Despite moderate success last season in the face of some extreme adversity, the St. Louis Rams have received little recognition heading into the 2014 regular season. Aside from a brief pat on the back for a solid showing in the 2014 NFL Draft, most have already dismissed the up-and-coming organization, slotting it as a “bottom of the division” franchise that is still “rebuilding” to compete in the NFC West. In fact, some have started to not only tear down the team, as a whole, but also dissect and degrade the individual pieces within the organization. Recently, Matt Miller ranked the St. Louis Rams backfield 23rd best overall, despite the Zac Stacy leading the NFL in rushing yards for a majority of the season after Week 5. That was followed by an unsavory 26th overall ranking for the wide receiver corps, which might have been reasonable had the Eric Decker-led New York Jets and Danny Amendola-led New England Patriots not been named ahead of the grouping in St. Louis. Sam Bradford and Shaun Hill only managed 24th overall, falling below the distinguished Arizona Cardinals signal calling backfield by nearly 10 spots. Finally, to cap off the team beating, the St. Louis Rams’ stud coaching staff got inexcusably ranked 32nd in the NFL (i.e. dead last) in an article that doesn’t deserve to be linked in this post.
With all of the rain being poured down on the “St. Louis Rams roster” parade this offseason, it must be difficult for outsiders to imagine how the team nearly finished the 2013 regular season with a .500 record; especially playing the 3rd hardest strength of schedule within the toughest division in the NFL. Would anyone on the Rams roster even make the cut for an All-NFL squad heading into the 2014 regular season? Better yet, would any even make an All-NFC West team, with the dynamic rosters of the Seahawks, 49ers, and Cardinals looming within the division?
Robert Quinn (DE)
Much like NFL Network’s Top 100 Players of 2014, Robert Quinn might be the only consensus player from the St. Louis Rams to make the All-NFC West team. Quinn is not only the top 4-3 defensive end in the NFL, but arguably the best overall pass rusher in the league. After a career-high (and league leading) 91 total quarterback disruptions last year, including 19.0 sacks, only the most delusional rival fans would argue against Black Lightning making the cut.
Johnny Hekker (P)
The NFC West has arguably the top three punting units in the NFL. Andy Lee is a regular Pro Bowl invitee, and Jon Ryan and Co. ranked second overall in total return yards allowed last season; an impressive feat. However, Johnny Hekker was the only NFC West kicking specialist representing the conference in Hawaii at the end of the season, after setting an NFL record for average net punting yards and earning a spot on the AP 1st-Team All-Pro roster… oh yea, and the St. Louis’ punting unit was the one team ranked ahead of Seattle for total return yards allowed.
Jake Long (OT)
It is hard to argue that Jake Long would usurp Joe Staley at left tackle on the All-NFC West squad. However, if we’re formulating an “All-Team” roster in traditional fashion, the top two players at the offensive tackle position should make the cut; Jake Long is certainly on that list. According to Pro Football Focus, Long ranked No.7 overall among all tackles last season, including finishing No.2 overall in run blocking. Anthony Davis and Russell Okung are the only other possible options for the last remaining spot, and after a shaky, injured filled season from Okung and an average, at best, year from Davis, it would be hard for anyone to argue them onto the 1st-Team roster.
Michael Brockers (DT)
The second-year stud out of LSU is still waiting for his breakout season in the NFL, which makes it difficult to place him on the All-NFC West squad. However, due to lack of competition within the division, a case can easily be made for Brockers manning one of the starting spots. For one, the interior linemen for both the Cardinals and 49ers are merely gap-stoppers; big bodied brutes whose sole responsibility is to fill gaps and allow the surround defensemen to do their jobs. Glenn Dorsey played that role admirably in San Francisco… with “role” being the key word. Michael Brockers, on the other hand, was a game changer, at times, on the St. Louis Rams defensive line. The nimble giant ranked 10th among all defensive tackles in defensive stops last season, on top of recording 5+ sacks for the second-consecutive year. While the Seattle Seahawks interior defensive line rotation did manage impressive numbers as a whole, there is no individual performer that should usurp Brockers for a place on the roster.
Tags: St. Louis Rams