Predicting St. Louis Rams Starting Lineup Post-Week 1 of Free Agency
When the exodus of Steven Jackson and Danny Amendola became a cold reality for St. Louis Rams fans, there was a widespread feeling that free agency would bring more questions than answers.
That is, until St. Louis entered the market with an aggressive edge that shocked the amateur salary cap gurus and armchair GMs.
The Rams have two first-round picks in the upcoming draft and entered the offseason low on cap space. The common perception was that St. Louis would hold back in free agency and build primarily through the draft.
So it was somewhat surprising when the Rams signed the best tight end (Jared Cook) and left tackle (Jake Long) on the market in the first week of free agency.
This aggressive behavior suggests that Jeff Fisher and the Rams do not intend to roll over to Seattle and San Francisco this season. They want to compete for the NFC West immediately—not in two or three years.
There are still holes in the roster that will be addressed in the draft, although we now have a better idea of what the 2013 Rams will look like.
But is the updated roster tough enough to compete for a division title?
Read on to see the predicted starting lineup and decide for yourself.
Quarterback: Sam Bradford
This one is obvious enough.
Barring a serious injury to Sam Bradford, he'll be under center for his fourth season with the St. Louis Rams.
Bradford is entering his second season in the Brian Schottenheimer offense and will be expected to post career-best numbers in 2013.
Anything less will be a disappointment.
Running Back: Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead
It's possible St. Louis will find a veteran running back in free agency or use a draft pick on a workhorse back to replace Steven Jackson, but at this point the coaches seem confident in their young backs.
Daryl Richardson received the most playing time behind Jackson last season, but the 196-pound back is not built to carry the ball every down, and neither is former second-round pick Isaiah Pead (197 pounds).
Second-year player Terrance Ganaway did not see any carries in 2012, but the 240-pound beast could be the answer as the Rams' workhorse and short-yardage back.
But in the end, expect Pead and Richardson to see the majority of the carries.
Wide Receiver: Chris Givens, Tavon Austin
It took several weeks for Chris Givens to get comfortable during his 2012 rookie season, but he eventually developed into Bradford's favorite deep threat.
Givens has intriguing potential and will be a focal point of the St. Louis offense in 2012.
And with Amendola out the door, don't be surprised if the Rams grab Tavon Austin in the first round of the draft.
Austin is not only an exciting prospect at slot receiver, but he's an electric return man as well.
A lightening-fast combination of Givens and Austin could certainly do wonders for the offense.
Also, expect third-year player Austin Pettis to see an increase in playing time. He's an ideal candidate to fill in for Brandon Gibson, who signed with Miami in free agency.
Tight End: Jared Cook
Jared Cook was a superb signing by Jeff Fisher and the Rams.
The 6'5" Cook will provide Bradford with the red-zone threat he's been needing since his rookie season, so don't be surprised if Cook posts career-high numbers in St. Louis.
Lance Kendricks will still see a considerable amount of playing time, particularly on running downs, but Cook will be the go-to guy in the passing game.
Tackle: Jake Long, Rodger Saffold
Jake Long will provide St. Louis with its best blindside protection since the Orlando Pace days, and if he stays healthy, Bradford will finally get the protection he needs to succeed.
As for Rodger Saffold, he'll struggle to open run lanes at right tackle, but his pass protection will be exceptional as usual.
Long and Saffold will keep the corners secure as long as they can stay on the field.
Guard: Jonathan Cooper, Harvey Dahl
Harvey Dahl—the Rams' best offensive lineman over the last two seasons—will help Saffold open the run lanes on the right side and will be a valuable asset in 2013.
As for left guard, there's a chance the Rams will stick with second-year player Rok Watkins, but a first-round guard—such as North Carolina's Jonathan Cooper—could complete the line and turn the unit into a team strength.
Fisher is not known for drafting offensive linemen with first-round picks, but either Cooper or Chance Warmack could easily be the best player available at No. 16 overall.
Center: Scott Wells
Injuries forced center Scott Wells to miss nine total games in 2012, so he is yet another Rams lineman with a lengthy injury rap sheet.
Wells will be given a chance to redeem himself in 2013, and if healthy, he'll provide St. Louis with the same Pro Bowl-caliber production he displayed in Green Bay.
Defensive End: Chris Long, Robert Quinn
This one is a no-brainer, as the Rams have one of the better defensive-end duos in the entire NFL.
Chris Long had a modest start to his career after being selected No. 2 overall in 2008, but back-to-back seasons with double-digit sacks have put him on the NFL's radar.
As for Robert Quinn, he's an athletic freak with much higher potential than Long, and he just turned in a double-digit sack season in only his second year.
Also, Williams Hayes will be returning as the No. 3 end, which will help tremendously with the pass rush, considering he recorded eight sacks in limited playing time during the 2012 season.
Defensive Tackle: Michael Brockers, Kendall Langford
Michael Brockers displayed scary potential for the majority of his rookie year and will be a handful for offensive lines.
Meanwhile, Kendall Langford was a mild disappointment, but he'll still be depended on and should improve in his second year with St. Louis.
The Rams also retained Jermelle Cudjo and William Hayes, who were both free agents this offseason. Hayes is a defensive end, but he often sees snaps on the inside.
St. Louis' willingness to re-sign their depth at defensive tackle suggests that the Rams have little interest in using any premiere draft picks at the position, which means Brockers and Langford will lead the way in 2013.
Outside Linebacker: Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Zaviar Gooden
Jo-Lonn Dunbar was a low-end acquisition in free agency last year, but he turned out to be one of the most valuable acquisitions of the 2012 offseason.
Dunbar is locked in as a starter, but the Rams need a player on the opposite side.
St. Louis will likely look for help in the middle of the draft, which is where Missouri's Zaviar Gooden could be key.
Adding Gooden to the lineup could solidify the linebacker position for years.
Middle Linebacker: James Laurinaitis
James Laurinaitis is not an elite playmaker or thunderous enforcer, but he makes up for his shortcomings with his football intelligence.
Laurinaitis will never be a Patrick Willis, but he's the quarterback of the defense, and his presence is vital for St. Louis' defensive success.
Cornerback: Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson
Janoris Jenkins was a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate and is an electric presence on the field.
Jenkins was so exiting as a rookie that many people forgot about the other rookie corner, Trumaine Johnson, who certainly flashed some potential as well.
Jenkins and Johnson can solidify the cornerback position for years to come.
But what about No. 31? Read on...
Safety: Cortland Finnegan, Eric Reid
The Rams were forced to cut Quintin Mikell for salary cap reasons and lost Craig Dahl to free agency, which means they are in need of two starting safeties.
Outside of Louis Delmas, the Rams have not indicated that they are interested in any free-agent safeties currently on the market, which tells us they may have other plans.
Perhaps, in Aeneas Williams and Charles Woodson fashion, the Rams will attempt to extend the career of Cortland Finnegan by moving him to safety.
The 188-pound Finnegan is a bit undersized for the safety position, but he can compensate with his solid coverage, sure tackling and veteran smarts.
But even if the Rams find an in-house answer to their safety problem, there's a good chance they'll grab a safety in the draft as well.
In this scenario, the Rams would use their first-round picks on Jonathan Cooper and Tavon Austin. This would free them up to take LSU's Eric Reid in the second round.
Reid is a solid tackler and would make an immediate impact in run support, while he'll eventually develop and sharpen his pass coverage.
Finnegan and Reid would certainly be an improvement over the 2012 duo of Mikell and Dahl.
RB—Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead
WR—Chris Givens, Tavon Austin
DT—Michael Brockers, Kendall Langford
OLB—Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Zaviar Gooden
CB—Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson