The St. Louis Rams were actually the most successful team within the NFC West last season. The Rams went 4-1-1 in six games against the rest of the division. Their only loss came in Week 17 to the Seattle Seahawks. It was the rest of the league that St. Louis struggled against. They were just 3-7 outside of the division as they finished with a 7-8-1 record.
Head coach Jeff Fisher recharged an organization that has floundered for most of the last decade. The Rams are the most talented they’ve been since the mid-2000′s. On defense, the Rams have become one of the better pass rushing units in the league. Offensively, quarterback Sam Bradford has more weapons to work with than any time in his first three years in St. Louis.
However, they also have two of the best teams in the league in their division as well in Seattle and San Francisco. Where do the Rams sit entering training camp? We take a look at the roster below.
The Rams’ pass rush quietly became one of the most effective units in the league last season. St. Louis finished the season tied for the league lead in sacks with the Denver Broncos with 52 sacks on the season. Starting defensive ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn each posted double-digit sacks to lead the group. Jo-Lonn Dunbar also added 4.5 sacks from the linebacker position.
The cornerback position has also become a solid group for St. Louis. Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins worked well together last season. Trumaine Johnson provides a competent nickel option as well. Depth behind the top three is a bit suspect but it’s a position the Rams should feel comfortable with entering the season.
The Rams have been woefully deficient at the offensive tackle positions for a long time. Rodger Saffold, when healthy, had lessened some of those concerns as the team’s left tackle the last three seasons. Now with the addition of Jake Long in free agency, the Rams can feel confident in the players protecting the edges for Sam Bradford.
The Steven Jackson era in St. Louis is over and the Rams are left with unproven options at running back. Daryl Richardson served as a nice change-up option for the Rams last season but can he be more than that? Isaiah Pead was selected in the second round last year and could become the featured option. However, he will miss the season opener to suspension and only saw 10 carries last season. Terrance Ganaway is a bigger back that could also compete for starters reps.
The Rams will need to get improved play from the guard positions this season. Harvey Dahl has started 30 games over the last two seasons and is a solid option at right guard. Left guard still remains up in the air. Shelley Smith started six games last season but didn’t make a major impression. He will compete with former Chicago Bears first-round selection Chris Williams for the starting job when camp opens.
The Rams are hopeful West Virginia teammates Tavon Austin and Steadman Bailey will give Bradford a pair of reliable options at receiver. However, the talent remains unproven. The Rams are lacking a true No. 1 receiver and will need to get production from the likes of Chris Givens, Brian Quick and Austin Pettis as well. There is talent in the group but the position has to prove it’s taken a step forward.
The addition of Jake Long at left tackle allows the Rams to move Rodger Saffold to the right side and potentially solidify a position that has been lackluster for many years in St. Louis. Tight end Jared Cook also followed Jeff Fisher from Tennessee in free agency and will be an addition weapon for Bradford in the passing game.
The Rams lost wide receivers Danny Amendola to the New England Patriots and Brandon Gibson to the Miami Dolphins. Safeties Craig Dahl (San Francisco) and Quinton Mikell (free agent) are both gone. Cornerback Bradley Fletcher signed in Philadelphia and Jackson left for Atlanta.
The battle between Smith and Williams for the left guard spot will be one to keep an eye on. Pead, Ganaway and Richardson will battle for the starting running back job.
The safety position should also see intense competition during training camp. With Dahl and Mikell gone, veterans Darian Stewart and Matt Giordano will be pushed by third-round draft pick T.J. McDonald. Also, the third linebacker position alongside Dunbar and James Laurinaitis will be up for grabs. First-round pick Alec Ogletree is likely the favorite for the spot but could see competition if he has some bumps in the road.
The Rams won four of their final six games to end last year with losses to Minnesota and Seattle – both playoff teams. They should be improved again this year with some added stability to the offensive line and some help for Bradford offensively.
After showing flashes of his talent as a rookie, Bradford hasn’t been able to live up to expectations yet in his first three seasons. With Cook and Austin joining the squad, Bradford will finally have some dynamic weapons in the passing game to work with and a defense that should be able to keep them in games. Defensively, the Rams should take a step forward as well if Ogletree and McDonald can take hold of starting jobs in the back seven.
St. Louis has a chance to challenge for a playoff spot this season but finding a way into the postseason will be a difficult challenge out of the NFC West. If Seattle or San Francisco slip, the Rams could be right on their heels to take advantage and leave someone unexpectedly home in January.