In this, the first of a two-part individual player "stock" report for the St. Louis Rams, I will analyze one vital player from each of five offensive position groups. In part two, I will do the same with one key player from each of three defensive position groups.
Quite simply, I will offer predictions for each player based on where I see his individual stock or value setting at the conclusion of the coming campaign in relation to where it stood at the end of last season.
For each of the five players assessed, I offer reasoning for the conclusions I draw, right or wrong, in relation to why I feel each individual will see his stock moving upward, falling off or holding steady.
With that established, let us jump into the stock projections of five Rams who figure prominently into the upcoming season.
After winning the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award in 2010 Sam Bradford suffered from the prototypical sophomore slump in 2011.
Bradford's stock had never been lower than it was at the end of 2011 and the Rams 2-14 season.
The former Heisman trophy winner from the University of Oklahoma limped into the offseason with a bad ankle and, for maybe the first time in his life, doubts surrounding his abilities to succeed at quarterback.
However, those doubts were not from new head coach Jeff Fisher who was said to be drawn to this job, in large part, because of the presence of the former No. 1 pick.
The doubts were not coming from new general manager Les Snead, either. Nor were they reverberating from within the walls of Rams Park and the office of Chief Operating Officer and Vice President of Football Operations Kevin Demoff.
When another Heisman winner became available, Robert Griffin III, the Rams' actions proved what all their swelling words expressed: Bradford is the guy they believe in and are prepared to ride or die with the young gunslinger from Oklahoma City.
After a dismal second season there is nowhere for Bradford to go but up. His bum ankle is nearly 100 percent and the offensive line, under the guidance of Paul Boudreau and with the addition of Pro Bowl center Scott Wells, should be better.
In addition, the Rams have upgraded the arsenal at wide receiver via the draft (Brian Quick and Chris Givens) and through free agency (via 26 year old Steve Smith, a former Pro Bowl honoree).
St. Louis figures to establish the run this season. That is just something that Jeff Fisher-led teams do. If that indeed comes to fruition, the play action game should be enhanced and that should give Bradford more time and his offensive lineman more subsequent help.
For Bradford to really ascend, however, he must display better pocket awareness and more efficiency in progressing through his reads (rather than staring down receivers.)
There are a plethora of reasons why I envision a better Bradford in 2012, as I detailed here. With the bar set so low after last season, the stock projection that follows was an easy call.
Sam Bradford's Season Ending Stock Projection:
Stock expected to soar significantly but not to the level of the game's elite quarterbacks just yet. That will take another season and some more seasoning from the young stable of wide receivers and tight ends (if not additional talent upgrades.)
Steven Jackson will be 29 before the season kicks off but Jeff Fisher does not seem overly concerned with that fact.
Jackson takes tremendous care of his body and looks to have some gas left in the tank.
As most know, if Fisher's teams find a way to do one thing well on offense, if nothing else, they will run the ball and run it effectively.
Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has produced some good ground games as well, so things seem set up nicely for a productive rushing offense in 2012.
For the first time in his career, Jackson has what looks to be a bona fide backup/change of pace running back in second round selection Isaiah Pead.
Pead has terrific all-around running skills, can catch the ball out of the backfield and can play all three downs. Not only should he be able to keep the Rams running game from dropping off when Jackson exits for a breather (something that was usually a problem in previous seasons), he will provide great injury insurance, too.
As for Jackson, I expect him to have a big year on a better team, something that should keep the fire burning even brighter this year. He has played like a warrior on bad teams season after season, so playing on a team that looks to be much improved should be incredibly stimulating and refreshing.
All that said, 29-year-old running backs rarely, if ever, see their stock soar. On the other hand, Jackson seems to have retained his skill set sufficiently to see his stock hold steady for at least another season.
The presence of Pead, a blessing for both St. Louis and Jackson, should aid Jackson in staying fresh and prolonging his career.
Steven Jackson's Season Ending Stock Projection:
All things being considered, Jackson's stock should hold steady between now and the conclusion of the 2012 campaign.
Although he will be a little older, the passing game and offensive line should be better and the presence of Pead should be beneficial to Jackson. All those positives should help enable him to at least continue playing at the level he did one year ago.
Danny Amendola reeled in an impressive 85 catches in 2010, a shocking number for a guy who had previously been viewed by most as a marginal NFL talent.
To put that year in perspective, only eight other players in the league caught more passes that season and three of those (Andre Johnson, Wes Welker and Brandon Marshall) caught just one more ball than the diminutive Rams wideout.
In fact, only two players in the NFL caught more than nine extra passes than Amendola did two years ago: Roddy White and Reggie Wayne.
Amendola was eventually signed by St. Louis from the Eagles practice squad before catching 43 balls as a rookie in 2009.
After losing virtually all of 2011 to injury, Amendola is eager to bounce back.
When looking at the St. Louis receiving corps, he truly is the only sure thing.
Danario Alexander has, to this point, been a consistent injury concern. When considering the state of his knees, that is very likely to be a repetitive theme, unfortunately.
Although DX has the troubling knee issues, he nonetheless has some positives that will aid his chances in earning a roster spot.
Among those, Alexander has a minimum level salary, has finally had a full offseason to build up the legs around his knee due to being surgery-free and possesses a terrific combination of size, speed and playmaking ability. As Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com put it, he brings a dimension to the team that nobody else does.
Fourth round rookie Greg Salas looked good last season, especially in the last few games he played before heading to the injured reserve with a broken leg. He figures to be back and in the rotation. He led the Rams in yards after catch and showed some nice elusiveness. All that said, he is far from being proven.
