Defensive ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn are top-5.
Six undrafted rookies made the St. Louis Rams’ initial 53-man roster in 2012. Regardless of whether that number is matched or exceeded this time around, a lot of 2013 undrafted rookies will be left wondering what their next NFL stop will be.
The drafted guys all have a good-to-great shot at making the cut, since there are only seven of them and they fit St. Louis’ positional needs. The undrafted ones who are projected to make the roster here also address areas that require additional depth, like cornerback and wide receiver.
St. Louis used almost half of its draft picks on two wideouts and a corner.
These 53 won’t be a perfect reflection of the Rams’ roster come September, if only because someone somewhere is going to cut a guy that Jeff Fisher has had his eye on—and Les Snead will subsequently pounce on him.
That’s why the players listed at the bottom of the following list are more likely to find a home on a practice squad this season. Aside from specialists, the rest of them are ranked in terms of how much of a positive impact I expect from them this year. The list is, of course, subject to change—unless each of the guys projected to make the roster do so, and maintain their roster spot with health intact.
Then, I’ll own it.
53. Jake McQuaide, LS
52. Johnny Hekker, P
51. Greg Zuerlein, K
Despite the fact that placekicker Greg Zuerlein made a name for himself as a rookie—and broke a record or two along the way—specialists and other players don’t readily compare to each other, so the specialists get their own spot.
Long snapper Jake McQuaide, punter Johnny Hekker and Zuerlein are all under the age of 26.
Austin Davis, QB
50. Philip Lutzenkirchen, TE
49. Matt Daniels, S
48. Cory Harkey, TE
47. Sammy Brown, LB
46. Ty Nsekhe, OT
45. Austin Davis, QB
44. Benny Cunningham, RB
43. Emory Blake, WR
42. Jonathan Stewart, LB
41. Rodney McLeod, S
40. Philip Steward, LB
39. Ray Ray Armstrong, LB
38. Braden Brown, OT
37. Darren Woodard, CB
Spots 37-50 are full of depth guys and special teams players. Linebackers like Ray Ray Armstrong and Sammy Brown could be primary backups and special teams impact performers. In addition to a No. 3/emergency QB, NFL teams can only dress 45 players each game day.
That makes versatility imperative for players on the fringe.
The above list also mostly consists of undrafted free agents who provide the St. Louis Rams with cheaper options than their senior counterparts. If they don’t have a spot for a veteran to play (or a defined leadership role for him), why would the Rams pay more money than they would owe to a younger guy with perhaps more developmental upside?
Braden Brown may find himself competing with 6’10” Terrell Brown for an offensive line spot. From a physical standpoint, Terrell is more intriguing because he’s so big. Braden got one of the biggest undrafted free-agent guarantees from St. Louis, though, which could mean nothing at all—or signal that he’s ahead in the race thus far.
Isaiah Pead, RB
36. Matt Conrath, DT
35. Josh Hull, LB
34. Brandon McGee, CB
33. Cody Davis, S
32. Eugene Sims, DE
31. Shelley Smith, OL
30. Rokevious Watkins, OL
29. Isaiah Pead, RB
28. Lance Kendricks, TE
You can expect to hear the names of these St. Louis Rams in the 28-36 spots at times during the season. Barring injury, they’re not expected to start, but this list includes a couple of offensive line rotation pieces in Rokevious Watkins and Shelley Smith and two former second-rounders at the skill positions: Running back Isaiah Pead and tight end Lance Kendricks.
Cody Davis has an advantage with St. Louis in that he plays a position—safety—which is in the process of enduring an offseason overhaul. Depth in the defensive backfield was a sore need for the Rams prior to the draft, but they only selected one safety with their seven picks.
Cornerback Brandon McGee, middle linebacker Josh Hull and defensive tackle Matt Conrath may each be the next man up at their respective positions, should someone ahead of them on the depth chart succumb to injury.
Chris Givens, WR
27. Brian Quick, WR
26. Austin Pettis, WR
25. Darian Stewart, S
24. Barrett Jones, OL
23. Chris Givens, WR
Three receivers get grouped with Darian Stewart and Barrett Jones as five young players with a legitimate chance to start in Week 1. Obviously, Brian Quick, Austin Pettis and Chris Givens won’t all start, but they will all see balls from Sam Bradford. Pettis and Givens also have kick-returning experience, which gives them the edge over Quick, for now.
With Rok Watkins out for Week 1, Jones will make his case to start at left guard early on. Stewart is by far the most experienced safety that Jeff Fisher has.
