St. Louis Rams: Predicting the Top 5 Impact Rookies for the Rams in 2012
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The St. Louis Rams' 2012 NFL draft class ultimately garnered ten players after trading the No. 2 pick and the eventual rights to quarterback Robert Griffin III to the Washington Redskins for the No. 6 and No. 39 picks (plus their first rounder in 2013 and 2014) before parlaying the aforementioned sixth pick to the Dallas Cowboys for their No. 14 and No. 45 selections.
When considering that St. Louis went 2-14 last season and needed a talent infusion, possess five players who were chosen by the first pick of round three and that their roster is currently the youngest in the league, it is even more imperative that the Rams get good production from a higher than normal number or rookies.
With that said, it is not an easy task to project the five most impactful Rams rookies for 2012 when, during this particular season, there is a good chance that more than five rookies will be called upon to make solid contributions for St. Louis.
Complicating matters further is that different people evaluate impact with different factors weighted in diverging manners.
For example, some people overemphasize statistical production and numbers. Some overlook special teams contributions. Some are inclined to show bias towards offensive players while others have a greater appreciation for defensive players, or players at specific positions.
Others overlook those whose names rarely show up in the box score, such as a left guard or a nose tackle, even though the impact there might be as vital to the team's overall success and optimal functioning as the running back who racked up 100 yards and made a Sportscenter highlight.
Considering all of that, it is no surprise that almost all of us will have a different order of players regarding their rookie impact for the Rams.
I will slot my Rams rookie impact rankings based upon a blend of likely playing time, if the player projects as a starter, impact on team success and statistical output, among other things.
There is no special formula in use here, however, and all impact projections will be based upon a combination of my own expectations about each rookie, how likely it is they receive ample playing time to allow them to make their respective marks and how strongly I feel their corresponding contributions will be.
With all that said, my impact projections are as follows.
Honorable Mention: Chris Givens, Wide Receiver
Chris Givens brings track star speed and very good route running to the St. Louis wide receiving corps. To be honest, it was very difficult for me to not place him in my top five most impactful Rams rookies.
Givens ran a 4.4 forty yard dash at the 2012 NFL Combine and enters the league as a more refined route runner than most.
He possesses the deep speed of a young Torry Holt with some similarities in regard to his route running that compares favorably to Isaac Bruce.
At roughly 6'0" and 198 pounds, he is similar in size to both of the aforementioned all-time greats.
Of course, none of Givens vast potential guarantees NFL success. However, he certainly possesses the potential to become a starting caliber receiver for the Rams, and an upper tier receiver at that.
In fact, I believe Givens has a chance to prove himself as one of the biggest steals of the entire 2012 NFL Draft.
At worst, I expect the 22-year-old Givens to backup the starting outside receivers this fall and see action in that role while likely growing to a more prominent position in successive seasons.
At best, I see Givens challenging for a starting role this season, allowing St. Louis to regularly incorporate his elite speed to keep defenses honest and safeties out of the box.
Stlouisrams.com senior writer Nick Wagoner expects Givens to be used as a deep threat right away and likes the fact that Givens has experience playing all the wide receiver positions in college, something that could be an asset for him and the St. Louis offense.
Rams general manager Les Snead, along with just about everyone else, loves Givens' speed:
"He was a fast player at the Combine. He’s a 4.3 guy on the clock but I think you better be able to figure out, like I’ve said, if he can play fast. And this guy plays very, very fast. I think that’s just going to give us a dimension. He’ll be one of our fastest receivers on our team so that’s just going to open up things for (other guys)."
Jeff Fisher, also from the above-linked Wagoner piece, sees Givens as a bona-fide big play threat:
"(He) can really, really run and make the home run play."
"Givens, first of all, is extremely fast. I think he's a guy that defenses are going to have to be extremely aware of. If they fall asleep on him for a half second at all, he's going to be by them. I think that's nice to have. Just that added speed."
After a season that saw St. Louis average a meager 12 points per contest, an explosive player with home run potential like Givens is the type of player that Rams fans should be excited to see on the roster.
For more on the rookie receiver from Wake Forest, please check this.
5. Greg Zuerlein, Kicker
The Rams selected Missouri Western State University's Greg Zuerlein in round six of this spring's draft.
Zuerlein was 24 of 25 this season, converting on a staggering 96 percent of his field goal attempts, and was an astounding nine for nine on field goals from fifty yards plus while playing for MWSU in St. Joseph, Missouri.
Although the pressure will be amped up kicking in the NFL rather than at the NCAA Division II level, moving indoors and out of the elements for over half of his games should only help the likelihood of Zuerlein retaining his rare accuracy.
Last season, former Rams kicker Josh Brown produced 81 points for at team that only generated 193 points on the year. To put it in perspective, the Rams scored 42 percent of their points via the kicking game.
Whether you love kickers, hate kickers or largely feel indifferent towards them (with the exception of when one misses a crucial kick), those statistics prove that a kicker's level of success (or lack thereof) can be critical to a team's ultimate fortunes.
With the Rams certain to focus on running the rock and playing tough defense, Zuerlein is likely to be a key in several tight games that could largely be decided by the accuracy of his potent right leg.
