Is the term "cataclysmic disaster" too harsh to use to describe the 2011 Rams' season?
Too bad, we're going with it.
Nearly every facet of the Rams was a letdown in 2011. Their defense allowed over 25 points per game and was second-to-last in rush yards allowed. Nine of their losses were by at least 10 points. Their franchise quarterback sprained his ankle behind a ragged offensive line and was one of two quarterbacks to attempt over 350 passes and fail to record 2,200 passing yards. They cut the receiver they signed to be their top threat and wound up with a receiver who started with another team leading them in all the major receiving categories (and he's since moved on). The Rams' pair of rookie receivers totaled zero touchdowns, and their much-ballyhooed slot receiver messed up his arm so badly that it cost him 15 games.
If there's good news, it's that it can't get any worse.
The Rams rebuilt their coaching staff with Jeff Fisher leading the charge and Brian Schottenheimer running the offense. The return to a scheme with some West Coast offense tendencies should help Bradford, who did well in such a system as a rookie but couldn't adapt to Josh McDaniels' offense last year. St. Louis also restocked along the O-line with center Scott Wells and at wide receiver with veteran Steve Smith (formerly of the Giants) and rookies Brian Quick and Chris Givens. Defensively, they hauled in plenty of talent via free agency (cornerback Cortland Finnegan and three defensive linemen including Kendall Langford) and the draft (defensive tackle Michael Brockers and cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson).
The steady current in the Rams' storm is Steven Jackson, who put up his seventh-straight 1,000-yard season and fifth season with at least 1,400 total yards. Though he's getting dangerously close to the 2,400-career carry barrier, he's still considered dependable for big stats for most weeks. But just in case, the Rams added speedster Isaiah Pead in the draft, and he's expected to help ease Jackson's load.
No one might expect the Rams to go to the playoffs this year, but they're certainly improved from where they were a year ago. The worst seems over.
|Player||Draft Day value||Estimated round|
|ND - not expected to get drafted|
Bounce-back candidate ... Danny Amendola, wide receiver
Amendola's arm is healed and with most of last season spent on the shelf, there should be plenty of motivation for him to get back on the field and contribute. Rewind to 2010 and you'll see that Amendola not only led the Rams in receptions but also led the way in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. He finished among the Top 20 receivers in targets. There's no denying that Bradford wants him back on the field and with the Rams' receiving corps loaded with mostly young talent, Amendola should have a spot secured. Smart owners in PPR leagues already know that Amendola's a guy to try and swipe halfway through drafts, but he's plenty valuable in standard formats too, making him worth a mid-to-late pick in standard leagues.
Impact rookie ... Brian Quick, wide receiver
Here's a telling sign: The Rams took the underrated Quick with the top pick in Round 2 when popular names like Stephen Hill and Alshon Jeffery were on the board. And here's another sign: Coach Fisher said he expects Quick to "be a big part of our offense." And one more: Bradford is amazed by the size/speed combination and quickness Quick offers. The path to playing time for Quick is as open as I-70 on a weekend morning and the reviews so far this summer have bordered on giddy. It's clear that the Rams love him and if he can meet their expectations, Fantasy owners will too. He's an easy late-round gamble.
Keeper-league target/deep sleeper ... Isaiah Pead, running back
Pead won't see consistent touches unless something happens to Jackson. While possible, it's not a safe bet as Jackson has missed two games over the last three years. But we do expect to see flashes of the former Cincinnati Bearcat, who averaged over 6.0 yards per carry and caught 87 passes in college with 27 rushing touchdowns. One possibility: Jackson will work everything except red-zone third downs, paving the way for Pead to get in some time as a pass protector and check-down receiver this season with his duties ramped up in future seasons. When Jackson posts an eight-year low in receptions in 2012, you'll know why.
No one is expecting a lot from the Rams' passing attack, so defenses will aim to slow down Jackson first. And even though the Rams defense should be improved from last season, they'll still get scored upon. All told, it's not a good schedule for them as all of their division rivals have improved defenses and most of their non-conference opponents shouldn't have a problem out-scoring them. And by virtue of their game against the Pats in London, they're the only NFL team with seven true home games. There isn't even a stretch where Jackson can be projected to post consecutive 100-yard games.
Training camp topics
|Steven Jackson||260 carries, 42 catches|
|Cadillac Williams||87 carries, 14 catches|
|Brandon Lloyd||51 catches|
|Brandon Gibson||36 catches, 2 carries|
|Lance Kendricks||28 catches, 1 carry|
So we've come to the conclusion that Amendola and Quick will be locks to make the Rams' roster and see some considerable playing time. The rest of the Rams' receiving corps is a mess. Brandon Gibson and Steve Smith should make the roster, but what will happen with second-year receivers Greg Salas and Austin Pettis, third-year receiver Danario Alexander and rookie Chris Givens? If you think the Rams will throw a lot this season, it might be worth your trouble to see who ends up as the third receiver in the offense.
There's no secret on who will get the first chance to start at tight end this summer: Lance Kendricks will be given another chance to start. Michael Hoomanawanui will jockey for playing time, and if Kendricks struggles he could take over, but he's proven to be brittle. Kendricks was impressive last summer and in the preseason and then disappeared when the games mattered (28 catches, no touchdowns). His development is crucial; if he can break the seam and become a factor in the passing game then Bradford will be on his way to having a big year.
So what about Bradford? Is he worth Fantasy consideration in 2012? A year ago, we were ga-ga for him because of the talent around him and the offense he was in. Though his offense has shifted to something he's more comfortable with, it's also considered to be more passive. And while the rookie additions to the receiving corps have promise, they're the only reliable additions. And for all the Rams' O-line issues last season, they only addressed one of five spots. It's hard to expect the Rams' offense to explode with only so many changes for the better. Bradford's fine to draft as a bench player but don't go out of your way to get him.
The Rams also made a change at kicker, going with rookie Greg Zuerlein. Zuerlein set a NCAA record with 21 consecutive field goals last season, including nine from 50 yards or more. We'll see how he adjusts but for now no one should be very interested in him.
As for the defense, don't expect miracles even though they did get an infusion of new personnel this offseason. Brockers should become a beast inside the D-line and Finnegan's rep at cornerback is well-known. The Rams got 13 sacks out of Chris Long last season and 39 overall -- that's a lofty number to reach in 2012, but if they can get there while doing a little better against the run, they'll win some low-scoring games. Don't dismiss the Rams DST as a one-week replacement option when they have some favorable matchups, such as against the Redskins in Week 2 and the Dolphins in Week 6.