Trumaine Johnson, CB
22. Trumaine Johnson, CB
21. Zac Stacy, RB
Trumaine Johnson is a pseudo-starter as a nickelback for the St. Louis Rams, with so many offenses looking to chuck footballs around. The reason he winds up just ahead of players who may not even be starters is that I’ve got three linebackers—participants in St. Louis’ base package—ahead of him already.
Zac Stacy is going to get some carries as a rookie. He may or may not lead the team, but the 5’8”, 216-pound runner will be looked upon as a goal-line and short-yardage hammer.
T.J. McDonald could have the opportunity to fill the Quintin Mikell role in the St. Louis Rams defense: sniff around in the box, lay the wood on some dudes and get a little pass-rushing done on the side.
St. Louis had next to no safety production heading into the draft. Since Les Snead skipped on guys like Jonathan Cyprien in the draft’s early stages and waited to select McDonald later, it speaks highly of their evaluation of the former USC DB.
Here’s hoping Scott Wells is healthy for his age: 32 this season.
Wells missed more than half of his debut season with the St. Louis Rams, appearing in only seven games. He had arthroscopic offseason knee surgery, which took place in January.
The 10-year veteran played 13 or more games in each season from 2005 to 2011, including four 16-game campaigns. If he can get back to that form—two of his complete seasons were the two years leading to his departure from the Green Bay Packers—he’ll be a welcome addition to an offensive line that’s all too used to injury woes.
William Hayes isn’t a starter, but if it weren’t for him, the St. Louis Rams would not have led the NFL in sacks. The third-most productive defensive end in that department tallied seven sacks and a pass deflection in 16 games.
He notched 5.5 in his last six appearances. That prompted a three-year, eight-figure deal for the 28-year-old. Expect to see more of him in other teams’ backfields.
Brian Quick and Stedman Bailey aren’t the same type of receivers, but when the St. Louis Rams took a second wideout in the third round of the 2013 draft, it should have been a wake-up call for the Appalachian State product.
They will be tussling for targets.
Bailey is known for his route-running. He’s barely smaller than former Ram Brandon Lloyd, and his collegiate receiving production trumps that of teammate Tavon Austin.
College football’s touchdown leader finished his junior season with 1,622 yards and 25 scores on 114 catches.
The St. Louis Rams’ second first-round pick. Georgia product Alec Ogletree, checks in at No. 16. He’s expected to step in as a starter from day one and chase ball-carriers around.
Ogletree’s athletic ability will be invaluable within the Rams linebacker position group. It’ll be interesting to see how often he’s removed from the field in favor of a defensive back, since he played safety in college.
Rodger Saffold would have been higher on this list if the St. Louis Rams hadn’t gone and acquired Jake Long to relieve him of his blindside protection duties. Instead, Saffold will man the right side. He wasn’t thrilled with the switch, but he’s getting used to things over there.
His experience at left tackle should be a major asset on the other bookend, if he can stay healthy.
Former seventh-round running back Daryl Richardson will be looking to follow up his encouraging rookie season with a breakout sophomore campaign. He spent a year learning on the job behind Steven Jackson, but still earned 98 carries and averaged 4.8 yards a pop.
With a presumably improved (and hopefully healthier) line in front of him, Richardson will be in a good position to make some plays. More carries could mean a smaller YPC average, but it doesn’t have to—4.8 is sustainable, even over twice as many touches.
Harvey Dahl is just about as old as it gets when it comes to St. Louis Rams players. One of only two Rams to have celebrated his 30th birthday, Dahl will be expected to ward off oncoming defenders in the passing game and maul others to open running lanes for St. Louis’ stable of backs.
His mean streak will be noticed.
Michael Brockers’ NFL career started off rocky, as the defensive tackle began his rookie season with a high ankle sprain. It kept him out of the St. Louis Rams’ first three games, but he produced when he was active in the remaining 13.
Brockers totaled four sacks, a deflected pass and a forced fumble in 2012.
There are whispers of a possible Pro Bowl appearance for No. 90 when he turns in his sophomore season.
Jo-Lonn Dunbar was a baller last season, his first with the St. Louis Rams. In addition to the veteran toughness he helped add to the squad, Dunbar suited up for all 16 games for just the second time in his career.
He turned in career-high numbers across the board: 115 total tackles (91 solo), 4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and two picks. Dunbar turned 28 years old this offseason.
