6 Rams Players Primed for a Break Out Season in 2013
When Jeff Fisher and Les Snead took over in St. Louis, expectations immediately shot through the roof. The hiring of two well respected names throughout league circles brought about immense hope to an organization that desperately needed it.
After only one season, fans could see the light at the end of the tunnel. They saw a much better product being put on the field week in and week out. They saw more consistent play as the season went on, and most importantly they learned to trust the people who were put in charge of football decisions.
That wasn't necessarily the case in years past. Very few onlookers trusted Mike Martz, Scott Linehan and Steve Spagnuolo.
After a 7-8-1 record in 2012, expectations have been heightened yet again for the 2013 season. Here are six players the Rams are counting on to break out in 2013.
After the Rams drafted wide receiver Brian Quick with the 33rd pick in the 2012 NFL draft, expectations for him to perform went through the roof. Fans and media members alike believed he would be the wideout for whom Sam Bradford had been yearning.
Yet, in year one, Quick failed to live up to the hope that surrounded him. He caught a mere 11 passes for 156 yards, while scoring two touchdowns. Not to mention, the former Appalachian State Mountaineer logged only 187 offensive snaps and made one start at right wide receiver.
However, general manager Les Snead and head coach Jeff Fisher have high hopes for the second-year player. Snead told D'Marco Farr of 101Sports.com that he was thinking of Vincent Jackson when he drafted Quick.
For those of you who don't remember, Jackson didn't exactly fill up the stat sheet as a rookie either. He caught three balls for 59 yards in eight games during his first season (2005). Small-school products often require longer developmental periods, even for prospects who are more athletically gifted than those from major college football programs.
With a full season and offseason under his belt, 2013 should be Quick's break out season.
Some loved the pick, and others hated it. Early on in the draft process, Rob Rang of CBS Sports worried about Michael Brockers and his pass-rushing ability after notching two sacks in 2011 at LSU. The concerns were warranted, but scheme fit and potential upside have been on Brockers side from day one.
At the time of being drafted, the 322-pound defensive tackle was only 21 years old, a huge selling point to the teams who believed the best was yet to come. The Rams were obviously one of those teams, and Brockers didn't let them down during his rookie season.
Even though he was hampered by a high-ankle sprain early in 2012, No. 90 showed his doubters that he belonged week in and week out. According to the analysts at Pro Football Focus (membership required), Brockers was a terror against the run.
He netted 21 defensive stops, seven tackles for loss and finished as the site's 21st-best defensive tackle in terms of stopping the run. Let's not forget, he also registered more quarterback sacks (five) in one season with the Rams than he did in two seasons at LSU.
In 2013, St. Louis would like to see his play level out. There were too many inconsistent games that hurt his overall production.
Drafting Lance Kendricks in the second round of the 2011 draft has been a bit of a disappointment, since the tight end hasn't exactly turned into the pass-catcher the Rams had hoped he would be.
Over the course of his two-year career, Kendricks has caught 70 passes for 871 yards receiving and four touchdowns.
Not exactly No. 1-tight end numbers by any stretch of the imagination. However, Kendricks has proven that he can be an effective in-line blocker. Which means he will remain on the roster as a blocking specialist and occasional receiver.
The team's No. 1 option at tight end in 2013 will be the newly acquired Jared Cook. Cook and head coach Jeff Fisher have a history that extends back to the 2009, when the former South Carolina Gamecock was selected in the third round by the Titans' front office.
Much like Kendricks has been with St. Louis, Cook wasn't as productive in Tennessee as the Titans' coaching staff could have wanted. Yet one can argue that he wasn't given the opportunity to succeed in Tennessee when one looks at his playing time and the influx at the quarterback position.
The Rams have seen the potential on tape and have a plan for the 6'5", 246-pound receiving target. He could add a dimension to St. Louis' offense that it has never had. In 2013, it would be wise to expect Cook to spend a majority of his time working the middle of the field.
No matter where he is lined up, he will create mismatches.
