You just gotta love the preseason. Hope springs eternal. Everybody is a contender. Every draft pick might end up being a starter, and that new head coach, well, of course he's going to turn things around.
Fans get amped up for the start of a season. Heck, that's what we're supposed to do.
I generally try to write about things looking at the bright side. My cup is almost always half full. Of course, these Rams have made it hard over the last five years. Still, I truly believe the St. Louis Rams are headed in the right direction.
This is a very young football team. There are talented players up and down this roster, and for the first time in years, you can count the holes on this team on one hand. The Rams, by virtue of the RG3 trade with Washington, are also armed with a boat load of draft picks.
So today, I'm going to break it down for you and explain my three-year plan. I believe if things go right, the Rams could be competing for a spot in the Super Bowl in 2015.
The "Greatest Show on Turf" in 1999 won the Super Bowl with a team in their prime.
On offense, the oldest starters were the two starting guards, Adam Timmerman and Tom Nutten, both only 28 years old. Of the skill position players, Warner was the oldest player at 28, but Warner was a rookie. Issac Bruce, with six years playing experience, had more NFL time than any of the starting backs or receivers.
On defense, the Rams were a little bit older. Ray Agnew was 32 years old, while Mike Jones and Todd Lyght were both 30. Kevin Carter (26), London Fletcher (24) and Grant Wistrom (23) were all young pups.
There are three points to be made about the age of these "Greatest Show" Rams:
1) It is very possible for a team built around players who are 24-29 years old to win a Super Bowl, even if they haven't spent a great deal of time together. This Rams' offense had Warner (rookie), Marshall Faulk (first year with the Rams) and Torry Holt (rookie) all playing major roles on the team.
2) Looking at this team, and Super Bowl winners in general, it's not reasonable to expect players to keep playing good football past the age of 32 or 33 years. Surely those players could still be of value, but just being realistic, once they hit that age they start to get replaced.
3) Remember, this team had a three-year window where they were really good. Once these 27-28 year old guys started turning 30-31 years old, their play declined. So looking at this current Rams team, keep the age of the current starters in mind.
The 2012 Rams are going to be a young football team, but the most exciting thing about this team is imagining these players lining up with the army of draft picks the Rams hold over the next three seasons.
By 2015, the Rams will add five more first-rounders, three more second-rounders, and three more third-rounders.
That is 11 "premium draft picks" that the Rams hold over the next three seasons, 11 opportunities to add a starter to this football team. Throw in the 12 picks the Rams will make in Rounds 4 through 7, and if they just hit on a couple of those late rounders, this is going to be a fantastic football team.
So as I put together this depth chart, I'm going to plug the Rams who I think might still be here along with our draft picks and free agents. Of course the Rams are going to nail all 11 of those "premium picks," but since this is a "glass half full" article, I'm plugging them in there for now.
A guy can dream, right?
The Rams defense is in really good shape going forward. I'm 99.9 percent sure that Quintin Mikell and Jo-Lonn Dunbar will be long gone by 2014. Mikell will be 34 years old, and Dunbar will surely be replaced by a younger, more talented player.
The Rams have some young backups now that might find a starting role on the team, but with so many draft picks coming, you know some of those will be spent on the defensive side of the ball.
Here is my guess at the Rams' depth chart on defense in 2015:
|2015 First-Round Draft Pick||OLB||23|
|2013 First-Round Pick||OLB||24|
|2014 First-Round Pick||SS||24|
|2015 Second-Round Draft Pick||DE||25|
|Cheap Free Agent||DE||26|
|2015 Fourth-Round Draft Pick||DE||23|
|2013 Fourth-Round Draft Pick||DT||25|
|2014 Fifth-Round Draft Pick||MLB||25|
|Cheap Free Agent||CB||23|
|Cheap Free Agent||FS||26|
The offense has several question marks, with so many of the players being young and unproven.
The Rams' offensive line has been terrible, but both starting tackles are young and talented. The receivers consist of several rookies and second-year players that have a lot of talent, but if they don't produce, they will be replaced over the next couple of seasons.
Even quarterback Sam Bradford, entering his third year, has questions surrounding his game. Bradford is an elite talent, but he has to take his game to the next level. Steven Jackson, the lone bright spot for this offense a year ago, will be 32 years old in 2012, and if he hasn't retired yet, he will be strictly a complimentary player by that point in his career.
Harvey Dahl and Scott Wells will both be in their mid 30s by 2015, so expect both of them to be out of the picture. Here is my best guess at the Rams' starting offense in 2015:
|2014 First-Round Draft Pick||WR||24|
|2013 First-Round Draft Pick||LT||25|
|2013 Second-Round Draft Pick||LG||25|
|2014 Third-Round Draft Pick||RG||24|
|2014 Second-Round Draft Pick||C||24|
|2015 Fifth-Round Draft Pick||RB||23|
|2013 Sixth-Round Draft Pick||WR||25|
|2015 Third-Round Draft Pick||TE||23|
|2014 Fourth-Round Draft Pick||T||25|
|Cheap Free Agent||C||27|
|Cheap Free Agent||OL||26|
The New England Patriots built a dynasty through the draft. They routinely hoard draft picks, allowing them to provide depth throughout their roster. Of course, they got lucky when they found a Hall of Fame QB in the sixth round.
A little luck never helps.
The Patriots have made it to five Super Bowls, winning it three times. I'm not saying the Rams can duplicate that run of success, but with all these extra draft picks, the Rams have a chance to absolutely stock their roster. In three years, they have a chance to put together the kind of team that has a three-year, maybe five-year, window to win the Super Bowl.
Of course, all of this comes down to three simple truths...
In order for the Rams to make the leap from bad to good to great, three things have to happen:
1) Sam Bradford has to become an elite QB. It doesn't matter how many good draft picks the Rams make if Bradford never becomes that guy. I believe Bradford just needs more talent around him. As the Rams fill in the holes, if Bradford can take his game to a whole new level, the Rams have a chance to be special.
2) The Rams have to nail these draft picks. The Rams held the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. They turned that one pick into three first-rounders and two second-rounders. This move allowed the Rams to hold an incredible 16 picks in Rounds 1-3. Of course, some of these picks have already been made (Michael Brockers, Brian Quick, Janoris Jenkins, Isaiah Pead and Trumaine Johnson). If the Rams can add quality starters with these picks, they will put themselves among the NFL elite.
3) The Rams have to stay healthy. If 2011 taught us anything, Rams fans, it taught us that when something looks good on paper, it doesn't mean a thing. Injuries are going to happen. If major injuries happen to key players, it could throw the entire plan out of whack.
Bottom line, the Rams have the ammo to build a good roster. If they make the right picks and Bradford develops, they are going to be one of the best teams in the NFL. The scary part is, the Packers and Niners are both also young football teams.
Can the Rams close the gap?
Only time will tell.
I know this much, being a GM is hard. This took me a while to write, and I'm sure somebody will point out something stupid I did in the comment section. Having said that, I might not go as hard on GM Les Snead having spent a day walking in his shoes. I might even send good ol' Billy Devaney an apology for being so hard on him.
Well, I did spend four of my "premium draft picks" on offensive Lineman...
So never mind on that apology to Devaney. As always, thanks for reading.