both sides of the ball and boasting a healthy Bradford with explosive weapons around him, there’s absolutely hope for the playoffs in 2014.