There may never again be an offense as dominating as the one that the St. Louis Rams ran out between 1999 and 2001. They finished first in points and yards in all three of those years, winning one Super Bowl and just barely losing another. With several Hall of Famers on that side of the ball, and the infamous turf, the Rams were absolutely unstoppable.
Up until the time that they were super-duper stoppable.
It was actually a slow decline from the Greatest Show on Turf to the Lamest Show on Earth. The Rams were top 10 in yards from 2003 to 2006, but everything changed around the same time that Orlando Pace began to decline. Pace played in just eight games in 2006, and then only one the next year. The Rams dropped from 10th in scoring to 28th.
Last year they finished 25th in scoring and 23rd in yards, and those are actually their best finishes in seven years.
But the Rams showed similar promise in 2010 when they went 7-9 behind the play of Sam Bradford, Steven Jackson, and Danny Amendola, before dropping to 2-14 the following year. It was right back to the Lame Show for St. Loses, so what's going to be different this time?
How do the Rams avoid a collapse relapse, or do they at all? How many Rams, if any, are worthy of your fantasy team?
Sam Bradford, 26
2012 stats: 328-of-551, 59.5%, 3,702 yards, 21 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 6.7 yards per attempt, 82.6 QB rating, 51.56 QBR, 16th in DYAR, one fumble lost
Quietly, Bradford improved quite a bit over his previous two seasons in the league. In 16 starts, Bradford had multiple touchdowns in seven games, and he scored at least one touchdown in all but three games. Overall his 6.7 yards per attempt as a career-high, as were pretty much all of his other numbers, and it seems as though his awful 2011 season was at least partially affected by protection.
He was sacked 36 times in 2011 in ten games, compared to being sacked 35 times last year in a full season.
If Jake Long can further improve protection and stay healthy, if the plan to move Rodger Saffold to right tackle works out, if the Rams get good guard play from Harvey Dahl and someone else, if center Scott Wells can stay healthy ... That's about the right amount of "if" statements for a Rams offensive line and it's not without mentioning.
Bradford therefore stands a three-pronged fork in the road:
- The offensive line does the best job of protection that they've ever done, giving the receivers time to run their routes before Bradford gets it off, he has a career-year.
- The offensive line does the same job of protection as they did last year, meaning Bradford remains about stagnant in being a good-not-great QB.
- Jake Long gets hurt, Saffold moves back to the left side, but now he doesn't know which way is up or the sound of colors, Wells falls down, Dahl falls down, inanimate carbon rod plays left guard, and Bradford is found weeks later in a pile of flesh and bone.
The best bet is probably the middle one, with the possibility of the first one still very real. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's work with quarterback production isn't super impressive, but not super bad.
2013 Prediction: 61% completions, 3,800 yards, 23 touchdowns, 14 interceptions
Kellen Clemens, 30
Should anything happen to Bradford (and something might) there is nothing else to see here.
Daryl Richardson, 23
2012 stats: 98 carries for 475 yards, 0 touchdowns, 4.8 yards per carry, 24 catches for 163 yards, no touchdowns, 40 DYAR, two fumbles
Richardson was recently named the starter, but I am not 100 percent sure that there is a player on the Rams roster that will ever be a "number one, full-time running back" at the moment. Maybe Richardson could get there eventually.
It's just more likely that there will be three people sharing the ball, and that's only good for teaching 5-year-old kids how to act in kindygarten, not in fantasy football.
2013 Prediction: 225 carries, 1,000 yards, four touchdowns, 35 catches for 300 yards, one touchdown
Isaiah Pead, 24
2012 stats: 10 carries for 54 yards, no touchdowns, three catches for 16 yards
At the time of writing this, I did a Google search for "Rams running backs" to see what Google would tell me because Google is all-knowing and all-powerful. I did a Google search for "Will I ever find love?" and the answer promptly came back as "Sorry, Ken."
The answer for "Rams running backs" came three-fold and it still did not include Pead. That's a pretty quick and far fall from being a second-round pick in 2012 that was supposed to take over for Steven Jackson to being one of the most disappointing rookies in the NFL last year. The Rams barely used him, never really had him as a part of the game plan, and he was surpassed by the fellow rookie, Richardson. Is there a chance for Pead to redeem himself?
Of course, it's only been one year.
The Rams likely won't replace one Jackson with one player. They plan to use a committee of two or three running backs. Of course, best laid Rams and all ... If one player gets the hot hand, no coach this side of Mike Shanahan is dumb enough to take the ball away from him. Richardson isn't really built to be the primary ball carrier, so naturally Pead is going to get his opportunities. And if he squanders those chances again, there are other players to go to.
Pead carried in 11 times in the Rams second preseason game and gained 19 yards. With the recent trade of A.J. Jenkins to the Chiefs for Jonathan Baldwin, it's a good reminder that teams are willing to move on from failed draft picks real quick.
