It would probably shock you to learn that the St. Louis Rams had the seventh-ranked pass defense in the NFL last season. Despite losing both starting corners, and both of their backups, and then some of their backups (yes, it got that bad), the Rams held teams to only 206 yards per game through the air last year.
Of course, statistics can be deceiving.
First of all, the Rams played in a very weak QB division. The Cardinals' starting QB, Kevin Kolb, underwhelmed last year, and because of injuries, he didn't even stay on the field for all 16 games. The Rams actually squared off with John Skelton, Kolb's backup.
The Seahawks had Tavaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst. Jackson is a career backup, and Whitehurst is still an unproven player. That's probably why the Seahawks spent this offseason bringing in two new QB's, Matt Flynn (free agent) and Russel Wilson (third-round draft pick).
The best team in the division, the San Francisco 49ers, had Alex Smith under center. Smith had a terrific season, but the Niners were an old-school, throwback, "run first, throw when you have to" football team.
In addition to playing in the NFC West, the Rams were getting killed most Sunday afternoons. That means that there was a whole lot of running the football for opposing offenses in the fourth quarter, which also helped the Rams' passing statistics.
My point is, while the Rams' passing D from a year ago looks good on paper, those of us who actually watched the games know better.
The Rams couldn't stop anybody.
However, the Rams had some talented players at that position. The problem was, they were injured. Can they overcome those injuries and play up to their talent? If they can, then this Rams' secondary could be scary good.
Bradley Fletcher was the No. 66 overall draft pick in 2009. He is a big corner (6'0", 200 pounds), and he can run. This kid was a good player before he got hurt and missed the entire 2011 season. In 2010, he appeared in all 16 games, totaling 11 pass breakups and four interceptions.
Jerome Murphy was the No. 65 overall pick in 2010. He is another big corner (6'0", 200 pounds), and as a rookie in 2010, he appeared in 14 games, registering four pass deflections and one interception. Murphy also missed all of 2011, but if he returns to form, he could be an outstanding player for the Rams.
If either Murphy or Fletcher were your nickle back, then you'd have a terrific secondary. The problem for Murphy and Fletcher is the Rams brought in more talent at that position.
Cortland Finnegan was signed as a free agent, and he will immediately transform the Rams' defense. He isn't as big as the other Rams corners (5'10", 188 pounds), but he is perhaps the most physical corner in the NFL. He had 75 tackles in 2011, which is a lot for a corner, but he had 100 tackles in 2010! Finnegan is also good in coverage, with 14 interceptions in his six seasons. Teams quit throwing at Finnegan two years ago, but he did have five interceptions in each of the 2008 and 2009 seasons.
Bottom line, Finnegan gives the Rams a true "No. 1 corner" to shut down big-play receivers.
With the No. 39 overall pick in the 2012 draft, the Rams took Janoris Jenkins. Many draft analysts had Jenkins rated as a top 10-15 talent, but character issues caused him to fall in the draft. If Jenkins (5'10", 193 pounds) can play up to his potential, the Rams will have one of the best sets of corners in the NFL with Finnegan and Jenkins.
With the No. 65 overall pick in the 2012 draft, the Rams took Trumaine Johnson. He is the biggest corner on the roster (6'2", 204 pounds), and he is an athletic, physical player. He recorded 15 career interceptions in college, and he has the speed to line up with NFL receivers.
I also think Johnson is a kind of "secret weapon" for the Rams' coaching staff, because he has the size/length to match up to some of the hybrid tight ends that are dominating today's NFL. When you play in a division with Vernon Davis, it's a good idea to have a guy like Trumaine Johnson on your roster. I think the Rams will use Johnson to cover the faster tight ends, but I also think they will use him as a true corner. Either way, expect to see him on the field a lot.
Add it all up, and the Rams have five outstanding corners on their roster. When you think about the pressure that Rams defensive ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn can put on by themselves, it's scary to think about the potential of this Rams secondary.
A great pass rush means there isn't much time to throw, which means the receivers need to get open right away. That is going to be really hard to do against these Rams defensive backs.
In just one year, it looks like the Rams' secondary went from "worst to first."
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