Jeff Fisher has some tough decisions to make.
The St. Louis Rams are starting to look like a quality football team. I've been beating the drum since the NFL Draft back in April, saying I really think the Rams have a chance to be a quality team in 2012.
Now the question is: Which players will make up the final 53-man roster?
Unlike years past, the Rams aren't going to be scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to filling out the roster. I think we're going to cut a player or two that ends up playing somewhere else in the NFL this year, and by that same token, I think the Rams are keeping a close eye on the waiver wire for a safety or a linebacker to fall their way.
So read along as I take you through my "Preseason Halfway Point Prediction for the Final 53-Man Roster."
As always, thanks for your comments. I really enjoy the ideas that you Rams fans bring to the table.
This is going to be a full service prediction on the 53-man roster. I'm going to break it down for you in every way imaginable. I'll give you the starters on offense and defense, the backups, and I'll also break down how many players the Rams will keep at every position.
Beside every player's name there is a number in parentheses. Keep in mind, that number isn't his place on the depth chart. It's just a way for you to follow along as I count from No. 1 to No. 53.
Here we go...
These players make up the starting offense. I have 13 players listed instead of 11 because I'm accounting for the different packages the Rams use.
The Rams could lineup in the I-Formation where they'd need a fullback.
They could also lineup with two tight ends, or three wide receivers, etc.
At any point in the game, 11 of these 13 players will probably make up the starting offense:
QB - Sam Bradford (1)
RB - Steven Jackson (2)
FB - Brit Miller (3)
TE1 - Lance Kendricks (4)
TE2 - Matthew Mulligan (5)
WR1 - Steve Smith (6)
WR2 - Austin Pettis (7)
Slot WR - Danny Amendola (8)
LT - Rodger Saffold (9)
LG - Quinn Ojinnaka (10)
C - Scott Wells (11)
RG - Harvey Dahl (12)
RT - Barry Richardson (13)
I'm going to list 12 starters on defense, because about 40 percent (or more) of the time the Rams are going to be in the nickel package, meaning a corner will replace a linebacker.
At any point in the game, 11 of these 12 players will probably make up the starting defense:
LDE - Chris Long (14)
LDT - Kendall Langford (15)
RDT - Michael Brockers (16)
RDE - Robert Quinn (17)
WOLB - Jo-Lonn Dunbar (18)
MLB - James Laurinaitis (19)
SOLB - Mario Haggan (20)
LCB - Cortland Finnegan (21)
SS - Craig Dahl (22)
FS - Quintin Mickell (23)
RCB - Janoris Jenkins (24)
Nickel CB - Trumaine Johnson (25)
Obviously we have to keep a kicker and a punter, but let's not forget, we also have to carry a long snapper. So add these three players to the roster:
Kicker - Greg "The Leg" Zuerlein (26)
Punter/Holder - Johnny Hekker (27)
Long Snapper - Jake McQuaide (28)
So we have 28 spots locked up, and only 25 spots available. Here is how I see the Rams filling out the rest of the depth chart on offense, with an asterisk beside the players who also provide value on special teams.
QB2- Kellen Clemens (29)
QB3- Austin Davis (30)
RB2 - Isaiah Pead (31) *special teams
RB3 - Darrel Richardson (32) *special teams
WR4 - Chris Givens (33) *special teams
WR5 - Brian Quick (34)
WR6 - Greg Salas (35) *special teams
TE3 - Mike McNeil (36)
TE4 - Mike Hoomanawanui (37)
OL - Robert Turner (38, can play center or either guard spot)
OL - Rokevius Watkins (39, can play either guard spot)
OL - Joe Long (40, can play either tackle spot)
OL - T-Bob Hebert (41, can play center or either guard spot)
Here are the players that will make the team as defensive backups and special teams players.
DE3 - Eugene Sims (42)
DE4 - William Hayes (43)
DT3 - Jermell Cudjo (44)
DT4 - Matt Contrath (45)
OLB3 - Rocky McIntosh *special teams (46)
OLB4 - Aaron Brown *special teams (47)
MLB2 - Josh Hull *special teams (48)
CB4 - Jerome Murphy (49)
CB5 - Josh Gordy *special teams (50)
CB6 - Bradley Fletcher *special teams (51)
FS2 - Rodney McLeod *special teams (52)
SS2 - Darian Stewart *special teams (53)
Here is how many players the Rams will carry at each position:
QB (3) - Bradford, Clemens, Davis
RB/FB (4) - Jackson, Pead, Richardson, Miller
WR (6) - Smith, Pettis, Amendola, Givens, Quick, Salas
TE (4) - Kendricks, Mulligan, McNeil, Hoowanamanui
OL (9) - Saffold, Ojinnaka, Wells, Dahl, Richardson, Turner, Watkins, Long, Hebert
DE (4) - Long, Quinn, Simms, Hayes
DT (4) - Langford, Brockers, Cudjo, Conrath
LB (6) - Laurinaitis, Haggan, Dunbar, McIntosh, Brown, Hull
CB (6) - Finnegan, Jenkins, Johnson, Murphy, Fletcher, Gordy
S (4) - Mickell, Dahl, Stewart, McLeod
Specialists (3) - Zuerlein, Hekker, McQuaide
Some notable players that I think will be cut include:
Jason Smith - The former No. 2 overall pick back in 2009 has been a massive disappointment at right tackle. Simply put, if Smith can't beat out Richardson, a journeyman at this point in his career, I think it will just be easier for the Rams to cut Smith loose and go with Joe Long, a younger player that can fill in at both tackle spots should Saffold or Richardson get injured.
