Oct 5, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; St. Louis Rams quarterback Austin Davis (9) runs with the ball as Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Fletcher Cox (91) tries to defend during the first half at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey G. Pittenger-USA TODAY Sports
Despite falling to 1-3 last weekend, with three quarters of the season still to play including all six divisional games, 2014 is not over for the St Louis Rams. One of the main reasons for fans to remain upbeat is the performance of second year quarterback, Austin Davis. Davis has posted some very healthy numbers thus far, including a completion percentage of 67.8 (higher than Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers) a quarterback rating of 96.8 (the highest for a Rams quarterback since Marc Bulger in the 2002 season) and an average of 282 passing yards per game (ranking 7th overall in the league and 15 places above the nearest divisional rival, Colin Kaepernick).
When Sam Bradford suffered a second ACL tear in as many years in the preseason game against Cleveland, many observers instantly wrote off the season and predicted a high draft pick for St Louis in 2015, with the selection likely going on the next franchise quarterback to replace the injury-prone Bradford. As things stand going into the 2015 off-season, the Rams find themselves in a situation they have been unaccustomed to in recent years, namely being in possession of just the usual single first round draft pick. Therefore it needs to count.
Davis is winning more and more supporters among fans and journalists, and has crucially also won over Jeff Fisher and the coaching staff – at least for this season. Is there a case for Davis continuing under centre going into 2015 and using that crucial first round pick on another position of need? The argument goes as follows.
Often cited as a blight on the first years of Sam Bradford’s tenure as the Rams starting quarterback, Austin Davis will hope to have continuity in a number of key areas. Firstly, despite calls of protest from many fans there seems no sign of front office support wavering for offensive co-ordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Love it or loathe it, the current playbook is all Davis has known in his short career and the fact that he would potentially be looking at a third straight season under Schottenheimer in 2015 means he can build on what looks, at present, to be quite a healthy relationship.
There would also be continuity among his key colleagues on the field with receivers Brian Quick, Tavon Austin, Jared Cook and Stedman Bailey, as well as running backs Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham all mid-contract and likely to remain on the roster next season. These relationships would all have to be rebuilt from scratch by any newly drafted quarterback next spring. Would a rookie be able to hit the ground running and put up the sorts of numbers that Davis has over the last few weeks?
This is question for Jeff Fisher that could easily be removed as a factor altogether by keeping Davis in as the starter.
OTHER AREAS OF GREATER NEED
2014 first round draft pick Greg Robinson is struggling, having played a grand total of ten snaps so far this year. Free agent addition Davin Joseph and aging center Scott Wells are currently graded -8.3 and -7.4 respectively by Pro Football Focus. With a PFF grading only just in the green at +1.8, left tackle Jake Long has also been far from the form that saw him selected to the Pro Bowl for four straight years between 2008 and 2011, allowing 10 hurries and 2 sacks so far – not to mention the undignified flapping over the ball that immediately preceded the Eagles’ fumble recovery touchdown two and a half minutes into the third quarter on Sunday.
With an upturn in the form of Janoris Jenkins, as well as good starts for rookies EJ Gaines and (to a lesser degree) Larmarcus Joyner, the problems in the secondary appear to be on the mend. It is the offensive line that needs help, and needs it badly. WalterFootball.com lists some of the top ranking offensive lineman prospects for next spring, many of whom would appear to be instant upgrades on what St Louis currently have.
If Austin Davis can be retained as the starting quarterback, it would allow the Rams to use the first round pick on a player that can hopefully provide Davis with much better pass protection, as well as opening some holes for Stacy and company in the running game.
ALTERNATIVE QUARTERBACKS IN THE DRAFT
While the thought of Marcus Mariota wearing blue and gold may be an exciting one to some, it worth remembering that there is always a ‘settling in’ period for even the best young quarterbacks entering the NFL. From the beginning of the 2007 campaign through the first five weeks of 2014, Cam Newton (in 2011) and Andrew Luck (in 2012) are the only two quarterbacks to have featured in the top ten leading passers in their rookie season.
While some highly drafted quarterbacks have been unlucky with injuries (Robert Griffin III, EJ Manuel and the Rams’ own Sam Bradford spring immediately to mind), others have simply taken a couple of seasons to find their footing in the NFL. With the likes of Brian Quick and Zac Stacy looking like they are maturing nicely into players that can make significant contributions , what the Rams do not want is to have a new young quarterback who may not be ready to make a real impact until the time his supporting cast are nearing the end of their rookie contracts and becoming available to others in free agency. There is a case to make for allowing Austin Davis to grow with this current group in his third season in 2015, and allow others to put in the leg work in drafting and developing the other raw talents that are out there.
Of course, there is still a long way to go in the current campaign including last season’s AFC Champions, Denver, San Francisco and Seattle (twice each) and a further two fixtures against current division leaders Arizona . How Austin Davis performs against some of the best in the league will go a long way to determining whether he does enough to earn the right to keep the starting quarterback job going into 2015. Does he have what it takes?