Minicamp and OTAs have come and gone and are now faded memories filled with optimism and hope. Rams’ signal caller Sam Bradford offered high praise to the freakish offseason acquisition in TE Jared Cook and the entire Rams’ squad drooled over the eye-popping speed of Tavon Austin. Heck, even the third-year man out of Boise St., Austin Pettis, created a stir with his performance draped out in t-shirts and shorts.
Only seven days remain until the Rams’ prized rookies are set to lace up their cleats, run precise routes, engage blockers and bounce runs to the outside at Rams Park. Two days later, the rest of the roster is set to follow. It’s July, nothing is set is stone, the safety position is still under construction and the backfield is platoon waiting for it’s captain to emerge, but it’s never too early to play the numbers, right?
St. Louis now have a roster loaded with youthful talent, but youth also equals inexperience. With a high level of expectation this season, what probable key players will separate themselves from others? Will Bradford throw for 4,000? Isaiah Pead rushing 1,000? Do the Rams have a 1,000 yard receiver on the team? Let’s play a game of over or under and find out.
Over or Under 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns for Sam Bradford?
Over: It’s so easy to spot Bradford’s size, gifted arm talent, underrated athleticism and guts, he has been been sacked 71 times in his past 26 games. Three straight miserable years he’s been engulfed by awful blocking and inadequate receiving that’s doomed him. In Bradford’s first season when he came away with the rookie of the year award, his 3,512 yards passing, 18 TD, 15 INT, and 60 percent completion percentage were practically Hall of Fame numbers tossing the ball to pedestrian receivers and a leaky offensive line.
He broke Peyton Manning’s mark for completions in a season by a rookie (354), and set a rookie record for most attempts without an interception, going 169 passes between picks; not mention leading his team one win away from the post season. This record stood tall before Cam Newton came along. Like Newton, Bradford endured an inevitable sophomore slump nagged by a high ankle sprain for the duration of the season appearing in 10 games in the 2011 season.
This past year was more so a bounce back season than a breakout season even though he threw for a career high in both yards and touchdowns (3,702 YDS; 21TDS). Even the uncertainty in the running game will open up more passing opportunities this season for the former Heisman Trophy winner. Still lacking top talent, the improvements on the roster led Bradford to orchestrate four fourth-quarter comebacks and three game-winning drives last season with his no. 1 wideout absent due to injury for a bulk of the season, again.
Bradford has every cell, artery, and bone that an elite quarterback contains. Now, surrounded by premier talent and athleticism, Bradford will be the first Rams quarterback to get voted to the Pro Bowl since Marc Bulger in 2006. Surpassing 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns is a matter of when and how wide of a margin, not if.
Over or Under 800+ rushing yards for Isaiah Pead?
Other than the safety position, the running back group is the biggest mystery on the Rams roster. While Evan Silva has last years’ surprised rookie standout Darly Richardson as the favorite to land the Rams’ starting job, other circumstances have me leaning otherwise. In an earlier article, I mentioned how Isaish Pead reminds me of a Rams’ legend, Marshall Faulk.
Pead was virtually a no-show in his rookie season rushing for a measly 1o carries on 54 yards, five of those carries came in the week 8 debacle to the New England Patriots. He never got off to a prominent start and fell behind in the offseason missing practices due to a late graduation date. Pead never had a full grasp of the playbook, he didn’t assertively hit holes and lost a bit of confidence losing the backup job to Richardson.
A large portion of my belief in Pead stems from the organizations confidence in the second-year man out of Cincinnati. Head coach Jeff Fisher said this of Pead at the 2013 NFL Combine:
"“We drafted Isaiah because we felt like he has a chance to be a good back…Not necessarily just a change of pace back for ‘Jack,’ but the guy.”"
Fisher saw similarities that reminded him of Chris Johnson when St. Louis selected Pead with no. 50 overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft. His game also mirrored the like of LeSean “Shady” McCoy and Jamal Charles as a “tweener” with enough bulk to handle inside runs and explosiveness to be effective on the perimeter and the passing game.
The welcoming of fresh, young talent will allow the Rams to enjoy spread the ball around and open up the formation. Pead will embrace this with open arms as he primarily ran the ball out of spread and pistol sets as a Bearcat. His lofty draft status ensures he will be given every opportunity to open the season as the no. 1 back on the depth chart. Pead’s biggest obstacle is to outplay much improved competition in Richardson and fifth-round choice Zac Stacy who is drawing Ray Rice and Alfred Morris comparisons.
Over or Under 1,000 receiving yards and 8 total touchdowns for Tavon Austin?
Under: 1,000 yards receiving and the eight touchdown mark sounds about right. Six receiving touchdowns and two on special teams are very obtainable numbers for Austin.
I’m not sure if anyone else feels this way about these bold predictions for Tavon Austin, but I think they are a little bit of a reach.