And I know what some of you are thinking, "T-Bob over Jason Smith? Really?"
Just hear me out on this. Scott Wells hasn't played a down of football yet so it might make sense for the Rams to carry an extra center this season. Robert Turner and Hebert can both play center or either guard spot. So it makes sense to keep Hebert around if Smith doesn't show major improvement during the next two weeks.
Smith is still young enough that somebody will take a chance on him. He might flourish somewhere else without the weight of expectations brought on by his draft status.
Trevor Laws - I was excited when the Rams signed Laws because he provided a quality backup at defensive tackle. Laws has been injured, and in his absence, Cudjo and Conrath have really stepped up.
I think Laws could still take a roster spot away from Conrath, but the Rams coaching staff is high on Conrath. I think right now Conrath, an undrafted rookie, would get the nod over Laws, an aging veteran who battling injuries.
If he can get healthy, Laws should find a job as a backup DT with another team.
Brandon Gibson - The final spot for a wide receiver is going to come down to Gibson and Salas. It is important to remember that Austin Pettis will not play in the first two regular season games while he serves a suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
During that time, the Rams don't have to count Pettis against the roster, so Gibson and Salas should both make it on the 53-man roster through Week 2. It is possible that Gibson could win the final spot from Salas, but when Pettis returns, my money is on Salas, a younger player that provides value on special teams.
Expect Gibson to land on another team looking for a fifth or sixth receiver to fill out the depth chart.
Danario Alexander - We were all rooting for DX to make it because he showed so much heart battling back from various knee injuries, but with so many receivers ahead of him, this looks like the end of the road for the former Mizzou Tiger.
Don't worry though. With his big play ability, he will get picked up by another team that is thin at receiver, even if he has to play on the practice squad this year.
Of course, there is still some wiggle room with two preseason games to play, and injures could always creep up to change the way this final roster looks.
Here are a few players I still think are on the bubble:
Austin Davis vs. the 54th man - Sam Bradford is the starting QB for the foreseeable future in St. Louis. Kellen Clemens is a very capable backup, and he has experience in offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's system. So the Rams don't have to carry three QB's, but Davis has played very well thus far in the preseason.
With Davis' potential—and Bradford's ankle—it would be a smart move to keep him on the roster. Having said that, if the Rams have a really tough choice at another position (for example, cornerback), the easiest thing to do would be to cut Davis and keep one more player at that position.
Michael Hoomanawanui vs. the legion of young tight ends in camp - We all know that the third year tight end is talented, but Hoomanawanui has never been able to stay healthy.
I have him listed as the fourth on my depth chart, and I think it's a legitimate question to ask if he's worth keeping on the roster as a fourth tight end. Maybe the Rams would be better off keeping one of the young tight ends they have in camp (Deangelo Peterson, Cory Harkey) instead of watching a rerun of Illinois Mike spending most of the season on crutches.
Conrath vs. Laws vs. Cudjo - Right now Jermelle Cudjo is ahead of the pack here by a mile. As I already discussed, this could go either way between Conrath and Laws. Conrath does not have the ideal height and weight to be a quality defensive end in the NFL. He is listed at 6'7", 290 pounds, and at times he has a hard time getting leverage.
If Laws can get healthy, I still think he is the better player right now. This will be one of the more interesting position battles to watch over the next couple of weeks.
Trumaine Johnson vs. Fletcher vs. Murphy - The battle for the nickle spot on defense is going to be the most intense in camp. All three of these players are big, physical, and talented. This one is too close to call, but I think all three players could have an impact for the Rams this season.
Darian Stewart vs. Craig Dahl - Are you like I am? Are you wondering what the heck happened to Darian Stewart? I had this guy pegged as not only a starter, but as a young building block on defense. He was one of the few bright spots on the defense a year ago, and now, he can't beat out Craig Dahl?
If Stewart can get fully healthy, I just have to believe he is going to eventually regain his 2011 form and win the starting job. If he can't do that, expect the Rams to draft a safety somewhere in the first three rounds of next year's draft.
Jason Smith vs. Barry Richardson - I've got Smith on the cut list right now. Bottom line, Jason Smith was the No. 2 pick back when guys drafted that high made a ton of money. So if he was smart with that money, he is set for life. He might not need this starting job as badly as the Rams need him to finally play like a dominant offensive tackle.
On the other hand, this is a player that was obviously talented to be drafted that high. If Smith gets motivated and gets nasty, he could still win a starting spot. He is the only player on this team that could make that jump from "cut" to "starter." Make no mistake about it; if Jason Smith doesn't get it in gear, he has two weeks left playing football for the St. Louis Rams.
I still think the Rams are going to be watching the waiver wire very closely. If a talented safety, linebacker, or offensive lineman gets cut sometime during the next two weeks, you can take it to the bank that the Rams will snatch him up.
This roster isn't perfect, but Jeff Fisher and company are doing a good job assembling a talented young nucleus in St. Louis.
I'd love to hear your thoughts. What do you think of my 53-man roster? What would you change? How do you think the season is going to play out with this group?
My opinion? Worst case scenario, the Rams end up 5-11. Best case scenario, they finish 9-7 and steal a wild card playoff spot.
As always, thanks for reading.