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St. Louis Rams: Grading the Strength of Every Position Unit Heading into Camp

Jamal CollierAnalyst IIISeptember 13, 2016

St. Louis Rams: Grading the Strength of Every Position Unit Heading into Camp

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    Back in February, I detailed and graded the St. Louis Rams’ roster, position by position, to determine where they needed the most attention this offseason.

    The grading scale will remain the same in this progress report, but a lot of other things have changed.

    Most notable were the free-agent acquisitions of Jared Cook and Jake Long, St. Louis bringing in fresh talent via the NFL draft and re-signing key rotational pieces like defensive end William Hayes.

    As a reminder, here’s the grading scale.

     

    A: The Rams don’t need help at the position—it’s a unit of strength.

    B: Little assistance is needed: A bargain-type player or depth help would suffice.

    C: The position could certainly stand to be addressed, but the Rams would be fine without a talent upgrade there.

    D: The position was problematic in 2012 and will continue to be without a lot of help.

    F: The Rams won’t be legitimately competitive without an overhaul at the position.

     

    This time around, drastic and immediate changes aren’t exactly feasible. Free-agent talent pools have been depleted—although there are still guys out there who could do the job—and there’s not going to be a third draft this offseason.

    Nobody picked a player in the second one, anyway.

     

    Cap figures, unless otherwise indicated are courtesy of Spotrac.com.

Quarterback

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    Free-Agent Acquisitions (Cap Figure)

    Kellen Clemens (585,000)

     

    Draft Picks

    None

     

    Undrafted Rookies

    Tim Jenkins (Fort Lewis)

     

    Cuts

    None

     

    Kellen Clemens made his St. Louis Rams return this offseason, as the roster expanded to accommodate his spot. Tim Jenkins is also being introduced to the NFL fray, but the Rams seem comfortable with their depth chart as is.

    Sam Bradford, of course, remains the starter. Austin Davis is the primary backup.

    Remember: An “A” grade doesn’t necessarily mean that this position group rivals that of the 2007 Green Bay Packers. St. Louis didn’t need to throw cash at a quarterback this offseason, nor did it, and at this stage of the game—assuming unrestricted free agents were on their way out in February—teams can only improve.

    You can’t get higher than an “A,” though.

     

    February: A

    July: A

Running Back

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    Free-Agent Acquisitions (Cap Figure)

    None

     

    Draft Picks

    Zac Stacy (fifth round, 160th overall)

     

    Undrafted Rookies

    Benny Cunningham (Middle Tennessee State)

    Eric Stevens (California)

     

    Cuts

    None

     

    The St. Louis Rams running back corps received a “C” in February, encompassing the assumptions that Steven Jackson wasn’t going to re-up with the team, and that Rams brass didn’t view Terrance Ganaway as the answer for his departure.

    Both appear to be true.

    Then, the clamoring for a first-round rusher—which has been around since before Jackson played his final year in St. Louis—resumed. That wasn’t going to fly, either.

    Instead, the Rams got their guy in the fifth round: a compact bulldozer in former Vanderbilt running back Zac Stacy. Stacy will challenge for touches, which will push Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead to get better.

    He also presents the Rams with another goal-line option.

     

    February: C

    July: B

Wide Receiver

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    Free-Agent Acquisitions (Cap Figure)

    None

     

    Draft Picks

    Tavon Austin (first round, eighth overall)

    Stedman Bailey (third round, 92nd overall)

     

    Undrafted Rookies

    Emory Blake (Auburn)

    Andrew Helmick (Lindenwood)

     

    Cuts

    Titus Young

     

    Titus Young was the only reason that the St. Louis Rams’ wide receiver corps was rated as a "D" in February.

    Believe it or not, that’s a compliment to him.

    With so much of the team’s receiving production no longer available—Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson are now in the AFC East rather than the NFC West—the Rams would not have been competitive without new talent at wideout.

    That’s why they claimed Young in the first place; cutting him dropped them back down to an “F” at receiver in my book.

    It was the right move, but it evaporated more talent at a position that needed it so badly.

    Knowing Young wouldn’t be a part of the team’s plans introduced the urgency for the Rams to pursue not only one better citizen, but two explosive playmakers in the West Virginia duo of Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey.

    Coupling the new hands with the field-stretching ability of Chris Givens and physicality of Brian Quick and Austin Pettis now makes for some interesting depth chart decisions down the line: a good problem to have. A consistent veteran would have been nice, though.

     

    February: D

    July: B

Tight End

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    Free-Agent Acquisitions (Cap Figure)

    Jared Cook (4,000,000)

    Zach Potter (630,000)

     

    Draft Picks

    None

     

    Undrafted Rookies

    Philip Lutzenkirchen (Auburn)

    Colby Prince (Oregon State)

     

    Cuts

    Matthew Mulligan

     

    Jared Cook provides the St. Louis Rams with athleticism at tight end that Sam Bradford simply isn’t used to. Almost as importantly, he opens up opportunities for Lance Kendricks to get matchup problems as the No. 2 tight end or out of the backfield.

    Matthew Mulligan, who is now with the Green Bay Packers, was replaced by Zach Potter, a fifth-year tight end formerly of the Jacksonville Jaguars. He’s 6’7” but only has 11 career catches to his name. Sounds like a No. 3 tight end, which is what the Rams were seeking from his services.

