NFL dynasties aren’t built in a day—or a year, or two years—but the St. Louis Rams are filling out their application to be the next one. Two short seasons ago, they were mired in one of the league’s most unfortunate stretches of futility, going 15-65 (.188) from 2007 to 2011. They employed three different head coaches in that span; the only consistency was losing.
They started from the bottom; now they’re in the middle.
Taking a 2-14 team to 7-8-1 was a sizable step up for just one season with head coach Jeff Fisher, who introduced nearly as many undrafted rookies (six) as drafted ones (10) to their first NFL opening-day roster in 2012.
The Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers showcased the value of top-notch offensive line play by appearing in Super Bowl XLVII. Half of the O-line starters between the two teams were former first-round draft picks.
Each of them started one first-rounder on the defensive line, but they both deploy the 3-4 scheme. Meanwhile, their respective premier pass-rushers (Terrell Suggs and Aldon Smith) were former top-10 picks.
Those cues presumably led to the current constitution of St. Louis’ trenches.
Yes, Fisher and general manager Les Snead inherited first-round 4-3 defensive ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn. But they also inherited former No. 2 overall pick Jason Smith at offensive tackle—he’s gone—and their first draft pick together was defensive tackle Michael Brockers.
Then, one of their big free-agent fish heading into year two turned out to be former Miami Dolphins (and No. 1 overall pick) offensive tackle Jake Long. That particular move presumably strengthens both tackle spots, as former second-round left tackle Rodger Saffold has been taking snaps on the right side.
A new—and healthier—offensive line still wouldn’t be enough to get St. Louis into the playoffs without some more talented guys to run with and catch the ball on offense, considering how much of the Rams’ yardage departed in free agency.
Between Steven Jackson, Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson, Steve Smith and Matthew Mulligan, 53.6 percent of the Rams’ combined rushing and receiving yardage from 2012 won’t be back in 2013. None of those guys are even 30—though Jackson will be in July—but you can’t exactly replace them all with older players.
Instead, Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead and Zac Stacy figure to dominate the Rams’ rushing attempts. The trio has combined for 135 career NFL touches.
The receiving duties will be split among a number of inexperienced pass-catchers. Since Amendola was still in-house, Snead started building his corps on the outside in the 2012 draft with Chris Givens and Brian Quick.
How many games will the Rams win in 2013?
It now looks like the strength of the corps may again be on the interior as Tavon Austin and Jared Cook prepare to suit up, but they all have one thing in common: youth.
Cook is 26. The three backs are 23 or younger. Austin Pettis is the Rams’ oldest wideout at 25.
Oh, and Sam Bradford is also 25.
St. Louis will surprise some people this year, but if 2013 is the best year for its core—barring a deep playoff run—something didn’t work out the right way. The young squad will have time to develop together, supplemented by a third consecutive pair of first-round picks in the 2014 NFL draft.
That’s why the whole dynasty conversation can be delayed for at least another year or two: The Rams aren’t even done building.