2013 Prediction: 90 carries, 350 yards, four touchdowns
Benny Cunningham, UDFA
Zac Stacy, 22
Rookie, 160th overall pick out of Vanderbilt. 217 carries for 1,141 yards, 5.5 YPC, 10 touchdowns, 10 catches for 205 yards as a senior. 5'9, 210 lbs, 4.53 40-yard dash.
Stacy might be more of a darkhorse candidate for carries, but would be surprising to see him do more than some spot duty on short-yardage situations.
The better dark horse at the moment is Cunningham, an undrafted free agent out of Middle Tennessee State that in the preseason has been the best running back on the roster. He fell out of the draft due to injury, but looks as healthy as ever right now.
Tavon Austin, 22
Rookie, eighth overall pick out of West Virginia. 114 catches for 1,289 yards and 12 touchdowns, 72 rushes for 643 yards and three touchdowns, 32 kick returns for 813 yards and one touchdown, 15 punt returns for 165 yards and one touchdown as a senior. 5'9, 174 lbs, 4.25 40-yard dash.
Welcome to the rookie show.
Randall Cobb did not do much as a rookie, but was buried on a depth chart that was plenty loaded with talent at the wide receiver position. Harvin wasn't buried though, and he had 790 yards receiving, six touchdowns, 135 rushing yards, and two kick returns for touchdowns. That's a more likely result for a player like Austin that's really the most talented player on the offense.
He should be heavily targeted with plenty of touches.
2013 Prediction: 65 catches for 800 yards, four touchdowns, 120 rushing yards, one touchdown
Chris Givens, 24
2012 stats: 42 catches for 698 yards, three touchdowns, 53% catch rate on 80 targets, 73 DYAR and no fumbles.
If you are looking for examples of players who outperform others that were drafted ahead of them by the same team (i.e. Pead vs Richardson) then look no further. Givens provided great insurance for a St. Louis team that once again looked like it found the best bust in the bunch with Brian Quick. Luckily, they still had a rookie receiver who looked pretty good out there.
He should be targeted even more this year and if he ups his catch rate to something above 60 percent, he should be a breakout player in fantasy this year. Givens hauled in a 57-yarder in the Rams' second preseason game.
2013 Prediction: 70 catches for 900 yards, six touchdowns
Brian Quick, 24
2012 stats: 11 catches for 156 yards, two touchdowns, 41% catch rate on 27 targets, -29 DYAR and no fumbles.
Stedman Bailey. 22
Rookie, 92nd overall pick out of West Virginia. 114 catches for 1,622 yards, 25 touchdowns as a senior. 5'10, 193 lbs, 4.52 40-yard dash.
Austin Pettis, 25
2012 stats: 30 catches for 261 yards, four touchdowns, 63% catch rate on 48 targets, 49 DYAR and no fumbles.
Which of these three receivers should you prefer? Quick was terrible last season, Pettis actually was pretty good in limited action, and Bailey's numbers at West Virginia last year might actually more unbelievable than Austin's.
It's a three-sided coin flip and I wager you should stay away from coin flips. Or at least juice the action and get a two-headed quarter. If I had to make a guess, I'd go with Bailey. But don't do anything until more real data is available.
Jared Cook, 26
2012 stats: 44 catches for 523 yards, four touchdowns, 61% catch rate on 72 targets, 15 DYAR, one fumble.
The Rams were actually very successful on deep throws by Bradford, something that they might have been envisioning when they signed Cook to be their tight end. It's been a long time since the Rams really worked in a very productive tight end in terms of catches and yards, but it's clear that's what they were going for when they added Cook.
He should possess the athleticism of the "new tight end" form you see in guys like Jimmy Graham, but it never worked out that way in Tennessee. Perhaps when Cook says he's finally in a system designed for a guy like him, he's right. The last time he worked with Jeff Fisher in Tennessee, Cook put up 759 yards with the Titans.
2013 Prediction: 45 catches for 750 yards, four touchdowns
The Rams checked in 14th in both scoring defense and total defense last year. With the additions of Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins, St. Louis was one of the more successful pass defenses in the league. The drafting of safety T.J. McDonald was one effort to improve the safety position because that was pretty terrible last year, but that could still be a year or two away.
The biggest threat here is a defensive line featuring Michael Brockers, Chris Long, and Robert Quinn, and as a team the Rams had 51 sacks. The biggest loss is the suspension of linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar for four games.
St. Louis finished seventh in Football Outsiders DVOA ranking (putting all four NFC West teams in the top seven), but are they better or worse and can the defense do better than finishing 23rd in turnovers forced? The Rams rate as an above-average, but not great, choice for team defense in fantasy leagues.
The Rams: Above average!