I must admit that, when I first had the idea for this post, I was contemplating compiling this list in a ranked manner. However, once I had assembled my short-list, I realized how hard it was to rank ten players from ten different positions, each with their own role in the team and with a range of experience in the National Football League. Instead, I have played it safe and gone for an alphabetical approach, though, to my mind, it was quite clear who Number One would have been.
So, here are my choices for the best ten players drafted by the St Louis Rams over the last five years…
Tavon Austin, WR, 2013
Austin’s drafting at No.8 overall was met with tremendous excitement by Rams fans. Here was the dynamic playmaker that the Rams so desperately needed, a player who could vastly change the game with any touch of the ball. Working as either receiver, runner or returner, Austin could play havoc with opposing defenses and finally open up the Rams’ offence.
While Austin’s rookie season failed to live up to those lofty expectations, he nonetheless showed those clear flashes of potential, most notably in an electrifying display against Indianapolis, where he scored three touchdowns and gained over 300 all-purpose yards. This was the highlight of a frustrating year where these skills were not exploited consistently, with three games lost through injury. Nevertheless, these occasional flashes were enough to find Austin a place on this list in the hope that we will see more of him next season.
Sam Bradford, QB, 2010
Bradford is probably the most divisive figure on the team among Rams fans, and it is clear that he has not live up to his status as first overall pick. Sam is far from being the elite leader his team drafted him to be, and his career completion percentage (58.6%) and average-per-pass (6.29 yards) are particularly disappointing. However, Bradford is still the team’s starting quarterback, and few can deny that he was on the way to an impressive season before suffering the infamous ACL injury. Bradford would be a capable starter in a number of other teams, but the feeling is that 2014 will be his last chance to establish himself as the Rams’ quarterback of the future. Despite these ups-and-downs, he remains one of the best ten picks over the last five years.
Michael Brockers, DT, 2012
The 2012 first-rounder is often overlooked, upstaged by the duo who bookend the defensive line. But Brockers has prove a good find and is very much the anchor of the line, often creating sufficient penetration to push quarterbacks into the arms of Robert Quinn or Chris Long. Brockers is a strong run stuffer, and his 9.5 career sacks show an occasional ability to get to the quarterback. Expect his dominance to continue as he reaches athletic maturity to make the Rams’ D-line one of the strongest in the League.
Janoris Jenkins, CB, 2012
The disappointment of Jenkins’ sophomore season made many forget his spectacular rookie year, when he was, at times, in the conversation for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. Jenkins has five career interceptions and an impressive 28 passes defended, but it was the remarkable and game-changing ability that he demonstrated in his three defensive touchdowns that caught the eye of many. If he regains this form, Jenkins will emerge as one of the most dynamic young cornerbacks around, and a tremendous find in the second round.
James Laurinaitis, MLB, 2009
Baby Animal has been the rock of the Rams’ defense since being drafted in the second round of the 2009 draft. An all-round anchor at the MLB position, Laurinaitis plays with a fierce passion and incredible dedication. Until last season, Laurinaitis led the team in tackles every year since being drafted, and his 12 career sacks and nine interceptions show his ability to contribute in many facets of the game. A main blot in his career is that he is yet to be voted to the Pro Bowl, but it is obvious that the Rams got it right when they called his name in an otherwise forgettable draft.
Alec Ogletree, OLB, 2013
Laurinaitis relinquished his crown as team tackling leader to a first-rounder in 2013. The Rams traded down in the first round to nab Ogletree, who rewarded the franchise with 117 tackles in his rookie season, as well as an incredible six forced fumbles. Many will also remember him for his spectacular franchise-record 98-yard interception return for a touchdown against Houston. Ogletree is a hard-hitter who will be a force to be reckoned with when he gets over his various coverage issues.
Robert Quinn, DE, 2011
Quinn has been the Rams’ best draft pick since Steven Jackson. A Pro Bowler in 2013, he broke the franchise’s single-season sack record, and came close to being named Defensive Player of the Year. Quinn is an absolute beast who has made key plays since joining the League, from blocking punts as a rookie to a seven forced fumbles last season. Quinn brings fear to opposing quarterbacks who, in evading him, find themselves running into the eager clutches of Chris Long. He is a defensive stud who is yet to reach his prime and will prove essential to the Rams’ future success.
Rodger Saffold, OT, 2010
Oft-maligned and oft-injured, the value of Roger Saffold to the franchise really became evident when they risked losing him in free agency earlier this year. With bizarre reasons bringing him back to the Rams after initially signing with the Raiders, fans celebrated and acknowledged that he is a mainstay in the offensive line. Saffold was a capable tackle, but his worth as a guard emerged this season, and it is likely that he will continue to work in the interior, while providing versatility. If Saffold goes on to have better luck with injuries, he could become one of the most under-rated linemen in the League.
Zac Stacy, RB, 2013
Few players can change the dynamic of a team in the same way as Stacy did as a rookie last season. With the passing game floundering and seemingly few options at running back, head coach Jeff Fisher turned to the fifth-rounder…and something short of miraculous happened. Stacy ran for 973 yards and contributed with eight total touchdowns, but it was his impact on the game plan that was the most significant. For the time being, at least, the Rams have found an heir apparent to Steven Jackson and someone who can take the pressure of Sam Bradford’s arm. If Stacy’s form progresses, he could be one of the franchise’s most significant lower-rounds finds.
Greg Zuerlein, K, 2012
This list would not be complete without the Rams’ startling discovery of their next kicker. Greg The Leg had a fantastic start to his NFL career, scoring seven field goals from over fifty yards. He faded down the stretch, though, but, in his second season, he traded the ability to make long kicks with greater consistency, missing only two field goal attempts in 2013. Zuerlein still needs to prove himself more in the clutch, but his is one of the strongest legs in the League, leaving the position as one that will not need to be addressed for a long while.