Breaking Down St. Louis Rams Depth Chart After Peak of Free Agency
The cash-strapped St. Louis Rams surprised the fans by locking down two top-tier free agents this month—Jared Cook and Jake Long.
The additions came at the expense of losing three of their top offensive weapons—Steven Jackson, Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson—but the departures are just another step towards reshaping the offense in Jeff Fisher's image.
On defense, the Rams were able to retain defensive end William Hayes, who played a key role on defense and recorded eight sacks in limited playing time.
But now that the free agency is on the downswing, where do the Rams stand heading into the month of April?
Read on for a preview of their current depth chart, which should give us a solid idea of which units need reinforcements, as well as which areas the team will likely focus on in the upcoming draft.
Starter: Sam Bradford
Second String: Austin Davis
There's no debate here—Sam Bradford will be under center in 2013, and with the absence of Steven Jackson, he'll be expected to step up and lead the offense.
Bradford will run the show, but also keep an eye on Austin Davis, who displayed special playmaking skills during the preseason.
Bradford will be expected to turn in a career year, while Davis has plenty of upside if something goes wrong.
The Rams might bring in a veteran to compete with Austin, but other than that, they're set at quarterback.
Starter: Daryl Richardson
Co-Starter: Isaiah Pead
Third String: Terrance Ganaway
Fourth String/Special Teams: Chase Reynolds
Jackson's absence will leave a gaping hole at running back, but it also gives the youngsters a chance to step up and gain experience.
Expect the Rams to add another back in free agency or the draft, but for now, Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead will take on the bulk of the carries.
Also, don't be surprised if the Rams begin to utilize Terrance Ganaway. The 240-pound monster can help in short-yardage situations.
Outside No. 1: Chris Givens
Outside No. 2: Brian Quick
Slot No. 1: Austin Pettis
Special Teams: Nick Johnson
Special Teams: Raymond Radway
For now, Chris Givens and Brian Quick will be Bradford's outside targets, while the 6'3" Austin Pettis will surely see some action in the slot.
Tight end Jared Cook will be lined up all over the field, so he'll provide a helping hand as well.
Nick Johnson and Raymond Radway will contribute on special teams if they make the final squad.
Expect the Rams to strongly consider Tavon Austin or Cordarrelle Patterson in the first round of the draft, which will help solidify the unit as a whole.
Starter: Jared Cook
Second String: Lance Kendricks
Third String: Mike McNeill
Special Teams: Cory Harkey
Lance Kendricks has been average as a receiver, but he has developed into a solid blocker and will see plenty of action on first and second down.
Meanwhile, the addition of Cook not only provides Bradford with a 6'5" weapon, but it also takes some pressure off Kendricks, as he'll no longer be the only tight end on the roster capable of catching a pass.
Mike McNeill and Cory Harkey will help on special teams, but Cook and Kendricks will run the show on offense.
The Rams are set at tight end for 2013.
Left Tackle: Jake Long
Right Tackle: Rodger Saffold
Second String: Joe Barksdale
Third String: Ty Nsekhe
The addition of Jake Long in free agency will allow the Rams to bump Rodger Saffold to the right side, which will result in the best edge protection they've had in years.
The Rams seem happy with Saffold's level of play, but don't be surprised if he becomes trade bait on draft day.
Saffold is a free agent at the end of 2013, so the Rams may decide a draft pick is more valuable than a year of Saffold's services, especially since Saffold has struggled with injuries.
As for the backup, Joe Barksdale is no longer on the roster, but he started two games at left tackle for the Rams last season and played well, so he'd be an ideal re-signing.
Interior Offensive Line
Center: Scott Wells
Second-String Center: Tim Barnes
Left Guard: Rok Watkins
Right Guard: Harvey Dahl
Second-String Guard: Shelley Smith
Third-String Guard: Brandon Washington
The Rams should have some success on the inside as long as they avoid the injury bug.
Scott Wells played well in 2012, but he missed more than half the season due to injuries. The interior line will heavily depend on Wells' health in 2013.
At guard, Harvey Dahl is locked in on the right side, while second-year player Rok Watkins will most likely hold down the left side unless the Rams grab Chance Warmack or Jonathan Cooper in the draft.
Since Dahl and Watkins both missed time in 2012, the Rams will depend on Shelley Smith to be the No. 3 guard. Smith was very effective in Dahl's place during the final two games of the season and will be ready to roll if either guard gets hit with an injury.
