Breaking Down the St. Louis Rams' Rookie Class After the Preseason
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Take a quick look at the St. Louis Rams roster. It is littered with young players, especially rookies.
The 53-man roster includes 16 rookie players, certainly making the Rams one of the youngest teams in the NFL.
Over half the roster has been turned over since the Rams last took a regular season snap. Head coach Jeff Fisher has completely changed the look of this Rams team.
How have the rookies looked so far this preseason? What kind of role should we expect these rookies to fill? What kind of impact can we project during the 2012 season?
Let's breakdown the Rams' rookie class heading into the regular season.
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As the Rams' first-round draft pick, defensive tackle Michael Brockers came in with a lot of promise.
Handed a starting role on the defensive line during the preseason, Brockers was more than holding his own against opposing offensive units.
That was, until Brockers was the victim of an unpenalized cutblock against Baltimore last week. He suffered a high ankle sprain in the game, thus putting in doubt Brockers' availability for the first month of the regular sesason.
Brockers was statistically quiet during the preseason, earning only six tackles. On the field, however, Brockers was able to get a consistent push and hold his place against the run.
Brockers' role is now up in the air. Assuming he returns after just one month away, and assuming he suffers no major setbacks, I think it's fair to project Brockers to regain his starting role by midseason.
Defensive tackles are notoriously slow starters, Ndamukong Suh notwithstanding. Brockers shouldn't be any different considering his young age and current injury.
A couple weeks ago, I graded Brockers a C for the preseason. I see no reason to change that.
Here's to Brockers' quick return to the team.
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Janoris Jenkins is your typical cover corner.
One moment, you are screaming at missed tackles turning into long gains or even scores. In the next, he takes your breath away with a last-second pass deflection or a pick-six for a touchdown.
Jenkins did a little bit of everything in the preseason, earning six tackles, forcing a fumble and taking an interception back for a touchdown.
Jenkins is the starting cornerback opposite Cortland Finnegan in the defensive backfield. Short of an injury, that shouldn't change.
In terms of impact, I would predict 60 tackles, four turnovers caused and 10 passes defended. Those would be slightly better than average numbers for a rookie corner taken in the second round of the draft over the past five years.
Jenkins can fill a role on the team that is desperately needed. The Rams need a shutdown player who can handle an opposing team's deep receiving threat and, from time to time, help give the Rams offense a short field.
Jenkins deserves as high a grade as any other Rams rookie. The missed tackles, however, should give us pause. As long as there is some feast, we should be able to handle a little bit of famine with Jenkins' style of play.
Grade him at A-minus.
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Brian Quick is the face of the Rams' youth movement. It's been so long since the Rams had a legitimate down-field receiving threat.
Since Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt aren't walking through that door at The Dome anytime soon, the Rams need Quick to become Sam Bradford's top target.
Quick had his moments this preseason, catching five balls for 68 yards, including a 39-yard reception against Dallas. Quick's size and strength give him a distinctive edge over the smaller corners he'll face.
In terms of projecting Quick's impact, it's a little difficult. He most likely will line up opposite of Danny Amendola as the team's second receiving threat. That means he should have the opportunity to put up nice numbers.
On the other hand, rookie WRs typically struggle to put up huge numbers. Over the last five years, first-year WRs taken in the second round (like Quick) average about 40 receptions and 520 yards in their rookie seasons.
I think numbers slightly higher than those are fair to expect for Quick.
Quick hasn't been getting as many reps lately with the first unit. I expect that to change come the regular season. He deserves a solid B for his preseason performance.
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I've been pretty critical of Isaiah Pead in the preseason. If there's anything that frustrates me, it's a running back who stutter-steps behind the line of scrimmage and dances his way to no gain.
Pead's lack of aggressiveness in runs showed during the preseason. He gained 108 yards on 35 rushes (3.1 average) with one touchdown. But over half of those yards Pead earned came in the last preseason game against Baltimore.
I guess that could mean Pead is finally getting it. Watching teammate Darryl Richardson hitting holes and churning out nice gains might be finally teaching Pead a lesson.
Jeff Fisher has said consistently that Pead is the backup option behind Steven Jackson. Fisher has hinted that other factors are in play when considering roles, particularly those who contribute on special teams.
Pead has shined in the return game, averaging just under 30 yards on five kickoff returns.
Pead's impact on the team is still hard to predict. How many touches can we expect? What role will he have in the passing/screen game?
Over the last five years, the average rookie backup running back gets about 90 touches and 375 yards from scrimmage. Over his coaching tenure, Fisher has given his rookie backup RBs a little more work (about 115 touches and 475 YFS).
Pead's latest performance should be encouraging for the regular season. The passiveness is very frustrating, as we should expect more from a second-round talent. I'd grade Pead at a C right now.
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As with Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson has had his fair share of feast and famine this preseason.
Johnson was strong against Kansas City, deflecting away a pass that led to an interception. He followed that up against Dallas by joining in the defense's missed tackle party at Cowboy Stadium.
Johnson earned 13 tackles during the preseason, which would put him on target for the average number of tackles a third-round rookie DB earns.
Johnson's been battling with Bradley Fletcher for the starting role in the nickel defense assignment.
For now, that's probably the most that we can expect for Johnson. With Finnegan and Jenkins manning the top two starting roles, Johnson will come in mostly on passing downs, where four or five WRs line up for the offense.
Johnson's performance in the preseason is worthy of a solid grade, but his impact for the regular season is going to be stunted by his secondary role on the team.
