Previewing the 2014 St. Louis Rams Schedule Release

The Edward Jones Dome, home of the St. Louis Rams.

The St. Louis Rams lost starting quarterback Sam Bradford at mid-season in 2013, yet they still remained a highly competitive team and found a way to finish the year at 7-9. More importantly, they pushed the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks to the wire, and will have most of the important pieces still in place come week one of 2014.

 

St. Louis can build off of a strong showing despite some hardship in 2013, but if they’re going to accomplish anything they will need to do better than the 2-6 record they managed on the road a year ago. That should prove to be a difficult task due to their tough division, as well as trips to Philadelphia, Washington, Kansas City and San Diego.

 

The Rams actually were strong at home in 2013, posting a respectable 5-3 record. The St. Louis Rams schedule at home could make matching that mark tough, however, as they welcome in the Cowboys, Patriots, Vikings, Broncos and Raiders. Oakland and Minnesota are games St. Louis absolutely can win, but Dallas, New England and Denver are all formidable opponents that, combined with three tough NFC West home battles, could leave the Rams at the bottom of the division once again.

 

For a look at all team’s 2014 match-ups, click here.

Grading the Rams 2014 Free Agent Class

After almost two weeks of no moves the Rams looked like they were not to keen on any free agents this year. But, in true Snead and Fisher form, after most of the big name free agents got big contracts the Rams decided to go bargain shopping. This class of free agency includes resigns Rodger Saffold and JoLonn Dunbar along with out-of-house free agents Alex Carrington, Kenny Britt, Shaun Hill, and Greg Reid. Let’s dive in and look at each signing

Rodger Saffold – 5-years / 31.7 million (19.5 million guaranteed)

The contract the Rams were able to workout with Saffold after he “failed” the Raiders physical is much less then he would have got in the open market. There should not be much concern about his failed physical with the Raiders because the Rams staff knows the extent of Saffold’s injury more in depth then the Raiders and it is very likely that Oakland did not pass him on the physical once they got cold feet on his ridiculous 40+ million dollar deal. Saffold has the ability to play four out of five of the positions on the offensive line at an above average level and can play right guard or right tackle at an elite level. Saffold’s resign gives the Rams lots of options on what they want to do in the draft and among the offensive line. My grade for this sign is a B. The only reason that holds me back from a higher grade is Saffold’s questionable loyalty and motivation, as he wants to start at left tackle.

JoLonn Dunbar – 2-years / 2.1 million (128k guaranteed)

The JoLonn Dunbar resign was the most underrated move of the Rams offseason. Gregg Williams has ties to Dunbar in New Orleans and loves his skill set in his defense. With only 128k of Dunbar’s contract guaranteed, it keeps the risk for the Rams very low. Most of the money in this contract is tied up in playing time incentives, which gives Dunbar an incentive to keep his noise clean and work on his game to get on the field. My grade for this sign is an A+. If Dunbar flops and can’t stay out of trouble the Rams take almost no hit at all, if Dunbar works out and plays at the level he his capable of the Rams get an outstanding linebacker for very little money.

Alex Carrington – 1-year / 1.5 million (1 million guaranteed)

It’s hard to get too excited about the Alex Carrington signing. Carrington was brought in on a one-year deal almost strictly for depth purposes. What you do have to like about Carrington is he can play the defensive end or tackle position so, depending on what happens in the draft he could find himself a little playing time on the interior defensive line. My grade for this sign is a C+. Carrington may have some untapped potential but the price tag is a little too much for a player of his current skill set.

Kenny Britt – 1-year / 1.4 million (550k guaranteed)

Did the Rams just find their new number one receiver? Personally, I think they did. This is essentially a one year “prove it” deal. If Britt comes out and produces at the level of a number one receiver he could be looking at a huge extension. Britt’s a legit big receiver threat on the outside, the first one St. Louis has had in a very long time. Even though Britt carries off the field baggage, Fisher has a history of turning guys like this around and Britt worked very well with Fisher in Tennessee. What most people may fail to realize about this sign is that it is actually more about Tavon Austin then it is Kenny Britt. With Britt’s big body demanding attention outside and Jared Cook working as a possession threat, this opens up the middle of the field for Tavon Austin to get the ball in space. My grade for this sign is a B mainly because of what this sign means for Austin. The main downside of this sign is Britt’s knee problems could potentially be an issue.