When the season gets underway, I expect good things from the rookie kicker.
Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com shared a terrific profile of the rookie kicker and shared this quote from Zuerein and his approach to the game:
"I think my mental approach to the kicking game (is important). A lot of kickers I’d say most kickers have the physical ability to kick 50-yard field goals because I’ve seen a lot of kickers do it. The side of the game that I feel like gives me a little bit of an extra edge that allows me to do that – because a lot of people have the leg strength – it’s just when they get back there it’s like, ‘Oh, that kind of far away.’ But it’s the mental side that gets you through that stuff."
Jeff Fisher, as also shared by Wagoner, seems to feel great about the strong-legged rookie:
"(Special teams) Coach (John) Fassel went out and did private workouts with a number of kickers and punters and he came back and literally was blown away at the leg, the distance on the kickoffs and the distance and accuracy in the field goal game. Twenty three of 24 and nine over 50 yards, two over 58 in one game – that’s extraordinary."
Hopefully, this fall, Zuerlein will continue to be extraordinary while kicking for St. Louis.
4. Michael Brockers, Defensive Tackle
Playing defensive tackle as a rookie is often a tough task. Michael Brockers will almost certainly start next to three technique defensive tackle Kendall Langford.
Some may be baffled at Brockers checking in at No. 4 on the list. After all, he was a first round selection.
However, when looking at expected statistics and the role he will likely play, No. 4 seems about right.
If he does the job within the role he will likely be assigned, his contribution will be vastly appreciated by his defensive teammates and coaches.
On the other hand, when considering his expected role as touched on below, he may not be stuffing the stat sheet, and therefore many fans and casual observers will not recognize the impact he will hopefully end up having.
Brockers, 6'6" and 322 pounds, will largely be relied upon as a run stuffer and is expected to play nose tackle while Langford attempts to get up field and make plays in the backfield.
In this role, Brockers will be working to free up Langford and others to make plays.
Brockers should take on double teams and assist in creating room and freedom more often for middle linebacker James Laurinaitis. Not surprisingly then, (as Jeff Fisher pointed out via Brockers' rookie profile from Nick Wagoner at stlouisrams.com), Laurinaitis is excited to have the massive DT on board:
"Michael, he’s a big man. At 322 pounds, he’s very explosive, he’s very instinctive. For not having played, for not being a four-year starter, he’s very, very instinctive. He can play across the face of blocks, he pushes the pocket, he can collapse, he can get on an edge, he plays with effort. I mean, what else can you say?
And there’s so much more ahead of him. He’s going to develop into a fine player. And he’s an outstanding young man, great character guy, hard worker. He’s the complete package now. He’s what you want in a defensive tackle, especially in our division with the downhill runners and things like that. One person I know that’s smiling right now is (LB) James Laurinaitis."
In addition to helping the Rams MLB, his ability to push the pocket should help Chris Long and Robert Quinn reach more quarterbacks in 2012.
Furthermore, the Rams have struggled mightily in stopping the run in recent years. Last season, the Rams finished next to last in rushing yards allowed and 27th in yards given up per rush, 4.8 per attempt.
If St. Louis is to improve its run defense, the interior defensive line must step up. Specifically, the trio of Brockers, Langford and Trevor Laws must consistently plug holes and make plays when teams attempt to establish a power running game against the Rams.
3. Isaiah Pead, Running Back
For the first time in Steven Jackson's illustrious eight year career, the three time Pro Bowl back will have a legitimate backup playing behind him.
For now, Pead will serve as a compliment to Jackson. In the future, however, the Rams see Pead as a future feature back. Even as a backup, Pead figures to get a good number of carries in helping to compliment the power running of Jackson.
The Rams, undoubtedly, will run the ball frequently and consistently with Jeff Fisher at the helm. When Jackson exits the field, Pead will be fed the football and the Rams will continue to run and continue to implement what they hope will be a strong running game, one that should effectively set up the play action pass.
Pead, however, is a versatile back and is more than capable of taking over on third down and making a key first down catch out of the backfield.
Pead will not only serve as a strong backup for Jackson but will also provide exceptional injury insurance in the case that SJ39 sustains an injury during the season (as he did during the home opener against the Philadelphia Eagles last season.)
Pead is very impressive on film, showing terrific burst, an ability to change directions on a dime without losing speed, good patience behind blockers, the ability to set up blockers, tackle breaking ability, terrific quickness, nice poise and the jets to take the ball to the house.
Stlouisrams.com senior writer Nick Wagoner shared a great profile of Pead here and feels that the multifacted halfback will contribute some big plays this year and also believes that he may also handle return duties.
From the aforementioned Wagoner column, Pead shared the following regarding his strengths as a running back:
"My biggest strength I would probably say is my speed and vision and the type of mentality all in one. I couldn’t really choose either one but one that makes me underestimated is maybe my strength. I’m a small guy but I have good strength in me. In the weight room, I’m always one of the top guys of the program with the most weight so I’d say that’s a strength."
