Ranking the 10 Biggest Upgrades the St. Louis Rams Made This Offseason

Steven Gerwel@Steve_GerFeatured Columnist IVJuly 23, 2012

Ranking the 10 Biggest Upgrades the St. Louis Rams Made This Offseason

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    The St. Louis Rams have put together one of the worst five-year stretches in the history on the NFL, which initially began with a 3-13 season in 2007. 

    Since then, the Rams managed to pull off a one-win season in 2009, and more recently a two-win disaster just last season. 

    Overall, the Rams have won only 15 combined games over the last five years. 

    The franchise is putting out a consistently poor product, which makes it difficult for some fans to get over their apathy and get excited for the upcoming season. 

    The cynicism isn't fair to new head coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead, who had nothing to do with team's recent ineptitude. They deserve a little faith. 

    And when you break down each individual upgrade that the team has made this offseason, it's clear that someone finally has a clue at Rams Park. 

    But which move was the most important? Which upgrade will result in the most wins?

    This article will answer those questions and rank the top 10 moves of the offseason.

10. Greg Zuerlein, K

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    In an effort to save money, the St. Louis Rams cut veteran kicker Josh Brown and replaced him with rookie Greg Zuerlein. 

    Brown was entering the final year of a five-year contract worth $14.2 million. Rather than pay a declining kicker a hefty salary, the Rams drafted Zuerlein in the sixth round last April and will pay him a modest $422,205 during his first year (according to Spotrac.com). 

    So not only are the Rams replacing their aging kicker with a top young talent, but they are also clearing salary cap space that can be used to re-sign James Laurinaitis and Chris Long. 

9. Rocky McIntosh, LB

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    The Rams defense was horrific against the run last season after allowing 152.1 rushing yards per game on average (second-highest average in the NFL). 

    The poor defense was caused by multiple factors, including poor defensive line play, but one thing that really hurt them was their outside linebackers.

    Ben Leber and Brady Poppinga, the two veteran free agents the Rams brought in prior to the 2011 season, were nothing short of awful and simply could not get the job done at an acceptable level. 

    Leber, who was expected to be the better of the two, didn't even make it through the entire season. He was cut after Week 12. 

    Now that both players are gone, the current coaching staff is trying to fortify the position with the help of undrafted rookies and low-level free agents. 

    One of the free agents is Rocky McIntosh. 

    The 29-year-old McIntosh has been with the Washington Redskins for his entire six-year career and has always been viewed as an above-average linebacker. 

    That changed once the Redskins switched to a 3-4 defensive front, which caused McIntosh to experience a decline in his performance. 

    Now that McIntosh will be back in a 4-3 system, he'll be expected to return to form and finally provide the Rams with some help at linebacker. 

    McIntosh was a minor free agency pickup, but he could eventually have a huge impact on the Rams defense. 

8. Assistant Coaches

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    After an impressive run with the New York Giants as their defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo was hired by the Rams in 2009 to fill their head coaching vacancy.

    Spagnuolo was a rookie head coach, which is why it was a little odd that he didn't bring in any former head coaches to work on his staff. He generally stuck with assistant coaches who were as inexperienced as he was. 

    Luckily for the Rams, they now have a veteran head coach in Jeff Fisher. And even though Fisher is a veteran himself, he felt it was important to hire assistant coaches who have lengthy NFL backgrounds and solid reputations around the league. 

    Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, assistant head coach Dave McGinnis, offensive line coach Paul Boudreau, secondary coach Chuck Cecil, quarterbacks coach Frank Cignetti and defensive line coach Mike Waufle are all highly qualified and capable of developing the young talent on the Rams. 

    Signing talented players is vital, but the behind-the-scenes upgrades can be just as important. 

7. Isaiah Pead, RB

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    For the last five years, the Rams have been in desperate need of a competent backup running back behind Steven Jackson, but they've come up short over the years. 

    Their best attempt was the addition of Cadillac Williams in 2011. Williams had some success and flashed moments of promise that reminded us why he won Rookie of the Year in 2005, but overall he lacked consistency and could not get the job done. 

    But now that the Rams used a second-round pick on Isaiah Pead last April, their nightmare might be over. 

