The St. Louis Rams finished fourth in the NFC West in 2013, but that’s not as bad as it might sound. Despite sharing the division with San Francisco, Seattle and Arizona, the Rams finished 7-9 – despite losing QB Sam Bradford early in the season to a torn ACL.
The Rams have shown steady potential since Jeff Fisher took over as head coach two seasons ago and, with two picks in the first round of the upcoming draft, the team has the chance to add two more top-notch pieces to a solid and growing core.
So how far are the Rams from making their own leap from scrap heap to contender? Blaine Grisak, co-editor of Ramblin’ Fan, says this team isn’t far from joining the rest of its division mates and making that very push.
Zoneblitz: The Rams finished 7-9 in probably the toughest division in football. How would you assess the season?
Grisak: Given the circumstance, I think 2013 was overall a good year. When QB Sam Bradford went down against the Panthers early in the year, the season seemed lost, and it looked for a moment like the Rams would be getting two picks in the top 10. However, as young as this team is, they showed some fight and beat tough teams like the Saints, Colts, and Bears and came one-yard away from beating the Super Bowl Champion Seahawks one week after the Bradford injury. With four picks in the top 75 in what has been called the deepest draft in awhile, the Rams can certainly make a jump in 2014.
Zoneblitz: Heading into year three what are your thoughts on the Jeff Fisher/Les Snead combo?
Grisak: I think the Fisher/Snead combo has done a great job with this organization. They took a franchise that was a mess when they took over and have brought it back to respectability. Year three will be a big year for them however. Another 7-9 season and fans will begin to get impatient, the fans want improvement.
Zoneblitz: What are your thoughts on Sam Bradford as the franchise’s QB of the future?
Grisak: I have always been a big Sam Bradford supporter, but 2014 is a boom or bust year for the fourth-year quarterback, despite his coming off of a torn ACL. Fans want results, and they want him to earn that big paycheck that he signed as a rookie. Another disappointing or injury-plagued season and Bradford could be on his way out of St. Louis. I definitely wouldn’t be surprised if the Rams draft an Aaron Murray, Tajh Boyd, or A.J. McCarron to develop behind Bradford and newly signed Shaun Hill.
Zoneblitz: Zac Stacy emerged nicely from the 2013 draft and Tavon Austin showed signs of being a potential star. Jared Cook led the team in catches and receiving yards. So some weapons exist. Particularly in a division with such tough defenses, what pieces do the Rams need to add to take the offense up a notch?
Grisak: They are missing a number one receiver on the outside. Chris Givens could be that guy, but he did have a disappointing 2013, and I don’t think Snead and Fisher can put all their money on Brian Quick all of a sudden becoming a superstar. The Rams could look to draft one of the top receivers in this year’s draft. Mike Evans and Sammy Watkins have been names that have been brought up and either would be a great addition to the offense.
Zoneblitz: Defensively the Rams appear to have some great talent, but were just middle-of-the-pack in yards and points allowed. What’s your assessment of that unit and what has to happen to improve it?
Grisak: I think this unit has the potential and the makings of becoming one of the league’s best defensive units. I think some of the disappointment last season came from the inexperience of their defensive coordinator and young players going through bumps.
The Rams could definitely use some pieces in the secondary, depth at the cornerback position as well a top safety to play next to T.J. McDonald.
They did just bring in Gregg Williams to coach the defense and I think he has been the best addition for team this offseason and will take this defense to their full potential.
Zoneblitz: Is there any chance the Rams make another blockbuster with the No. 2 pick this season so I can keep writing about the branches of the RGIII trade for a few more years? In all seriousness, St. Louis has a lot of options with that pick – how do you think they spend it?
Grisak: I definitely think there is a possibility that they trade back from the number two pick, but I doubt that they will get as much in return as they did when they pulled off the RGIII trade, just for the fact that there isn’t that franchise quarterback like an RGIII or Andrew Luck at the top of the draft. If they trade back, I could see them taking one of the top-tier offensive linemen like Greg Robinson or Jake Matthews, or if they traded back far enough corner Justin Gilbert or wideout Mike Evans would also make sense.
Zoneblitz: In further seriousness, how would you assess that RGIII trade with Washington?
Grisak: The RGIII trade has made who the Rams are right now, possible. It has been by far the best move Les Snead and Jeff Fisher have made in their time in St. Louis. The Rams have received key players such as Michael Brockers, Janoris Jenkins, Alec Ogletree, Stedman Bailey, and Zac Stacy. The Rams have a good corps group of players due to the trade, and will hopefully receive even more impact players in the upcoming draft.
Zoneblitz: The Rams are definitely improving, but the NFC West remains tough from top to bottom. How far are the Rams from emerging in the playoff race and the championship hunt?
Grisak: I don’t think they are too far away. A couple of pieces and the Rams will hopefully make their first playoff appearance since 2004. The Rams struggled in the division last year going 1-5, the only win being week one against the Cardinals with Bradford in the lineup. The Rams are 5-2-1 in the division the last two years with Bradford against NFC West opponents and hopefully his return in 2014 will bring better success.
Zoneblitz: What would you like to see the Rams do in the draft and the rest of free agency?
Grisak: Free agency is pretty much over, but I wouldn’t mind them signing Titans’ wide receiver Kenny Britt, a low-risk, high-reward kind of player. This year’s draft however will be very important to the team’s development and continued success. I would like to see them add a top receiver for Bradford as well as depth on the offensive line and in the secondary.
Zoneblitz: With lease discussions not advancing and owner Stan Kroenke purchasing land in Los Angeles are you concerned at all over the stability of the Rams’ future in St. Louis?
Grisak: I’d like to say that I’m confident that the team will be in St. Louis for the next 15-20 years, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the Rams did end up making the move to L.A. Nothing will happen without permission from the owners and commissioner, but I definitely wouldn’t rule it out.