But I could be wrong. Every Rams fan across the nation would petition for Austin to be voted as a first-ballot Hall of Famer if he achieved those gaudy numbers.
The 5-foot-9, 174-pound blur will garner an enormous amount of attention as he will soon enough dazzle under the brights lights of the Edwards Jones Dome. His electrifying 4.34 speed in the slot, flanked outside, in the backfield and on special teams will have defensive coordinators tossing and turning in their sleep. But that’s the thing, as much of a nightmare matchup Austin is, his presence alone will open up opportunities for his teammates to flourish.
Brian Quick, Chris Givens–who I believe will amass 1,000 yards–Stedman Bailey, Pettis and Cook will all benefit from Austin on the field. Austin can eclipse over a 1,000 total yards on the season, but Bradford will spread the ball around to his capable targets. A lot is expected from the no. 8 overall pick who caught 288 career passes in college for 3,413 yards and 29 touchdowns, while also rushing for 1,033 yards and six touchdowns. For right now, his all-purpose role will cause him to fall a notch below the century mark.
Over or Under 15 sacks for Chris Long?
Under or right at 15.
Hats off to the ringleader of the Fearsome Foursome, Deacon Jones. I immediately applauded the NFL for naming the league’s sack leader award after the life of legendary Ram.
As DT Kendall Langford transitions into second season in a 4-3 scheme, the Rams may have their own vision of the Fearsome Foursome with three-first rounders on the defensive line, Long, Robert Quinn and standout rookie Michael Brockers.
Long can single handedly take over a game notching double digit sacks in three games last season, three in the season finale against the Seattle Seahawks. He may be one of the strongest and technique-sound 4-3 ends in the NFL. Pair that up with his relentless motor, Long’s complete set of skills against the run and the pass make it difficult for blockers to get a consistent read on the star defensive end. The only thing stopping Long from a possible 20 sack season is his own teammates.
Long has sacked opposing quarterbacks 24.5 times over the past two seasons, J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans had 20. 5 sacks alone this past season, but the next in line was Antoine Smith with seven. Aldon Smith compiled 19.5 sacks, the 49ers sack runner-up was Ahmad Brooks with 6.5 sacks. Houston tied for 5th in total sacks, and San Francisco tied for 11th.
As we all have proudly repeated for the duration of the offseason, St. Louis finished the season tied for 1st in the NFL with the Denver Broncos with 52 sacks.
Long had 11.5, Quinn collected 10.5 of his own and the all important Williams Hayes came away with seven. Even Brockers chipped in with four on a gimpy ankle. Now, with the no. 30 overall pick and ultra-athlect Alec Olgetree at outside linebacker matched with the Rams unsung hero, Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Long may have to scratch and claw his way to climb over 15 sacks.
If this category was over or under 52 sacks for the Rams defense, my response would be simple, way over.
Over or Under five interceptions and two defensive touchdowns for Janoris Jenkins?
Leading the league in defensive touchdowns as a rookie is a mere sign of things to come for the gifted Jenkins. In a report with FOX Sports on MSN, Hall of Fame defensive back Rod Woodson gave high praise to the rookie sensation after just one year.
"“That kid’s skill set is so great,” Woodson said. “He has no fear. He jumps routes. If he keeps progressing in a positive manner, he might be the best in the league in a couple of years.”"
What more could I say to ensure you that Jenkins will continue to prosper in the league than from a Hall of Famer himself?
Although, the rookie highlight-reel did give up far too many big plays. It was if he didn’t worry about giving up position to receivers or trying to lure quarterbacks into throwing his way, he trusted his athletic ability to give him a chance to play the ball in the air or undercut the throw for a touchdown. Anticipating routes is a gift that most cornerbacks do not have, but overaggressiveness can result to trips into the endzone.
Jenkins finished his unworldly rookie campaign with 64 tackles, 4 INTs, 14 pass deflections, and four total touchdowns. He receiver-like hands will continue to pluck arid passes out the air, and the addition of the new up-and-coming defensive coordinator Tim Walton will correct his lapses in coverage. Walton’s previous stop was in Detroit where the Lions finished tied for third in the NFL in takeaways in 2011, with 34. That total fell way off in 2012 to 17, but the Lions did improve to 14th in passing defense ; or one spot ahead of the Rams.
“Jenks” is probably the most exciting player on the Rams roster not named Tavon Austin.
Training camp is quickly approaching, every player is looking to cement a roster spot or a chance into becoming a starter. Whatever the case may be, if any of these statistics all wound up being over, we’re all in for something special in 2013.
One more note.
Throughout the offseason, the Rams offense has frequently been deemed as a possible “Greatest Show On Turf part. 2,” and the defensive line has been called the “Fearsome Foursome part. 2,” if that is the case, wouldn’t you agree that if these eras were combined to form the 2013 Rams, it would unquestionably mean a Super Bowl birth, at least?