Who Wears the Crown: Identifying the Rams' Best Player at the Midseason Mark
For the better part of the last decade, there has been no trouble identifying the best player on the St. Louis Rams.
Steven Jackson has led the Rams in rushing each of the last seven seasons, and under one quantitative method of analysis, Jackson has been the most valuable member of the Rams four times in the last six years.
Things, as they always do in today's NFL, have changed for the Rams.
There is a new head coach and general manager. Along with that has brought many new faces on offense, defense and special teams.
This is a good thing.
Over the last couple years, the Rams have completely overhauled their roster. Only six players on the current Rams roster remain from its 2009 version.
This season, under Jeff Fisher's leadership, we have seen a culture change and a new sense of hope around Rams Park.
Winning is expected. And the players are living up to that expectation.
That means the competition for the crown is getting a little heated.
Spoiler Alert: You aren't going to see the "big names" on this list. No Bradford. And no Jackson either.
Here are the top five contenders for the Rams' best player at midseason.
5. Danny Amendola
If not for Amendola's injury, he would be much higher on this list, if not at the top.
How else to describe someone as impressive as Amendola? He is Sam Bradford's everything.
He is Bradford's safety net. He is Bradford's main target, on every down, from first to third.
If Bradford needed to complete a pass, it was a safe bet that he'd throw it to Amendola, as Bradford was completing 80 percent of passes thrown Amendola's direction.
When Amendola was healthy this year, he was leading the NFL in receptions, third in receiving yards and second in both targets and first downs.
Amendola does a little bit of everything for the Rams, including returning kickoffs and punts. As recently as 2010 he led the NFL in all purpose yards.
Amendola is a grinder in the truest sense of the word. He put the Rams offense in motion and keeps it moving forward. His loss was as big as any this team could have faced.
4. Daryl Richardson
You would have been hard pressed to find anyone who could have predicted Daryl Richardson to be one of the Rams' best players at this point in the season.
The 252nd pick in this year's draft, what one might call Mr. Slightly Less Irrelevant, Richardson has taken this Rams team by storm.
He is arguably the team's most electric and explosive player.
The game simply moves at a quicker pace when Richardson has the ball.
Richardson doesn’t make negative plays, he doesn’t stutter step at the line and he has a nose for the first-down line.
I first became enamored with Richardson during the preseason game at Dallas.
Against the Cowboys, Richardson took a pass five yards behind the line of scrimmage, faced down three defenders, found a seam and turned the play into a positive gain for a first down.
Richardson hasn't slowed down since.
After seven weeks of play, Richardson is tied for fourth overall among running backs in average yards per rush (5.1). That's better than other superstar backs named Rice, Peterson and Jones-Drew.
Richardson is one of the main reasons why the Rams are allowing Steven Jackson the chance to test the free agent market this offseason, if not trade him by this coming week's deadline.
When you have the talents to unseat a perennial 1,000-yard rusher, who is still in his prime, you are, by definition, one of the greats.
3. Chris Long
The Rams named Chris Long one of their franchise cornerstones this past offseason, when they signed Long to a four-year contract extension, worth over $48 million.
The Rams double-downed on Long at the first opportunity. He is showing them that their gamble was well-played.
Long gets paid to tackle the quarterback, preferably when the quarterback still has the ball in his hands.
Long does his job very well.
Since coming into the league as the second overall draft pick in 2008, Long's sack numbers have increased each season (4, 5, 8.5 and 13).
This year, Long is still a sack machine, grabbing four through the first seven weeks of the season. That puts him on pace to near his baker's dozen mark from 2011.
Long has played every game for the last two seasons, including all seven this year.
Long is the heart and soul of the Rams defensive line. He has made what was once a revolving door of front-office mistakes into a fabulous strength of the team (more on that later).
2. Greg Zuerlein
Memo to the NFL: The secret is out.
Greg Zuerlein is really good.
In fact, less than two months into his professional career, Zuerlein might just be the NFL's best placekicker.
Zuerlein is second in the NFL in field goals made (17). He leads the NFL in field goals made from 50-plus yards (five) and is a perfect seven-for-seven from 40-49 yards.
Zuerlein's success rate would be much higher if Jeff Fisher didn't ask Zuerlein to attempt 66-yard bombs at the end of games.
Zuerlein puts the Rams in scoring range whenever they cross midfield, but even that's a bit of an understatement.
The best way to describe Zuerlein is that he's the Larry Bird of the NFL. Once Zuerlein's in the building, he is in range.
Zuerlein leads the Rams in scoring, as he is responsible for 60 of the Rams 130 total points. The next closest Ram has just 12.
1. Robert Quinn
Let's just get this straight, Robert Quinn is the most talented player on the Rams team.
Quinn does his job better than anyone else on the Rams roster. How else can you describe the guy who can do it all?
Quinn leads the Rams in sacks (seven). He leads all defensive lineman on the Rams in tackles (14). He even has defended two passes, which is more than Quintin Mikell or Craig Dahl can say, and they get paid to defend passes.
As a rookie last season, Quinn was just a backup on the defensive line. Yet he tallied five sacks, which was third best on the team.
I feel compelled to remind you that Quinn is just 22 years old. He was 20 when the Rams drafted him in April 2011, and that was after Quinn had missed an entire season at the University of North Carolina due to a suspension.
At an age when college football players are battling cases of Senioritis, Quinn was taking down quarterbacks and forcing turnovers.
Quinn most recently displayed his talents on Thursday Night Football, when he single-handedly shut down the Arizona Cardinals offense, recording three sacks and a forced fumble.
It's scary to think that Quinn is still learning the position and will get even better.
For the moment, Quinn might be benefiting from extra attention paid to his more experienced defensive counterpart, Chris Long. But that will change very quickly.
Robert Quinn is the best player on this Rams team and he will be so for the foreseeable future.