Mike Clay of Pro Football Focus projects Cook to catch 53 passes for 649 yards and five touchdowns in 2013.
Last year, expectations ran high for rookie defensive backs Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson. Jenkins was implemented right away as one the Rams' starting cornerbacks, while Johnson served as reserve player until Week 10.
After a poor showing from veteran cornerback Bradley Fletcher in Week 8, Fisher made the decision after the bye week to replace Fletcher with Johnson as the team's third cornerback.
St. Louis had no intention of re-signing Fletcher at the end of the 2012 season, so the move to promote Johnson made sense. There was no point in waiting until the following year to play him; the organization knew that in-game experience would prove invaluable in getting Johnson ready for 2013.
During his first game as a starter, Johnson posted average numbers at best. He allowed four receptions for 40 yards and a quarterback rating against of 85.4, and he missed two tackles in the open field. He bounced back the following week against the Jets when he surrendered only two catches for 31 yards.
By season's end, Johnson had established himself as one of the league's up-and-coming cornerbacks. The analysts at Pro Football Focus graded him as the NFL's 25th-best corner overall. He was 33rd against the pass and 35th against the run. He picked off two passes, had eight passes defensed and combined for 31 total tackles.
With one year of experience under his belt, Johnson will enter the 2013 season as St. Louis' starting left cornerback in nickel situations.
Of St. Louis' 10 draft selections in 2012, was there any rookie who disappointed the masses more than running back Isaiah Pead? Most people would say "no." Prior to the season starting, fans and media members alike expected Pead to be the Rams' change-of-pace back.
Steven Jackson was still entrenched as the starter, but his time in St. Louis was running out. After a few poor showings during training camp, it was becoming more and more evident that Pead was losing ground to seventh-round selection Daryl Richardson.
Richardson seemed to have a better grasp of the playbook. He showed better ball security and was a willing blocker in pass-blocking situations. The University of Cincinnati runs on the quarters system, so Pead was a late bloomer by participation standards.
In turn, his slow development as a rookie was associated with his setback. When Richardson earned the No. 2 spot on the depth chart behind Jackson, the second-round pick was never able to wrestle that spot away from him. Instead, Pead spent the entire 2012 season in catch-up mode.
This resulted in a limited number of snaps and touches.
For the season, Pead logged a mere 42 snaps on offense. Of those 42 offensive snaps, he carried the ball 10 times for 54 yards and caught three passes for 16 yards. Moreover, he didn't even come close to finding the end zone.
The experiment of Pead returning kicks didn't work either. On 10 returns, he averaged 21.2 yards per return—the 71st-worst mark in the NFL. However, one less-than-impressive season won't spell the end for the high-round draft pick.
Back in March, Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said Pead will compete for the starting job in 2013.
Even though defensive end Robert Quinn has tallied 15.5 sacks in two years, he still has a long way to go before he is considered one of the league's top defensive linemen.
In 2013, he will need get more pressure on a per-snap basis, and he needs to be a better defender against the run.
Aside from the 10.5 sacks he recorded in 2012, Quinn had a hard time consistently finding the quarterback in terms of quarterback hits and hurries. According to Pro Football Focus, his eight hits on the quarterback ended up being the 22nd-best mark in the NFL, while his 26 quarterback hurries were the 26th-best mark.
Additionally, against the run he finished 51st out of 62 4-3 defensive ends. It's obvious that his technique and overall play against the run needs the most work. Fortunately enough for Quinn, this will be the first time in his career in which the same defensive scheme will deployed in back-to-back seasons.
Sure, there may be some slight changes based on the fact the Rams have a new defensive coordinator, but overall the alignments and terminology will stay relatively the same. Let's not forget that Quinn is only 22 years old, so there is plenty of time for him to mature and grow as a player in the coming seasons.
Improved interior defensive line help will also help Quinn. The biggest development to watch on the right side of St. Louis' defensive line will be the expected improved play of Michael Brockers.
A bust-out season by Brockers should pave the way for a breakout campaign for Quinn. Brockers eating up blockers will help Quinn get more one-on-one matchups on the outside.