Being that he’s a quarterback and he touches the ball every possession, Sam Bradford naturally has the most pronounced ability to affect the outcome of a football game.
Even if he performs well, that won’t make him the best player on the team. A QB doesn’t have to be named the team’s best player simply because he’s good.
Bradford’s in a position to enjoy his best season as a pro, with a revamped offensive line and a stocked arsenal at his disposal. That change is also accompanied by consistency at the offensive coordinator position—something he’s never had before.
Expect success from Bradford this year, but let’s withhold comparisons to the game’s elite, OK? If he were really Aaron Rodgers South, Tom Brady West or Peyton Manning East, he probably would’ve given us more hints at his status by now.
A beacon of hope: Bradford’s 21 TDs and 13 INTs in his third year as a starter aren’t far off Brady’s 23 and 12. Brady also had yet to top 3,800 passing yards entering his fourth season under center.
Brady had won a Super Bowl by this point in his career, but—do I have to say it?—the legitimacy of that title is still questioned, and Bradford hadn’t had nearly as good a defense playing when he’s on the sidelines as Brady’s 2001 unit.
Now, he might.
Having a top-tier defense behind him doesn’t make a quarterback any more skilled, though; it makes his job easier.
All Kendall Langford did was come to St. Louis, switch schemes, log 16 games for the fifth consecutive time in his career, record a couple of sacks and show a first-round rookie (Michael Brockers) the ropes.
And he’s 27.
Not bad, sir. Not bad.
When Jared Cook signed with the St. Louis Rams, he was thought to be the primary weapon in the passing game. His contract (five years, $35.1 million) reflected that idea, as does his talent as a pass-catcher.
Cook is 6’5”, 248 pounds and has been compared to Calvin Johnson. If St. Louis didn’t subsequently take this next guy in the draft, Cook would be Sam Bradford’s No. 1 target.
You don’t move up eight spots in the first half of the first round to take a dynamic slot receiver and sit him. Most teams don’t take the plunge on a slot guy that early at all, but the St. Louis Rams did.
That should tell you all you need to know about Tavon Austin.
He’ll be the focal point of defensive coordinators’ schemes, as he’ll likely get the ball in every way imaginable.
Janoris Jenkins had a case to win the NFL’s 2012 Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
He scored a league-high four defensive touchdowns: A testament to his electric playmaking skills. If that draft class was done all over again, with assurances that Jenkins had “clean character,” there’s no chance that he slips out of the first round.
The St. Louis Rams drafted him at No. 39.
It’s nice to have a left tackle in the top five of a team’s best players. It is, after all, one of the most important positions in the game. Without a competent blindside protector, prized quarterbacks would get roughed up.
The NFC West is home to quite a number of legitimate pass-rushers.
Robert Quinn already turned in a double-digit sack season, notching 10.5 quarterback takedowns in addition to a forced fumble and two deflected passes in 2012. He also has a proven ability to block kicks, something that most edge-rushers aren’t doing.
Quinn is only 23 years old and played just two collegiate seasons. He’s not done growing as a player.
The free-agent headliner from 2012 brought his nastiness to the St. Louis Rams defense in tangible fashion last season.
Cortland Finnegan probably won’t bait another receiver into throwing a ball at him, but these things can happen with him. Even when you know the things he’s capable of doing.
Meanwhile, Finnegan racked up a career-high 101 tackles (83 solo) and three interceptions, including a pick-six on Matthew Stafford.
It’s kind of a 1-A. and 1-B. at this point with two defensive leaders remaining.
You know who’s left.
Chris Long gets edged here by virtue of playing alongside such talent beside him on the line and usually lining up at left end, while Robert Quinn deals with teams’ left tackles.
Still, Long is a dependable presence on the defensive line, having played in all 80 possible games since he came into the league. He recorded 11.5 sacks in 2012, his second consecutive season with double-digit takedowns.
The former No. 2 overall pick is averaging 11 sacks a year over his last three.
James Laurinaitis’ game isn’t flashy. He doesn’t have Patrick Willis’ speed or force fumbles left and right with bone-crushing hits. But if you’re going to get through the heart of the St. Louis Rams defense, you’ve got to get by him.
He’s stopped 142 ball-carriers from doing just that in each of the last two seasons. While Laurinaitis doesn’t force fumbles—he forced his only one as a rookie—he still creates turnovers.
Since he entered the league in 2009, never has a season gone by without Laurinaitis logging a fumble recovery and an interception or two.
He’s consistent. He knows where to be. And he knows where everyone else should be.
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