Jeff Fisher shared some interesting observations himself on the rookie runner from the University of Cincinnati:
"Isaiah has got great change of direction quickness, vision, a jump cut runner. He’s got acceleration; he’s got hands out of the backfield. He’s just a great change of pace runner that we need here right now for Steven. He’s a smart young man. We had him in for the 30 visit. He had no problems whatsoever grasping concepts of offense, so he’ll be able to help us."
Pead should be productive, a consistent contributor and a wonderful weapon for the St. Louis offense.
2. Brian Quick, Wide Receiver
The St. Louis Rams have been deficient at wide receiver since the departures of Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt and Kevin Curtis.
St. Louis general manager Les Snead took quick action in addressing the subpar position group, signing 2009 Pro Bowl wide receiver Steve Smith, 26, and drafting wide receivers Chris Givens in round four and Brian Quick at the top of round two in this Spring's draft.
Quick, at between 6'3'' and 6'4'' and 223 pounds, brings great size, smooth athleticism and good speed to the Rams receiving corps.
Rams general manager Les Snead, from another rookie profile from Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com, seems to love the potential he sees in Quick:
"First of all, you’ve got a big man. He’s tall, 225 pounds, long arms, can catch it. He’s got rare hand-eye coordination so he can go snatch a ball. He’ll get rebounds for us but that same big man can cut on a dime and he can get off the ball really fast. I think we worked out a lot of receivers and this guy was as good or better than all of them."
Quick has been impressive throughout the offseason and looks to have a great shot at locking up a starting position come September, especially when considering he was taken at the top of round two.
Quick will present matchup problems for smaller cornerbacks and has enough size, quickness and speed to get by most other defensive backs who might try to play him more physically off the line.
When paired with 6'5'' Danario Alexander (who I do expect to make the team), Quick and DX will present great size and good speed as a talented and very imposing outside duo.
Sam Bradford has been impressed with how well Quick and his big body gets in and out of breaks:
"I was working with him a little bit after practice today and it's just extremely impressive watching him move. As big as he is, as tall as he is, he gets in and out of breaks really well. He's fast, as well. It's exciting to have those two guys here. We've just got to keep pushing them, try to get them ready to go."
St. Louis Rams wide receiver coach Ray Sherman is one of many who have likened Quick to prospective future Hall of Fame wideout Terrell Owens:
"I see a lot of similarities to Terrell Owens. The way the kid goes and gets the ball, the physicality, the desire … he has a chance to be special, no doubt."
As a likely starter, Quick should have ample opportunities to make a solid if not significant contribution in 2012. Considering the Rams should run and run well, the play action game and threat of the run should help Quick attain some help in getting open more often.
If he can avoid the freshman jitters and catch the ball consistently, Quick should be quick put up some nice numbers this fall. If he can look like a young Terrell Owens this season, Rams fans and the Bradford led offense will be in for a treat.
1. Janoris Jenkins, Cornerback
There are very few cornerbacks who possess the potential to be true shutdown corners. The likes of a Deion Sanders or a Rod Woodson do not come down the trail very often.
However, Janoris Jenkins is the rare player who appears to possess that type of potential. Due to off field concerns, the Rams were able to get the top ten talent in the second round.
A recent report suggests that Jenkins is unhappy about a supposed pre-draft agreement with the Rams regarding his future financial management.
Jenkins and his camp have since denied, however, that a pre-draft agreement ever existed and also suggest that the rookie defensive back is anxious to play for Jeff Fisher:
"I'm excited about playing for Jeff Fisher. I have a lot of respect for him and he's a great guy. He's a highly respected coach in this league."
Notwithstanding the aforementioned report of friction between Jenkins and the Rams, he figures to be signed and sealed no later than the end of the month and in Earth City ready for training camp.
Jenkins has been very impressive on the practice field to the point that Fisher expects the rookie to earn a starting role:
"So you figure (Jenkins) on one side and Cortland (Finnegan) on the other. And we’re going to bring Trumaine Johnson along. We’re excited."
If the projection by Fisher holds true, Jenkins will have an opportunity to make many big plays in an aggressive scheme.
When Fisher was head coach for the Tennessee Titans and the St. Louis secondary coach, Chuck Cecil, was in the same role for the Titans, the defensive backfield had big years.
From my piece following the hiring of Cecil, the potential of what Jenkins could do hear could make one salivate:
"In 2007, the Tennessee secondary produced 14 interceptions and the defense as a whole picked off 22 passes, ranking second in the NFL. Rookie safety Michael Griffin and second-year cornerback Cortland Finnegan progressed nicely that year (under Cecil.)
In 2008, Cecil oversaw one of the best, if not the best, secondaries in the NFL, as three of four starters (Cortand Finnegan, Chris Hope, Michael Griffin) earned their first Pro Bowl berths. It was the first time in franchise history that three players from the secondary represented the team in the Pro Bowl. The defensive backfield gathered 19 interceptions, which ranked second in the NFL by a secondary."
St. Louis figures to have an aggressive, attacking defense. With pass rushers bearing down on antsy quarterbacks, Rams corners like Jenkins should have copious opportunities to make big plays.
I expect Jenkins to make many major plays in St. Louis during the coming campaign and make the biggest impact of any of the Rams rookies this Fall.