Austin Pettis was, for the most part, a major disappointment. He came on a bit of late before landing a four game drug suspension. Two of those games are still to be served in 2012. In my estimation, he is far from a lock to land a roster spot.
Brandon Gibson had a typical Gibson season. He made a few plays but looks to be a rotation receiver, at best, if placed on a team with a good group of wideouts. Considering this is the last year of his deal and a cut would do no harm to the cap and assist in creating space, he too looks to be on the bubble.
Free agent acquisition Steve Smith, a 2009 Pro Bowl player for the New York Giants, looks to contribute after enduring microfracture surgery in 2010 and a not-quite-healthy 2011 with the Eagles.
If he can get back to 100 percent, the 26 year old could make a bigger impact than most expect. However, considering the severity of microfracture surgery, he is also far from a sure thing.
Obviously, rookie wide receivers Brian Quick (round two) and Chris Givens (round four) are essentially locks to land on the roster.
But, alas, they are rookies and rookie years are always unpredictable. Both have the talent to eventually become terrific wide receivers in this league. However, there is no guarantee that will happen, particularly in year one.
That brings us back to Amendola.
Amendola, according to the aforementioned Wagoner, has been the Rams best receiver during the offseason.
In my estimation, he will be a major key as a security blanket for Sam Bradford and in moving the chains on third down.
With the likes of speedster Chris Givens running routes on the outside, Amendola should have more room to work underneath.
It is amazing, considering how defenses smothered the box and line of scrimmage in 2010, that he was able to be so productive.
The receiving corps and situation at tight end, although still uncertain, figures to at least be upgraded from that season.
With more speed and ability outside, it should open things up a little underneath for Amendola. That should equate to another big year for Amendola and an increase in his rather low yard per catch average of 8.1.
In evaluating his stock, we must compare it to 2010, his last full season.
Danny Amendola's Season Ending Stock Projection:
Amendola's stock should hold steady, as he projects to have a big year, but not one that will top the 85 catch total he posted two years ago.
Overall, second round rookie Lance Kendricks was disappointing last season.
He came out strong initially with an impressive preseason. As we all know, unfortunately, preseason production can be fool's gold.
Kendricks ended the season with 28 catches in 15 games, less than two per contest.
Kendricks seems to be optimistic about having a strong sophomore season and St. Louis offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has shared his affection for the former Wisconsin Badger, a fondness that he has possessed for some time.
In four seasons with the Jets, tight end Dustin Keller, a player of similar size and skills, never caught fewer than 45 catches in a season.
Even at a low-end total of 45 receptions, that would nearly double Kendricks' production totals from a season ago. In 2011, Keller racked up 65 catches at 12.1 yards a piece and five touchdowns.
Jeff Fisher has always featured tight ends, too. Frank Wycheck, another tight end (like Keller) who is almost exactly the same size as Kendricks, averaged over 64 catches per year from 1996-2001. Keep in mind, tight ends today are typically utilized more in the passing game than they were then.
The point, however, is simple: every indication would point to Lance Kendricks being afforded the opportunity to significantly upgrade his pass catching production in 2012.
If he can avoid a slow start and those rookie jitters that seemed to beset him a year ago, he should have no trouble compiling at least 45 to 50 catches this year.
The Rams will utilize the versatile and athletic Kendricks in a plethora of ways, including off the line of scrimmage, something that should suit him well and give him a multitude of opportunities to make his mark and contribute significantly to the offense this Fall.
Kendricks graded out as a good run blocker last year, so, when considering all of the above and the fact that he is the most talented tight end currently residing in St. Louis, he should have no problem staying on the field.
Lance Kendricks' Season Ending Stock Projection:
Kendricks stock should be significantly upgraded as this offense promises to utilize the tight end via the air game. Kendricks' hands should cooperate more frequently this year and enable him to have a much better sophomore season.
Jason Smith has reportedly gotten off to a good start during the offseason under the steadying hand of new offensive line coach Paul Boudreau and is responding well to his coaching.
Smith, the No. 2 pick of the 2009 NFL Draft, is close to being labeled a bust after three mediocre seasons, two of which have ended on the shelf following severe head injuries.
Smith, however, seems determined to play to his potential and become a great tackle in this league.
Smith, now 26, is 6'5" and 308 pounds. Very strong, he has been a good run blocker to this point. However, his pass protection has been inconsistent and, at times, deficient.
If Smith can both stay healthy and effectively incorporate the techniques and teachings that Boudreau is attempting to instill, he could and should be better this Fall.
The Rams are banking on just that. After restructuring his deal, Smith is essentially playing for a new contract either in St. Louis or elsewhere.
This is a make or break year for Smith in regard to his future in the Gateway City and in reference to any possibility of being considered a true starting caliber NFL offensive lineman beyond this season.
Call me crazy, but I expect to see a much improved Smith during the coming campaign with Boudreau leading the offensive line and a more mature Smith fighting for a good contract heading into next year.
Smith will certainly be an asset next to right guard Harvey Dahl in the running game. The Rams should be very strong running the ball to the right side.
What will play a key role in determining the fate of the Rams overall offensive line success will be the level of success (or lack thereof) that Smith has in regard to pass protection.
With a bit better technique and some improved health and focus, Smith should prove to be an asset in both running and passing situations this season.
Jason Smith's Season Ending Stock Projection:
Smith's stock, about as low as imaginable for a former No. 2 pick, has much more room to go up than it does down. Considering his career to date and what took place last year, it will not take a Pro Bowl year to see his stock increase. With a healthy season alone, his stock will move upward.