Shaun Hill 1-year / 1.75 million (guaranteed money not released yet)

This sign is an automatic upgrade from Kellen Clemmons. Shaun Hill is a proven veteran back up and can a win this team a few games in gritty fashion is if Sam Bradford goes down. The Rams need to draft a developmental back up quarterback in the later rounds of this draft, and Shaun Hill gives the Rams a great mentor for both Bradford and this future quarterback. Make no mistake though; Shaun Hill will not challenge Bradford for the starting spot. The money is right for this kind of deal. My grade for this sign is an A.

Greg Reid 3-years / 1.53 million (no guaranteed money)

If JoLonn Dunbar’s resign was the most underrated sign of the Rams offseason then Greg Reid was the most interesting sign of the offseason. This is a no-risk, high-reward situation for St. Louis. Reid’s contract has no guaranteed money so St. Louis can virtually cut him whenever they want and lose nothing. Reid was a former cornerback and returner standout at Florida State. After too torn ACL’s and some run-ins with the law he found himself out of the game. Reid performed at FSU’s pro day and a lot of scouts think that he out performed projected first round pick Lamarcus Joyner. By taking a flyer on Reid the Rams might find an elite corner for almost no money what so ever. Once again, Fisher has a history of turning guys like this around. Even though Reid is a project player he could see playing time immediately at CB3. My grade for this sign is an A+ because it carries no risk and could have a huge payoff.

Recreating the “Fearsome Foursome”

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If you ask any NFL fan who the best defensive lines in NFL history were your going to hear The Purple People Eaters (1968-1974 Vikings), The Steel Curtain (1972-1980 Steelers), The New York Sack Exchange (1979-1983 Jets), or simply the 1985 Bears. But, one unit stands above the rest of these historic defensive lines; The Fearsome Foursome or the 1963-1967 Rams. Led by Deacon Jones, this defensive line also contained Rosey Grier, Lamar Lundy, and Merlin Olsen. But, what if I told you the Rams have the chance to add another unit to this historic list of defensive lines? Yes, it’s possible.

For starters, for this to be possible, we are going to assume the Rams cannot move out of the number two pick and they take Jadeveon Clowney with the number two overall pick. A lot of people are saying that if the Rams draft Clowney they would groom him behind Long and Quinn and for a few years. This is absolutely the wrong approach. Clowney is NFL ready and needs to be put into the starting line up immediately. Obviously, Robert Quinn isn’t losing his starting spot but that doesn’t mean that Chris Long is going to be riding the bench. Long is talented enough and big enough to move inside and play alongside Michael Brockers. Long’s size paired with speed would give guards and centers a nightmare and he would also be rotated into the defensive end rotation as well. This means William Hayes and Kendal Langford are backups that will see the field a lot, and both of these guys have a lot of talent. Not saying that right off the bat a lineup of Quinn, Brockers, Long, and Clowney should be dubbed the next great defensive line but they certainly have the talent level to achieve this label at some point.

Not only would this defensive line be on of the most tantalizing in the NFL, with a linebacking core consisting of Ogletree, Laurinaitis, and Dunbar, and a defensive backfield that consists of Jenkins, Johnson, McDonald, and potentially Clinton-Dix; this could be the most feared defense in the NFL. Gregg Williams would be at the helm of a defensive with an extremely athletic defensive line, a very solid linebacking core, and a big play secondary. This would allow Williams to get very creative with formations, blitzes, and coverage. Williams could potentially cook up some things the NFL has never seen before with a talent like Clowney.

What it essentially comes down to is if Chris Long can play inside and Jadeveon Clowney plays up to his potential, we could see a scary defensive line along with one of the best defenses in the NFL.

