St. Louis Rams 2011 Season Preview: How High Can Sam Bradford Go?

SB Nation is previewing the 2011 season for all 32 teams and up today is the St. Louis Rams. Check out all of our 2011 NFL season previews.

The 2011 NFL season is almost here which means it's time to preview every team's chances this year. SB Nation's Turf Show Times gives us the scoop on the St. Louis Rams

Record Prediction

Pundits feel charitable this year, typically giving the Rams an 8-8 in their season previews. It certainly passes the eyeball test in a weak division and with a schedule front loaded with the NFC East and AFC North. Season predictions should be so easy. Any given fan knows that on any given Sunday in any given season things change. The Rams will pull off an upset or two on the way to a 9-7 record.

Best Game On The Schedule

A tough call with this year's schedule, but fans started talking about the season opener against the Eagles before they became the, ahem, "Dream Team." Thanks in part to head coach Steve Spagnuolo, the connections run a little deeper for these two teams than others on the schedule. Spags descended from the Andy Ried coaching tree. He made his way into the head coaching ranks running a defense as taught by his mentor, the late Jim Johnson. More than a few players on his team played in Philadelphia, most notably free agent safety Quintin Mikell. If the Rams play even with the Eagles or, dare I say, beat them, it will set the tone for their entire season.

Player Who Takes A Step Back This Year

Steven Jackson used to wow fans and fluster opponents with his speed and skills. He could beat defenders with raw power, pure speed and deadly moves. Unfortunately, he was a one-man show for too many years, playing behind paper thin offensive lines. It took a toll. Jackson lacks the speed he once possessed. He can still play effectively because of his power and savvy. Adding backups, finally, should preserve his shelf life.

Breakout Player Candidates

Bradley Fletcher is the best cornerback you have never heard of. He smothers receivers in coverage, and he tantalized audiences with four interceptions last year.
The front office surprised everyone by drafting Wisconsin TE Lance Kendricks in the second round this year. Now, he looks indispensible to the offense with the kind of speed and versatility that makes him a real weapon.

Best Rams Player Others Have Never Heard Of

In a division with Patrick Willis, the spotlight for linebackers is already pretty crowded. Tough break for James Laurinaitis. Even as a rookie in 2009, he instantly made the defense better. It was hard to see his progress last year because he was swallowed up thanks to poor linebacker play next to him and a lack of strength in middle of the defensive line. Leading a better defense should earn him a trip to the Pro Bowl.

Underrated/Overrated/Just Right

Overrated: WR Danario Alexander may not even make the final cut this year. The talent really is there, but the knee is not after FIVE surgeries. People want this guy to succeed so much they overlook the fact that even his practice time is limited.

Underrated: Danny Amendola gets dismissed thanks in part to a league-worst yards per reception stat. With a vertical dimension to the offense this year, the working man's Wes Welker might earn another, more flattering nick name.

Just right: Sam Bradford is the future of this franchise for a reason.

Fantasy Football outlook

Sam Bradford passed the ball more than any other rookie in the history of the NFL last year. Now, his offensive coordinator is Josh McDaniels, a man known for his affinity for passing the ball. A conservative projection is 3,800 yards and 22 touchdowns. That said, the Rams will run the ball this season too, especially close to the goal line, something they did not do last year. That makes Steven Jackson a solid part of any team, since improved run blocking and his power will lead to more scores.

This is a better group of receivers, but a muddled fantasy picture. Amendola is a safe bet in PPR leagues. Brandon Gibson and Mike Sims-Walker should accrue some nice numbers, but probably not on a weekly basis.

Best Media Personality In St. Louis

Sam Bradford and his "aw shucks"public persona has every pitchman in the Midwest trying to get on the phone with his agent. If he keeps autographing poster board marriage proposals, the national marketers will be pulling up to Rams Park with truckloads full of money.

Best Players To Follow On Twitter

Steven Jackson, @SJ39, is a must-follow. He might be one of the savviest social media sports personalities out there right now. Defensive end Chris Long, @CL9ONE, asks fans for everything from movie recommendations to cell phone advice (believe me, don't call him out for still using a Blackberry).    

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