    Pead will immediately provide the offense with dangerous speed—something they were severely lacking in 2011—and he'll likely carry the ball at least 10 times a game right out of the gate. 

    Not only that, but now the Rams have someone to depend on if Steven Jackson misses a game or two due to an injury. 

6. The Wide Receivers

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    Last season, the Rams acquired Brandon Lloyd before the trade deadline, and he proved to be the team's first dangerous receiver since Torry Holt in 2007. 

    Fans were hopeful that the Rams would be able to sign Lloyd to a long-term extension, but Lloyd wanted big money and the front office was unwilling to pay him, so he left as a free agent. 

    The Rams were unable to bring in an elite receiver as a replacement, but they were able to acquire several talents capable of upgrading the position. 

    Brian Quick, the Rams first pick during the second round of the NFL draft, is 6'4" and 220 pounds. He's a raw talent but has elite potential. His size and route running will immediately come in handy. 

    Chris Givens is a rookie like Quick, but he was drafted in the fourth round. Givens has dangerous speed and will provide Sam Bradford with a downfield threat. 

    Steve Smith, who was acquired in free agency, is a former Pro Bowler and will be a complete steal if he has finally recovered from a knee injury that has held him back the last two seasons. 

    The Rams didn't make any big splashes in their search for wide receiver help, but they found some intriguing talents with monster potential.  

5. Janoris Jenkins, CB

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    If you have watched the Rams play football over the past five years, then you know that the team is dull and completely lacks playmakers. 

    They've lost countless games simply because they don't have players who can scare opponents and make game-changing plays. 

    But with Janoris Jenkins, they may have found someone who fits that description.

    Jenkins is an incredible talent with elite coverage skills and has the potential to be a shutdown corner in the NFL. On top of that, he's a dynamic punt returner capable of taking one to the house. 

    If Jenkins can stay out of trouble and focus on football, then he's exactly the type of player the Rams have been lacking over the years. 

4. Michael Brockers, Kendall Langford

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    The Rams had the second-worst run defense in the NFL (152.1 yards per game), and a major reason for that was the ineffectiveness of Fred Robbins and Justin Bannan at defensive tackle. 

    As a result, the current regime acquired two young tackles who will instantly upgrade the entire defense. 

    First-round draft pick Michael Brockers is 322 pounds and will stuff the run, even if his pass-rushing skill are questionable. Meanwhile, Kendall Langford was a promising player in Miami and was a smart pickup in free agency. 

    Not only will the two tackles prevent teams from running up the gut, but their presence will take the focus off the defensive ends and middle linebacker, which will allow them to make big plays. 

3. Cortland Finnegan

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    The Rams were in need of premier talent, which is exactly what they got upon signing Cortland Finnegan during free agency. 

    Along with draft picks Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson, as well as safety Quintin Mikell, Finnegan makes the Rams secondary very dangerous. 

    Not only that, but Finnegan played most of his career under Jeff Fisher and will show his Rams teammates what's expected of them by setting an example. 

    Also, Finnegan knows how to get inside the opponent's head. He brings the tenacity required to win games in the NFL.

2. Scott Wells, C

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    Scott Wells may not be as talented as Cortland Finnegan, and he didn't make as much of a splash when he signed his contract with the Rams during free agency, but he may very well be the most important addition of the offseason. 

    The Rams surrendered an NFL-high 55 sacks and quarterback Sam Bradford was constantly under pressure. 

    Wells, a Pro Bowler last season, will stop the monster nose tackles in their tracks and give Bradford time. Also, he'll take over for Bradford as the guy who calls out blocking assignments, which is something Bradford struggled with last season. 

    Wells has experience working with great quarterbacks, such as Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre, so he'll have plenty of wisdom to share with Bradford. He's worth every penny. 

1. Jeff Fisher

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    Which offseason move will result in the most wins for the Rams? 

    If that's the question, then the team's best move this offseason was hiring Jeff Fisher as head coach, and it's not even close. 

    Fisher has a career record of 142-120. His record would be even better if he didn't suffer a decade of Peyton Manning and the Colts in the AFC South. 

    Fisher has been a head coach since 1994 and has been through it all, unlike the last three Rams coaches who were all rookies and were forced to learn on the job. 

    If anyone can bring winning football back to St. Louis, it's Fisher.