Complete 7 Round Mock Draft

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Before we start I just would like everyone to know my drafting style and what I used to compose this draft. I’m not big on drafting for need as you tend to screw yourself if you draft for need, but sometimes if two prospects are close I will factor in need. Also, I used a drafting software to do this draft so some player might have fallen that you or I wouldn’t anticipate would. Now, lets gets started

Round 1 Pick 2 – Jadeveon Clowney (Defensive End – South Carolina) 

This pick simply comes down to the fact that you cannot deny Clowney’s talent. This is absolutely a luxury pick, one that the Rams may not be able to afford, but when the best prospect in the past ten years falls to you, you take him. Robert Quinn, Chris Long, Michael Brockers, and now Jadeveon Clowney; Colin Kapernick, Russell Wilson, and Carson Palmer just lost a lot of sleep over this pick.

Round 1 Pick 13 – HaHa Clinton-Dix (Free Safety – Alabama) 

This pick is the best of both worlds scenario for the Rams, which will help make up for the luxury pick they got in Clowney. Not only is Clinton-Dix the best player on the board, but he also fits a huge area of need for the Rams. As a rangy free safety, Clinton-Dix will complement TJ McDonald’s run stopping and heavy hitting game perfectly. Win-win situation for the Rams. 

Round 2 Pick 12 – Antonio Richardson  (Offensive Tackle – Tennessee) 

Richardson carries a lot of potential in the second round. Physically, he’s a beast and he has the aggressive attitude you want to see in an offensive linemen. All though, he has to refine his skills before being a starting left tackle, he is definitely a player that can start from day 1. This gives St. Louis a future back up for Jake Long and flexibility on the offensive line for the up coming season.

Round 3 Pick 11 – Jordan Matthews (Wide Receiver – Vanderbilt) 

Matthews is seen as a potential second round pick but could certainly slip to the third round due to his lack of speed and a deep wide receiver draft class. Matthews is exactly the receiver St. Louis needs. He runs crisp routes, has solid hands, and is very big body. He could also be installed from day 1 and make a huge impact. 

Round 4 Pick 10 – EJ Gaines (Cornerback – Missouri) 

Starting to notice a trend here? Yep, another SEC pick. EJ Gaines is a battle tested SEC corner who’s excelled at defending the best talent in college football. Gaines would not have to come in and immediately start. He could be used as a CB3 and cover slot receives and tight ends. This is a big need considering how disappointing Brandon McGee was in this role last year.

Round 5 Pick 13 – John Urschel (Offensive Guard – Penn State)

A lot of people may not like this pick but the bottom line is Urschel is the kind of guy you want in your organization. He’s extremely smart and a very hard worker. He may lack talent but makes up for it in grit and grind. Urschel would be a pure depth piece that could develop into a starting talent one day. 

Round 6 Pick 12 – Bruce Gaston (Defensive Tackle – Purdue) 

Every draft you should devote at least one low round pick to a project player to work on for a few years that could have big pay off; Bruce Gaston is that pick. His stats were down this past year but at 6’2” and 305 pounds the size is there. He’s extremely raw and would take some time to develop. If Clowney is picked at number 2 and opens up a lot of options on the defensive line, this could be an awesome pick for the future.

Round 7 Pick 11 – Connor Shaw (Quarterback – South Carolina) 

A lot of Rams fans really want this team to spend a 3rd or 4th round pick on a quarterback, but why? When St. Louis could pick up Jordan Matthews and EJ Gaines, who would both make immediate impacts in the 3rd and 4th round, why would you take a quarterback? Instead, wait until the low end of the draft and pick up a guy that is suffering from an extremely deep Quarterback class. Connor Shaw may be looked at as a product of system, but the talent is there. His deep ball isn’t the strongest but its accurate, he was extremely efficient this past year (only threw one pick), and the kid is a winner having never lost a home game as a starter. Not to mention, he’s a head and shoulders better athlete then any other quarterback in this class, including Mr. Johnny Football himself. Shaw has been classified as a gym rat by his team mates and scouts, this guy has heart and is ready to put in the hard work it would take to be developed into an NFL quarterback.