The Rams could certainly use a Warmack or Cooper to upgrade their talent and health, but they can survive with what they currently have.
Left End: Chris Long
Right End: Robert Quinn
Second String: William Hayes
Third String: Eugene Sims
Chris Long and Robert Quinn are returning as one of the more formidable end duos in the league, while Williams Hayes will also see plenty of reps.
These three players give St. Louis enough ammo to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks throughout the season, just as they did in 2012.
There won't be any additions to this unit, unless it's in the form of late-round draft picks or undrafted rookies.
Starter: Michael Brockers
Starter: Kendall Langford
Second String: Jermelle Cudjo
Third String: Matthew Conrath
Like defensive end, defensive tackle is another position the Rams can consider a team strength.
Kendall Langford needs to improve during his second season with St. Louis, but Michael Brockers had a great rookie campaign and will be key moving forward.
Jermelle Cudjo and Matthew Conrath are both raw, but they have a lot of upside and provide the Rams with capable depth.
Starter: James Laurinaitis
Backup: Josh Hull
James Laurinaitis has not missed a single start in his four NFL seasons and will once again be asked to quarterback the defense for 16 games in 2013.
Josh Hull has been Laurinaitis' backup since 2010 and is ready to step in if needed. In the meantime, Hull is a solid contributor on special teams.
Starter: Jo-Lonn Dunbar
Starter: Sammy Brown
Second String: Jabara Williams
The Rams are dangerously thin at outside linebacker with only three players under contract.
Jo-Lonn Dunbar had a very impressive season in 2012, but Sammy Brown and Jabara Williams have a combined zero NFL starts.
As a result, the Rams will almost certainly be on the lookout for capable linebackers this offseason.
Last year, St. Louis addressed the position with low-level free agents and undrafted rookies, so don't be alarmed by its apparent lack of interest in the position.
The Rams will most likely bring in some small names to fill the gap, but there's always a chance they'll fall in love with Alec Ogletree in the draft, or perhaps another highly-touted rookie linebacker.
Starter: Janoris Jenkins
Starter: Cortland Finnegan
Second String: Trumaine Johnson
My article from last week predicted that the Rams would move an in-house corner up top to fill the team's need at safety, and while that's certainly possible, there are still plenty of safety options available that would allow the cornerback depth to stay intact.
If the Rams keep the cornerback position as is, then they're in good shape.
Janoris Jenkins is a stud and looks the part of a perennial Pro Bowler in the making, while Cortland Finnegan is an effective playmaker who helps the defense with his veteran smarts and loud mouth.
Trumaine Johnson is fresh off a DUI (according to ESPN), but it's his first offense as an NFL player, so he'll get to play 16 games with no suspension.
Johnson flashed some ability during his rookie campaign and his reps will increase dramatically in 2013.
As of now, the Rams have a lot of talent at corner and it will be a position of strength next season.
Starter: Darian Stewart
Starter: Rodney McLeod
Second String: Quinton Pointer
Third String: Matt Daniels
It's beyond frightening to think that Darian Stewart is currently the top safety on the team, while the other three safeties have yet to start a game in the NFL.
The latest news is that the Rams are still trying to re-sign 2012 starter Quintin Mikell, who was released from the team for salary cap reasons (according to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch).
Mikell is 32 years old, but Bleacher Report's Matt Miller ranked him No. 7 on his list of top 75 safeties, so it's clear that Mikell still has something to offer.
If the Rams fail to retain Mikell or sign any other free-agent safeties, they'll basically be forced to draft Kenny Vaccaro, Eric Reid or another high-ranking safety in the draft.
Kicker: Greg Zuerlein
Punter: Johnny Hekker
Long Snapper: Jacob McQuaide
Greg Zuerlein was a phenomenon throughout the first few weeks of his rookie year, but "Legatron" cooled off as the season progressed.
Zuerlein was a perfect 13-for-13 through the first five games, but was just 10-for-18 the remainder of the season.
He did nail a 54-yarder in overtime to beat San Francisco in Week 13, but it's clear the young kicker still has to work on his accuracy, as well as his ability to kick under pressure.
Punter Johnny Hekker needs to improve on his consistency as well, but overall, the Rams possess two very young and talented kickers.