I'd give Johnson a solid B for the preseason, and I'm excited about the depth he will give this team's secondary throughout the season.
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Chris Givens came into Rams camp with much less fanfare than his rookie counterpart, Brian Quick. Throw in the return of Danny Amendola and the free-agent signing of former Pro Bowler Steve Smith, and Rams fans had many other WRs to look for before considering Givens.
That's our loss.
Givens was very impressive this preseason for the Rams. Givens caught four balls for 50 yards and returned four kickoffs for an average of just under 30 yards (long of 44 yards).
Givens' speed is a wonderful addition to the Rams' receiving corps. That was shown last week against Baltimore, when Givens drew a pass-interference penalty downfield against a slower defensive back.
Solid performances for a rookie fourth-rounder, especially considering the last fourth round wideout the Rams picked, Mardy Gilyard. I'd grade Givens at a C-plus.
Jeff Fisher has been slow to put Givens with the starting offense. As recently as the Dallas game, Givens' playing time was minimized to almost nothing.
The Rams' receiving corps is taking shape, with the trade of Greg Salas and Austin Pettis' two-game suspension.
Now is the time for Givens to make an impact. No one believes Givens will ride the bench all season, but he needs to take advantage of the opportunities as they arise.
Over the last five years, rookie WRs selected in the fourth round have averaged about 35 receptions and 450 yards in their first seasons.
Fisher hasn't had much luck with rookie wide receivers. Only one (Kenny Britt) had more than 23 receptions or more than 301 yards in their first seasons.
I think Givens will have his moments this year, but I'm not expecting him to push Amendola, Brandon Gibson or Quick for playing time with the starters. Special teams offers Givens his best chance to make an impact for the Rams this year.
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Rok Watkins has probably taken the biggest leap of any Rams rookie this preseason.
Watkins showed up to camp overweight and out of shape. That's no way for a rookie to make an impression on the new coach.
Since then, Watkins has worked hard, gotten into playing shape and found his way at the top of the depth chart on the offensive line.
Some of that is surely Watkins' doing, and some of that was due to the team releasing Quinn Ojinnaka, freeing up the starting spot at left guard.
Watkins' main competition for the starting LG position is now Robert Turner. That name probably shouldn't put much fear in Watkins.
For all the wasted early-round picks the Rams have made on the offensive line in recent years, it would be nice for the team to score a long-term starter late in the draft.
I expect Watkins to be the team's primary starter at left guard, if not next week in Detroit, then soon after.
I want to grade Watkins higher, but his discipline and self-control issues still give me pause. I'll give him a C now, but I am very confident that Sam Bradford's blind side is in good hands.
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I've gushed enough over the last couple months about Zuerlein that's it's even making me a little queasy.
That being said, the hype is well worth it on this kid.
Zuerlein has been the most impressive Ram this preseason. He made all of his kicks during the four games, not counting his slightly delusional 62-yard attempt last week against Baltimore.
One step at a time, Zuerlein. Don't go looking to rewrite the all-time record book just yet.
Four times in the preseason, Zuerlein booted a field goal longer than 50 yards. That is amazing for a rookie. Straight A work.
If you define impact as putting points on the board, Zuerlein will have the greatest impact on the entire Rams roster this year, not just among the rookies.
Zuerlein will lead the Rams in scoring this season, and he should do so for many more seasons down the line.
The kicking game is in good hands with The Leg. It's nice to know that the Rams will be in scoring position every time they cross the 50-yard line.
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If there was a position (other than quarterback) on the Rams roster more solidified coming into the season, it was running back.
Behind a perennial 1,000-yard rusher in Steven Jackson and a highly-touted second-round draft pick in Isaiah Pead, Darryl Richardson couldn't have expected to break too much ground in the Rams backfield.
But he did.
Richardson lined up against opposing defenses (both the 1s and 2s) and attacked them with total aggression.
In the four preseason games, Richardson gained 126 yards on 31 carries (4.1 average), including one score. He seemingly got better every game.
Richardson is giving Pead all he can handle in the battle to be Jackson's backup.
That is an important role this year, being Jackson's backup, given his age and the pounding Jackson has taken over the years (over 2,300 touches since taking over as the primary ballcarrier in 2005). Someone is going to need to spell Jackson throughout the season.
I think Richardson's presence will be the boost of motivation Pead needs. Pead should know that he must run hard while subbing for Jackson, because if he doesn't, Jeff Fisher doesn't have to worry about giving those carries to Richardson.
I'd grade Richardson this preseason with a B-plus and have no doubt that the Rams backfield is in good hands going forward.
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As I predicted last week after the Dallas game, Kellen Clemens was a "Cut Man Walking."
Davis' performance in the preseason showed Jeff Fisher and staff more than enough to give him the reins as Sam Bradford's backup.
Davis completed 22 of 34 passes (65 percent) for 220 yards during the preseason, leading the team down-field with a calm demeanor much advanced for his experience.
By Week 3 of the preseason, Davis had shown the coaching staff enough that they didn't intend to use Davis at all against Baltimore last week. It wasn't until Clemens got banged up that the team was forced to go to Davis.
As the backup quarterback, no one wants to talk about the kind of impact Davis could have on this team. Ideally, it would be nothing.
Sam Bradford's health notwithstanding, Davis' impact will be felt on the second-stringers. Hopefully, Davis leads crisper practices and drills during the week, helping to make the second and third-stringers better come game time.
I will grade Davis at a B for now and hope that this season, I only get to see him at the tail end of the team's victory blowouts.