St. Louis Rams: 5 Young Players Who Need To Take the Next Step

David Heeb@@DavidHeebCorrespondent INovember 23, 2011

St. Louis Rams: 5 Young Players Who Need To Take the Next Step

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    Chris Long is in the middle of an incredible season. The fourth-year player has already registered career highs in sacks, as he is now a disruptive force every Sunday.

    Chris Long had potential. He took the next step.

    So the question for Rams fans is, "Which players need to follow in Long's footsteps?"

    I'll give you five St. Louis Rams who I see taking the next step between now and next season.

Lance Kendricks

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    Lance Kendricks needs to take the next step, but then again, his next step will be his first step. 

    It's much too early to call him a bust, but Kendricks has not played up to his second-round draft status. He is not a part of the game plan anymore, as the tight end position has all but disappeared from the Rams offense.

    He is a physical specimen, and if Kendricks could take that next step, the Rams would have a matchup nightmare every Sunday.

Darian Stewart

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    Darian Stewart is a second-year player who came into the league as an undrafted free agent.

    I think he could be a Pro Bowl safety.

    Stewart has been one of the Rams' best players this season, and if he indeed takes that next step, he could be part of an elite defense. He has been one of the lone bright spots for a much-maligned secondary this season.

Roger Saffold

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    Roger Saffold brings to mind the lyric, "Don't know what you've got, till it's gone."

    I didn't think Saffold played all that great this season, but it was easy to notice how much worse the offensive line was without him in the lineup. Saffold is out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle, an injury he suffered while lifting weights.

    Saffold had a great rookie season. His sophomore slump can be attributed partly to the fact that (a) the Rams receivers run longer routes in the McDaniels offense, (b) the receivers haven't been able to get open and (c) Sam Bradford has a habit of looking like a shell-shocked Marc Bulger at times.

    All of that adds up to the QB getting sacked more.

    By all accounts, Saffold is a hard worker. I think he is going to get better. If he does, the Rams have a nice building block on the offensive line. 

Robert Quinn

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    I love Robert Quinn. The dude sacks QBs, he blocks punts and he does it all with a brain tumor.

    What's not to love?

    If the Rams coaches will just keep feeding this guy more and more playing time, he is going to team up with Chris Long to form one of the fiercest pass rushes in the NFC for years. 

    Robert Quinn is going to be a stud. It's just a matter of time.

Sam Bradford

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    He has played for two offensive coordinators in two years, endured a lockout that stunted his growth, and he has the worst set of receivers in the NFL.

    Oh yeah, and the offensive line is pretty terrible.

    That is a recipe for "How to Ruin a Young QB" right there. Just mix all that up, and you end up with a second-year player that looks shell shocked. 

    Seriously, should the Rams start considering putting Bradford on the shelf to keep him from developing bad habits? I mean, you've all seen the deer-in-the-headlights QB that I see every third down, when you know a blitz is coming.

    It's almost like you can hear Bradford saying, "I know Jason Smith isn't going to block, I know Jason Smith isn't going to block..."

    If the Rams can protect Bradford, and get him another receiver to go beside Brandon Lloyd, then I think he can still be an elite player.

    If the Rams don't do that, they are going to ruin one hell of a young prospect.

    It's time for Sam Bradford to step up, and it's time for the Rams to step up the effort to support him.