St. Louis Rams: Which Rookies Will Make Instant Impacts in the 2012-13 Season?
The words "rookies" and "impact" do not automatically jump to mind when assessing the draft history of the St. Louis Rams.
Rams fans instantly shiver at hearing the names of past early-round picks in recent drafts. Mardy Gilyard. Anthony Hargrove. Donnie Avery. Adam Carriker. Joe Klopfenstein. Tye Hill. Alex Barron. Trung Candidate. It's enough to make any Rams fan sick.
Multiple administrations of Rams management have attempted to recreate the Greatest Show era via the NFL draft. Success is a fleeting goal in that regard, for the list of Pro Bowlers drafted by the St. Louis Rams since 2003 is incredibly short. In fact, it's just one---running back, Steven Jackson.
So what could be different with this year's crop?
Quantity, first and foremost. The Rams selected six players within the first 100 picks of this year's draft. Those selections touched skill positions all over the field, from wideout to defensive line, and running back to corner.
Another is the strong base of leadership already on the team. Unlike in previous drafts, this Rams squad has franchise cornerstones in place at all the necessary positions. Sam Bradford at QB; James Laurinaitis at ILB; Chris Long at DE.
Throw in a still-in-his-prime Steven Jackson at RB and two very young, but talented, OTs in Jason Smith and Roger Saffold, and it seems the Rams are just a few ingredients away from one very fine meal.
Who are the rookies then that will buck the trend of years past, and make an instant impact in the 2012-13 season? I'll give you a hint, it's not first-round pick Michael Brockers.
1. Brian Quick, WR
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Sam Bradford needs to throw the ball to someone, right?
New Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is a disciple of the "Air Coryell" system, being first exposed to the system as an assistant for Dick Vermeil in 1997 in St. Louis.
This means there are going to be a lot of balls available for the WRs, and you have to imagine Brian Quick is salivating at such a prospect.
At 6'4", and 220 pounds, Quick has the size and strength to dominate smaller DBs. While not a blazer down the sidelines, Quick is a solid route-runner and can get open in tight spaces. He is most often compared to Vincent Jackson, minus the diva attitude.
The Rams have a huge hole at WR, and after intentionally passing on more highly touted WRs in the 2012 draft (Justin Blackmon & Michael Floyd), there is no other alternative. Quick must, and will, make an impact.
2. Isaiah Pead, RB
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The clock is ticking on Steven Jackson. We all know the history of running backs once they hit the age of 30.
Jackson will be 29 in July. He is coming off his seventh consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season, and has averaged 20 carries a game over those seven years.
The average career length for RBs is somewhere in the neighborhood of 2.5 seasons, so the Rams have been playing with house money in the backfield for a while now. The time for finding a replacement was yesterday.
While smaller than Jackson, Pead has the tools to be a highly effective back. Pead is a solid pass-catcher out of the backfield, and knows how to make defenders miss.
Physically speaking, Pead brings to mind visions of Jackson's predecessor---a quick, shifty runner who can change gears instantly in open space. Sound familiar?
One of the reasons the 1999-2001 Rams were so successful on offense was that defenses had to be prepared for both the hand-off, the deep ball, and that sneaky short pass to Marshall Faulk that looked a lot like a rush.
Sam Bradford now has another tool to further confuse defenses.
3. Janoris Jenkins & Trumaine Johnson, CBs
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Great things come in pairs. That's the mantra for Rams fans when it comes to the latest dynamic duo in the defensive backfield.
The Rams invested heavily at cornerback in the offseason, giving free agent Cortland Finnegan a 5-year, $50 Million contract. Besides Finnegan and Bradley Fletcher, there is not a single CB on the Rams roster with more than one year of NFL experience.
Not many NFL offenses run just two WRs at a defense backfield, so there is an obvious need for defenders who can challenge a wideout downfield.
Jenkins is a pure cover corner in every sense of the word. He is extremely quick and very aggressive when the ball is in the air. Notwithstanding his well-documented personal issues, Jenkins is a talent worthy of respect.
That being said, it might be more exciting to watch Johnson develop. At 6'2"/205 pounds, Johnson instantly becomes the Rams biggest DB. Johnson's size and speed will be necessary when it comes to matching up with NFC West WRs in Larry Fitzgerald, Sidney Rice, Randy Moss & Michael Floyd, who are all 6'3" and taller.
The Rams may have hit the jackpot in getting these talents a round later than most scouts had them pegged.
4. Greg Zuerlein, K
It happened so quietly that you may have already forgotten that the Rams cut long-time PK Josh Brown shortly after the draft. So the position is all Zuerlein's.
Normally, you don't think of a kicker when you think of impactful NFL rookies. However, Zuerlein is not your average camp leg.
As a Division-II All-American last year, Zuerlein led the nation in field goals per game (2.3) and set a D-II record with 21 consecutive FGs (making 23 of 24 attempts).
Brown led the Rams in scoring last year, more than doubling his closest teammate, Steven Jackson. Those FGs and PATs add up quickly, and they are all Zuerlein's. I call that instant impact.
If you want to win an easy bar bet, take Zuerlein to lead the Rams in scoring next year, and drink for free on me.