Round 7 Pick 26 – De’Anthony Thomas (Running Back – Oregon)

This could be THE pick of the draft. Zac Stacy did an awesome job last year and rushed for almost 1,000 yards on a short season. Even though Stacy had a great year, his best attributes are his hard running, his ability to run people over, and his blocking ability. If Zac Stacy is thunder then De’Anthony Thomas is lightning. Thomas is one of the fastest players in the draft and is a home run threat every time he touches the ball. Thomas also has great hands out of the backfield as well. In a league where plug-n-play players are so valuable, Thomas could be the perfect complement to Stacy’s game. Not to mention Thomas has value as a returner and that would get Tavon Austin out of a returner role as he comes back from injury. A lot of people see him as a product of a system out of Oregon but the sky’s the limit for this kid’s potential.

Free Agent Frustration

It’s always fun when your team goes out in the off season, acquires a big name player, and then you spend the rest of the off season in anticipation about how this big name free agent is going to contribute in the coming season. This off season has been a particularly dull one for Rams fans compared to the two previous off seasons. Even though it may not be fun and flashy, the Rams missing out on the free agents they’re targeting is actually a very good sign.

Missing out on the free agents that Snead and Fisher have decided to bring in means that this team is committed to the future and has a long term plan. Everybody got their hopes up when Snead decided to bring in names like Jarius Byrd, Alterraun Verner, Henry Melton, and others for negotiations. On the outside it looked like the Rams were ready to make some major moves, on the inside though Snead and Fisher were just bargain shopping. Management put a price tag on each of these players and decided what their value is and were committed to not over paying them. They stuck firm to their values and did not buy into spending big to win now.

It always seems like this team is just on year away, but what we have to remember is Snead has only had two drafts under his belt. In just these two drafts, Saint Louis has picked up Tavon Austin, Alec Ogletree, TJ McDonald, Stedman Bailey, Zac Stacy, Michael Brockers, Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson, Chris Givens, Greg Zuerlein, and Daryl Richardson. This does not even include project players like Barrett Jones and Brian Quick who we are still waiting to see if they work out. That means out of Snead’s last 17 picks, 13 of these picks have turned into outstanding, solid, or project players. That means 76% percent of Snead’s picks have worked out. That’s an outstanding percentage in a league where around 50% of draft picks working out is considered a success.

The bottom line is that building through the draft takes time. Fans may not want to be patient and wait for Snead to get four or five drafts in but that is how a team builds a dynasty. Building through the draft and then using your cap space to retain talent is the way to go in this league. If you’re a Rams fan that’s feeling some free agent frustration, just trust Snead, he knows what he’s doing.

Mike Evans Over Sammy Watkins – It’s Not As Crazy As it Sounds

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If you ask most Rams fans right now who they would take at number two in the draft it’s going to be almost a fifty-fifty split between Sammy Watkins and Greg Robinson. If you dig deeper into the draft, your going to find that Mike Evans may not be the better overall prospect, but makes so much more sense for Saint Louis then Sammy Watkins

Saying Sammy Watkins is fast would be an understatement. Not only is Watkins fast, he has rare game breaking speed ability. He posted a 4.43 40-yard dash time at the combine, but he is one of the rare players that seem to have an even faster game speed and move better with pads on. The question is, do the Rams really need this speed?

There’s this little guy already on the roster that runs a 4.34 40-yard dash, one of the fastest in the history of the combine. His name’s Tavon Austin, you might remember him. Not only does Austin contain game breaking speed, he is arguably even faster then Watkins is. Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s no problem with having two burners on the team. But, should the Rams really be targeting a deep threat like Watkins when there is one already on the roster? Probably not, especially since a possession receiver is a big need for this team.

This is where Mike Evans comes into play. Evans is 6’ 5”, 230 pounds, and posted a shocking 4.53 40-yard dash time at the combine. Not to draw to big of a comparison but, those are very Calvin Johnson like numbers. Evans is great at high pointing the ball, he’s an excellent pass catcher, and he works well with the quarterback as he complemented Johnny Manziel’s improvisational game. The best part about Evans is he could be picked up at picks ten through fifteen.

