Every NFL team has a handful of players that not only serve as the face of the franchise, but as the heart and soul—they are the vital organs of the team's body.
The success or failure of the team lands on their shoulders. When they thrive on the field, the rest of the team thrives. When they struggle, the whole team enters a rut.
The St. Louis Rams are no exception. Their 2013 season will depend on several key players and their ability to execute on Sunday.
Steven Jackson and Danny Amendola were vital organs to the Rams' body in 2012, but this past offseason, the team underwent an organ transplant. It'll have a new look in 2013.
Here's a breakdown of the new and improved nucleus. These players are absolutely vital and will determine how far the Rams go in the upcoming season.
Sam Bradford, QB
Nonetheless, Sam Bradford is extremely important to the Rams. in fact, when it comes to the team's playoff hopes, no player will play a bigger role in fulfilling that goal than Bradford.
Of course, that's a statement of opinion, but when looking at the 12 playoff teams of 2012 and their quarterbacks, it easy to see that the statement has some truth to it.
Of the 12 quarterbacks who made the playoffs in 2012...
Eight finished with a top-10 quarterback rating (10 of them finished in the top 15). Six finished top 10 in touchdown passes (nine finished in the top 15). Eight finished in the top 15 in passing yards, while 10 finished in the top 15 in completion percentage.
So, is a quarterback's individual performance vital to a team's playoff hopes? Uh, yeah... that's an understatement.
The Rams don't have a freakish skill position player to carry them to the playoffs (Adrian Peterson, Calvin Johnson), and the defense is not quite ready to be the very best in football. And without a freakish weapon, and without a No. 1 overall defense, the Rams need solid quarterback play if they hope to make the playoffs in 2013. It's a requirement.
Bradford finished the 2012 season 15th in passing yards (3,702), 18th in quarterback rating (82.6) and had the 16th highest touchdown total (21).
He has managed to post mid-level quarterback numbers with Danny Amendola as his top receiver and without a dominant left tackle (such as Jake Long).
Now, with more weapons and better protection, Bradford will be the center of our focus.
If he continues to improve, there's a great chance the Rams will sniff the playoffs. If he has another 2011-style collapse, the Rams will use their two first-round picks to buy a new franchise passer.
Michael Brockers, DT
Michael Brockers was the Rams' top draft pick in 2012 and was surprisingly solid last season.
Despite being criticized by draft analysts for his inability to get to the quarterback, Brockers managed to record four sacks in only 12 starts. He also picked up 31 tackles and a forced fumble.
At 6'5" and 322 pounds, Brockers has a monster frame that stuffs the run, while he consistently gets penetration when rushing the passer.
Brockers is a rising star and will serve as the anchor of the Rams' defense, making him a vital asset in 2013.
In fact, when looking back at the 2012 season, the defense was not the same with Brockers out of the starting lineup.
In the 12 games that featured Brockers in the starting lineup, opponents picked up just 4.21 yards per carry. In the four games without Brocers as a starter, that total jumps to a devastating 4.77 yards per carry.
As far as the pass rush, the numbers show Brockers was absolutely essential.
In the four games without Brockers in the starting lineup, the Rams averaged just 1.0 sack per game. In the 12 games with Brockers, that average sky rocketed to 4.0 sacks per game.
The Rams led the NFL in sacks in 2012 (tied with 52), and that clearly would have never happened without Brockers.
Brockers is not a flashy defender, like Janoris Jenkins or Cortland Finnegan. He's not a sack artist like Chris Long or Robert Quinn (at least not yet). He's not even a leader like James Laurinaitis.
But he is the gritty, under-appreciated anchor of the defense.
For that reason, Brockers is among the Rams' most valuable assets in 2013, and his performance will determine how high the defense ranks in the upcoming season.
Tavon Austin, WR
The Rams traded up in the 2013 NFL Draft to grab Tavon Austin at No. 8 overall, and he'll be asked to do an awful lot as a rook.
Sam Bradford has depended on the short, quick passes since entering the league. It's his bread and butter. And with Steven Jackson gone and a backfield full of unestablished youngsters, the short pass will be vital when it comes to moving the chains—the short pass will make up for the depleted run game.
That's where Austin comes in. His short routes will replace a portion of the run game, just like Danny Amendola. He will play the Amendola role.
And just how important is the Amendola role to St. Louis?
Since 2010, the Rams have a 12-15-1 record with Amendola in the lineup. Not an overly impressive record, but without Amendola in the lineup, the Rams have a 4-18 record since 2010.
Amendola has averaged 5.4 receptions per game since 2010, and you can count on Austin receiving the same attention from Bradford.
His ability to turn those short passes into first downs and big gains will determine how explosive the St. Louis offense is in 2013.
Additionally, his ability to move the ball and score touchdowns as a punt returner will play a major role when it comes to the offense's success.
According to Football Outsiders, who recorded every team's average starting point on offensive drives, the Rams' average starting line of scrimmage was at the 23.73-yard line—ranked dead last in the NFL.
Obviously, that's a statistic St. Louis cannot repeat in 2013. Better point production will require better field position, which is why Austin's punt returns will be vital.
Austin's performance on offense and special teams will greatly impact the Rams' record in 2013, and he's one of the few players on the St. Louis roster who is truly irreplaceable.