2011 NFL Predictions: 7 Future Stars on the St. Louis Rams
Being a star in the NFL means that you have to play above and beyond the majority of your competition. You have to either be a great specialist in one area of the game, or be the jack of all trades. Then, you have the players that develop into not just the faces of their franchise, but they become the face of the NFL.
St. Louis has several young players on their roster that could become well known names in the near future. Whether the player has shown promise in the past several years, or is a rookie making a name for himself in the preseason, the Rams have players with that star potential. This slideshow will present seven players on the current Rams roster who have the chance to make a name for themselves either this season or in the near future.
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All signs point to this being the season James Laurinaitis becomes a well known name around the league.
Laurinaitis has racked up 100 or more tackles in his first two seasons with the Rams, and has recorded five sacks and three interceptions. It's not all about the stats with Laurinaitis though. He has already established himself as the leader of this young Ram defense. Even with veteran talent like Ben Leber being brought in, James Laurinaitis is still the man the defense will look to to make plays.
The only thing holding him back is that there isn't anything that pops out about the way he plays. Rams fan know how crucial he is to the team, but he doesn't lay the lumber like Patrick Willis or Ray Lewis. He's not known for being a great sideline to sideline player like Jon Beason. Where he lacks in talent, however, he makes up for with his intelligence. Laurinaitis should make a name for himself for being the rock solid foundation of the St. Louis defense.
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Chris Long is one of those players in the league that is a true jack of all trades. He can rush the passer, stuff the run, and his motor never stops.
It has taken Long a little while to find his niche, but now that he has, things are looking very positive for him. He has always had success against the run in his time with the Rams, but with the addition of James Hall and the switch to left end, Long has taken off as a pass rusher. While he didn't record double digit sacks, he was applying pressure to the quarterback more than many people realize.
When you think of the top defensive ends in the league the names Justin Tuck, Julius Peppers, and Dwight Freeney pop up. It may seem crazy to put Long on their level, but when you compare him to Justin Tuck, it seems possible that Long can get there. In Tuck's first two seasons he had just one sack. The two years following, he had 22 total. Very similar to Chris Long's spike to 8.5 sacks a season ago.
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Bradford has a ways to go before he can be declared as a no doubt Hall of Famer, but he has shown flashes of excellence. The sheer fact that the Rams let him air it out as much as he did a season ago speaks to the confidence the Rams have in him. As he matures, the minor mistakes will continue to decline. His stats from a season ago were average for most quarterbacks, but he posted a high mark in one of the most important categories. He finished with a 60 percent completion percentage.
There is no reason Sam Bradford shouldn't be considered among Josh Freeman, Matt Ryan, and Joe Flacco as the next wave of great quarterbacks. What will be the most exciting thing to watch is whether or not Bradford can surpass them, and enter a category of his own. The argument for league's best player is currently Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. In the future, the debate could be between Sam Bradford and Freeman, Ryan, or Flacco.
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Rodger Saffold proved many of his critics, including myself, wrong a season ago. He didn't just prove them wrong, he went way above and beyond anybody's expectations.
When St. Louis took Saffold over receivers Arrelious Benn and Golden Tate it sparked a lot of interest. It seems like the pretty clear choice now. Saffold did an excellent job a season ago holding down the left side. He had his struggles here and there, but he was able to outperform Jason Smith at left tackle during training camp.
Although Saffold isn't a big banger on the left side, he put it best when he said that he is a "new breed" of offensive tackles. He is a guy that has very good footwork and keep up with the faster defensive ends. Will he ever be as good as Joe Thomas or Jake Long? I think he has the potential. The addition of the notoriously nasty Harvey Dahl will help Saffold develop as a run blocker.
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This will be the season Bradley Fletcher makes a name for himself. Not many cornerbacks receive credit for being stars, but it shouldn't be too much longer before Fletcher establishes himself as a top tier corner.
Fletcher was able to make a serious jump from his rookie season in the NFL to his sophomore season. He went from scrapping for playing time, to being a full-time starter. Fletcher was able to record 75 tackles a season ago on top of his four interceptions. His quick improvement has many expecting big things from him this season.
While I don't believe Bradley Fletcher will ever be on the level of Champ Bailey, Darrelle Revis, or Nnamdi Asomugha, he will be a solid corner. He will eventually become a player that quarterbacks will have to be very aware of when they throw in his direction. Fletcher has all of the makings of a player with Pro Bowl potential.
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Lance Kendricks is a player that you should mark down as the next great tight end in this league. He was another questionable draft choice in my opinion, but he has already changed my perspective on him.
Kendricks has the ability to join the small class of tight ends to total 1,000 yards receiving. Expecting him to produce at that level this season is a stretch, but it is definitely in reach for the future. St. Louis has very few receiving options that stand out outside of Danny Amendola. The guy who has produced though is Kendricks. If his chemistry with Sam Bradford carries into the regular season, there is no reason he won't be a top three receiving option for the Rams.
Will Lance Kendricks ever produce at the level of Antonio Gates? Likely not, but he will be a consistent receiving tight end like Jason Witten or Dallas Clark. One thing he needs to focus on before he becomes a star in the NFL is blocking. Vernon Davis for example has now put himself into the elite tight end category by becoming more than just a receiver.
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If Robert Quinn becomes a star in this league, it will likely be as a pass-rushing specialist. It will all start this season in his limited role.
Quinn eventually will become better against the run, but for now he will have to be a sack artist. His athletic ability is unquestioned. To be 265 pounds and run a 4.73 40 yard dash is pretty impressive. Already this preseason Quinn has been showing flashes of the pass rush ability recording his first sack against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Whether or not Robert Quinn can develop into a solid run defender remains to be seen, and it's too early to judge. What he can strive to be is a double-digit sack man. The Rams' defense has the potential to be monstrous with Quinn lining up with Chris Long. I see Quinn becoming like John Abraham of the Falcons. An outstanding pass-rusher who is decent against the run.
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Here are a few other guys that I considered putting on this list:
Smith hasn't lived up to the hype of a No. 2 overall draft choice. He is more comfortable on the right side of the line, and will be solid for the Rams. Being a solid player and a star player are two different things, however. Rodger Saffold at this point looks to have a brighter future.
Stewart is the Rams' starting safety for now, but it remains to be seen if he will keep the job. If he does keep the job, he could turn out to be a very good, very underrated player for St. Louis. It is very easy to envision Darian Stewart being the Adam Archuleta of the future Rams.
Pick a wide receiver. Any wide receiver. No receiver on the current Rams squad has the look of a future star. Danny Amendola is talented, but when you compare his stats to Wes Welker you can see how he isn't a star. Donnie Avery, Brandon Gibson, and Danario Alexander haven't shown enough to warrant the label "star potential."