Even though Evans is a great talent, over drafting somebody is never a good strategy. So, this is how the Rams could pick up Evans. The Rams should trade back from the number two pick to anywhere from four to six. This leaves them in a situation where either Jake Matthews or Greg Robinson is most likely still on the board and they can draft the best player available. I do not think Evans is going to slip to the number thirteen. So, the Rams should use the extra pick they picked up from the trade down to move up to any where from eight to ten. This would mean the Rams would walk away from the first round of the draft with a blue-chip prospect in their first pick and a legitimate number one receiver for Bradford to work with.

Football is not Rocket Science

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VonBraunTeam1959

Football is not rocket science.  It’s simple really.  Ok, winning Super Bowls isn’t easy, but building a solid winning organization?  It’s like any business really.  You work hard, make smart decisions, and expect excellence.  Very little is surprising in business and very little is surprising in sports.  Sports are definitely more glamorous and a ton of money is involved, but it’s really the same in business.  Big money is big money is big money…  For example, a lot of attention has been given to the Roger Saffold situation.  Saffold is a solid offensive lineman who has suffered with staying healthy.  He had his chance at free agency and supposedly hit the jack pot with a big contract via the Oakland Raiders.  Next we find out he fails his physical and is immediately re-signed by the Rams.  Everyone in Rams Nation sits back and says,”hmmm.” 

Here’s what I think.  Bad move.  Bringing Saffold back is not a bad move, but bringing him back the way they did sends a message.  Winning… being excellent… is not a priority for the Rams.  Yes, the Rams are short offensive linemen heading into the 2014 season.  This is still no reason to panic.  Let me show you how simple the solution is…  Take the list of all NFL free agent offensive linemen currently available.  Now subtract all the guys who got cut.  Now only look at the men who played on dominant or winning teams in 2013.  What do you have left?  Over 50 highly skilled, underrated, and overlooked offensive linemen who would strengthen any squad.  They may not come cheap, but their contracts will still fall in the range of ‘sanity’ compared to the value they’d bring to a team.  Nobody ever talks about these 50+ guys.  Why not?  I have no reason why.  (Pro coaches… look me up… I’ll give you all of their names for a small fee.)  Now, while you’re signing a few of these guys, you talk to Saffold.  Make sure he knows you want him and will sign him, but not right after failing a physical.  Use your head.

Here’s another ‘not rocket science’ example.  Sam Bradford is never going to be a superstar QB.  After this many years in the NFL, if he was going to be a superstar it would have happened by now.  Now is it possible he has a few great years in him?  Absolutley.  The man has skills.  Sam has leadership qualities and when you look at the stats you know exactly what you’re going to get from him.  In my mind… that’s ok.  Build the team around who he is.  The state of denial is the worst place any team (or any person for that matter) can live.  Hey, Trent Dilfer won a super bowl.  The Bucs new what they had and used it wisely.

With all this being said I expect 2014 to be another mediocre season for the Rams.  The last time the Rams did something different?  The last time the organization did something to make the Rams a better team was when they hired coach Fisher.  What have they done since?  Baby steps.  It’s as if they make a few moves and ‘hope’ it will help.  You’ve got to be determined.  Relentless.  You’ve got to be smart.  And you have to demand excellence.  Correct me if you think I’m wrong, but I haven’t seen it.  The saddest thing?  It’s just not rocket science…

Rodger Saffold: Back in the Blue and Gold

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About thirty seconds after I published my last article news came through that Rodger Saffold failed his physical with the Raiders and the Rams reportedly have picked him up on a five-year contract. Numbers have not yet been released on the deal. Even though Saffold tends to be plagued by injury, this could be a great deal consider the Rams get an immediate starter at guard and someone who can play left tackle if Jake Long is not ready for opening day. Before it can be said if this is a good deal or not we’ll have to see the money side of the contract. Chances are because he failed his physical, his contract his significantly less then the five year $42.5 million the Raiders were willing to give him. Check back tomorrow when we grade the Rodger Saffold signing after more numbers have been released regarding his contract.