All eyes will be on SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year Michael Sam when St. Louis Rams training camp opens on July 25. Nevertheless, seventh-round picks like Sam are anything but a sure shot to make the regular-season roster for the team that drafted them.
Competing for a spot in a position group led by Robert Quinn and Chris Long will be particularly challenging for the Missouri standout.
Last year’s Rams camp was all about the rookies. It will be more of the same in 2014. While Sam garnered plenty of national attention at pick No. 249, the Rams opened business way back at No. 2 overall with Greg Robinson.
Here’s the thing, though: There are non-rookies who can make a difference too.
The only one of this trio who has started at least a game for St. Louis in his career, Rodney McLeod is projected to start in center field again for the Rams defense. He started all 16 games last season but didn’t fare too well; Pro Football Focus ranked McLeod 75th at safety.
There are 64 starting safety spots in the league.
Despite this, St. Louis opted not to select his replacement on either of the first two days of the NFL draft. T.J. McDonald wasn’t taken until the middle of the third round in 2013, but the Rams’ 2014 fourth-rounder, Mo Alexander (6’1”, 220 pounds), is also an in-the-box, used-to-be-a-linebacker type of safety.
That’s because he used to be a linebacker.
Since most of the Rams’ safeties—2013 camp standout Cody Davis included—are thumpers, McLeod is the most well-equipped to patrol the deep middle. At least he has experience back there. He’s also got a couple of interceptions to his credit.
Making an opposite transition as that of Alexander—from safety to linebacker—last year was Ray-Ray Armstrong. No. 50 in your programs showed surprising speed, fluidity and hit power for an undrafted player going through a position change in training camp. One would’ve expected him to be more tentative. Armstrong turned his camp performance into a regular-season roster spot, becoming a force on special teams for St. Louis.
But is that his ceiling?
If all parties remain healthy, Armstrong isn’t likely to start this season. James Laurinaitis, Alec Ogletree and Jo-Lonn Dunbar have spoken for the three linebacker spots. Dunbar’s contract is voidable in 2015 if one of a few independent conditions is met. One’s tied to his playing time, and another is the Rams making the playoffs this season.
If Armstrong can help his team reach the postseason on defense—eating up snaps from Dunbar in the process—St. Louis stands to benefit financially.
It’s about time the Rams acquired a veteran No. 1 receiver. Not since Brandon Lloyd in 2011 have they had a wideout with even a 700-yard season on his résumé before, during or since donning the blue and gold.
Which Ram will make the biggest contribution in 2014?
Kenny Britt had 701 yards as a rookie, 775 more as a sophomore and was on his way to a banner third year before tearing his ACL in September 2011. With 56 catches, 685 yards and four touchdowns on 125 targets, he hasn’t been wildly productive since, but perhaps a change of scenery will do him some good.
He’ll absolutely have the chance to shine in St. Louis. Britt’s a big body with 19 career receiving touchdowns, which doesn’t sound like much—until you consider it’s the same number as Tavon Austin (four), Stedman Bailey (zero), Chris Givens (three), Austin Pettis (eight) and Brian Quick (four) have totaled collectively.
Britt also averaged 17.8 yards per catch pre-injury (12.2 since); he’s got downfield potential if he can return to form. Entering his sixth season, he could also show the similarly sized Quick a thing or two.
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