    Philip Lutzenkirchen (6’3”, 258 pounds) and Colby Prince (6’5”, 257 pounds) will also be competing for roster spots. This position group looks complete for the time being.

     

    February: C

    July: A

Offensive Line

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    Free-Agent Acquisitions (Cap Figure)

    Jake Long (4,250,000)

    Chris Williams (1,376,154)

     

    Draft Picks

    Barrett Jones (fourth round, 113th overall)

     

    Undrafted Rookies

    Kevin Saia (Louisiana Tech)

    Sean Hooey (Cincinnati)

    Braden Brown (Brigham Young)

     

    Cuts

    Wayne Hunter

     

    What a difference one move can make.

    Cutting Wayne Hunter freed up $4 million in cap room—almost enough for the St. Louis Rams to acquire Jake Long—in a single transaction. With the Pro Bowler onboard, both offensive tackle spots received an upgrade.

    Rodger Saffold slides over to the right side, giving St. Louis a pair of under-30 bookends.

    The interior of the line was bolstered by the re-signing of Chris Williams and Barrett Jones’ selection in the fourth round of the NFL draft. We still don’t know who will start at left guard, but the rest of the spots seem to be occupied by experienced veterans.

    Saffold, Long, Harvey Dahl and Scott Wells have averaged 72.25 regular-season starts apiece throughout their careers.

     

    February: F

    July: B

Defensive Line

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    Free-Agent Acquisitions (Cap Figure)

    William Hayes (2,050,000)

     

    Draft Picks

    None

     

    Undrafted Rookies

    Gerald Rivers (Mississippi)

    Garrett Goebel (Ohio State)

    Al Lapuaho (Utah State)

     

    Cuts

    None

     

    The only reason why the St. Louis Rams' defensive line was rated as a "B" in February was the uncertain contract situation of No. 3 defensive end William Hayes.

    Hayes’ seven sacks in 2012 ranked third on the team—which tied for the NFL lead—so his 2013 residence was kind of a big deal for St. Louis. Now that he’s locked up, the Rams’ line is effectively set.

    That’s why they didn’t draft anyone.

     

    February: B

    July: A

Linebackers

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    Free-Agent Acquisitions (Cap Figure)

    Will Witherspoon (unknown)

     

    Draft Picks

    Alec Ogletree (first round, 30th overall)

     

    Undrafted Rookies

    Ray-Ray Armstrong (Miami)

    Daren Bates (Auburn)

    Joseph LeBeau (Jackson State)

    Jonathan Stewart (Texas A&M)

     

    Cuts

    None

     

    The St. Louis Rams’ freshest face is also a familiar one. The Rams recently agreed to terms with Will Witherspoon, who played three-plus seasons in St. Louis from 2006 to 2009.

    St. Louis' veteran linebacker courting stage seems to be over as camp opens. With James Laurinaitis and Jo-Lonn Dunbar scheduled to start alongside first-rounder Alec Ogletree, it only needed a veteran influence—someone to help lead and step in if, and only if, needed—rather than a guy who would be vociferously unhappy without a starting spot.

     

    February: D

    July: A

Defensive Backs

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    Free-Agent Acquisitions (Cap Figure)

    Darian Stewart (1,000,000)

    Matt Giordano (550,000)

     

    Draft Picks

    Brandon McGee (fifth round, 149th overall)

     

    Undrafted Rookies

    Cody Davis (Texas Tech)

    Andre Martin (North Dakota State)

    Cannon Smith (Memphis)

    Robert Steeples (Memphis)

    Drew Thomas (Texas-El Paso)

    Darren Woodard (Texas-El Paso)

     

    Cuts

    S Quintin Mikell

     

    T.J. McDonald and Matt Giordano are the only two current St. Louis Rams safeties to ever have been drafted in the NFL. St. Louis’ safeties also have precious little starting experience as a group after Quintin Mikell’s release, but the presumed starters (McDonald and Darian Stewart) can be a decent pairing.

    McDonald will bring the lumber, while Stewart can cover a little bit.

    The Rams’ corners are so strong that the safeties will still look good, but a more accomplished free agent like Charles Woodson would have been preferred.

    Unfortunately, those accomplishments tend to come at a higher price tag, and Woodson is 36 years old. Too bad the ball-hawking Jairus Byrd is still waiting on a deal in Buffalo under the franchise tag.

    He would’ve been too expensive anyway, but the Rams are looking for Stewart to be a guy like Byrd: someone to create takeaways on the back end and make quarterbacks think twice about throwing over the middle.

    The cornerback corps, led by Cortland Finnegan, Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson, is shaping up to be one of the best in the league. Its depth was strengthened when St. Louis added Brandon McGee in the draft.

     

    CB February Grade: A

    CB July Grade: A

    S February Grade: F

    S July Grade: C

Specialists

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    Free-Agent Acquisitions (Cap Figure)

    None

     

    Draft Picks

    None

     

    Undrafted Rookies

    K Brett Baer (Louisiana-Lafayette)

    LS Jorgen Hus (Regina)

     

    Cuts

    None

     

    In February, the only thing the St. Louis Rams’ young specialist group was lacking was a dynamic and reliable kick/punt returner.

    Then they drafted Tavon Austin. He averaged 24.8 yards per return in college.

    Enough said.

     

    February: B

    July: A

     

    Jamal Collier also contributes St. Louis Rams analysis to Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter: 

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