We wrap up our look at the offseason needs of every NFL team with the best division in football, the NFC West. These teams don’t have much to improve upon, but in this division they can’t afford to have many flaws, so they need to make sure any needs they have get addressed this offseason. Let’s take a look:
Arizona Cardinals – The Cardinals were the best NFL team to not make the playoffs in 2013, but there’s still significant distance between them and the top of the division, so they’ll need a strong offseason if they want to make the playoffs in 2014. For Arizona, it starts up front, where they’ll need to upgrade at the offensive tackle position. Even if Eric Winston re-signs, the Cardinals would be wise to use their first round pick on an offensive tackle to help protect Carson Palmer. Speaking of Palmer, he needs a backup that can one day take his place, so Arizona could be looking to find a quarterback in the middle rounds of the draft that could be ready to take over as the starter in a year or two. Arizona might also be looking for a running back to complement Andre Ellington, preferably a bigger power back. Defensively, Arizona needs to get younger at outside linebacker, so one or two draft picks should be dedicated to that position. They can always look to add depth, but other than that they’re in good shape on that side of the ball.
San Francisco 49ers – After three straight trips to the NFC Championship Game the 49ers are close to winning a Super Bowl, but they’ll need a strong offseason to help get them over the hump. The first area they need to pay attention to is the secondary. A few of their cornerbacks are free agents, and even if they re-sign one or two, they may want to use an early round draft pick at that position. They’ll also need to re-sign safety Donte Whitner and keep him paired up with Eric Reid on the back end of their defense. The next area of focus is wide receiver, where both Anquan Boldin and Mario Manningham are about to hit the free agent market. Their preference will be to re-sign Boldin, but if they can’t do that they may need to use their first-round pick on a wide receiver. San Francisco may also need a center if Jonathan Goodwin decides to retire, and those can be tough to find beyond the first few rounds of the draft, which could change their plans. If they have some late-round draft picks or extra money available, the 49ers could also add depth to their front-seven.
Seattle Seahawks – Even after winning a Super Bowl, the Seahawks have plenty of room for improvement this offseason. Doug Baldwin will be back at wide receiver, while Golden Tate is hitting the open market, but even if Tate returns to Seattle the Seahawks may want to take advantage of the depth at wide receiver in this year’s draft class and pick one up in the second or third round. Seattle should also consider using a couple draft picks, and possibly an early-round pick on an offensive lineman to help keep their franchise quarterback better protected. Defensively, the Seahawks are in great shape, although they could lose Michael Bennett in free agency, creating a hole in their defensive line that needs to be filled, and they could use some more depth at cornerback, which is something they can find in the middle or late rounds of the draft.
St. Louis Rams – If the Rams are going to compete in this division, they’re going to need a quarterback, and Sam Bradford may not be the guy they need. St. Louis owns the second overall pick, and they could get a quarterback there if they want, if not then they’ll certainly pick an offensive tackle, which is their greatest need outside of quarterback. In fact, the Rams may need to end up using two or three draft picks on offensive linemen. St. Louis may also be looking to add a wide receiver, either in free agency or in the draft, possibly someone with size that can complement all the speed they added last offseason. Defensively, the Rams need to bring in an impact player at linebacker, most likely an outside linebacker that can help out James Laurinaitis. St. Louis could also look for another young safety to pair with T.J. McDonald, although they can wait until the middle rounds of the draft to do that.
Yesterday, we took a look at the leading candidates for defensive rookie of the year, and now it’s time to take a closer look at the first-year standouts on the offensive side of the ball. There are a lot of great candidates for this award, but we’ve narrowed it down to the top five.
Keenan Allen, San Diego – In a tight and crowded rookie of the year race, Allen may be one of the few players that is starting to stand out. The Chargers needed somebody to step up at wide receiver and Allen responded, as he has become San Diego’s leading receiver with nearly 1,000 yards on the season and eight touchdowns. Few rookie receivers are able to make a big impact, but Allen has made a seamless transition from college to the NFL, and that has put him in good position to be offensive rookie of the year.
Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati – Bernard is only playing part time, but he has taken that part time play and carried it a long way. The Bengals drafted him to be a change-of-pace back, but he’s nearly in equal to BenJarvus Green-Ellis in yards, while averaging 4.3 yards per carry. What has separated Bernard from a lot of the other rookie running backs has been his pass catching ability, as he’s the team’s third leading receiver with 51 catches for over 400 yards and three touchdowns. He may not have enough carries or played a big enough role on his team to win the award, but he’s been a great addition to an offense with a lot of playmakers and has shown great promise during his rookie season.
DeAndre Hopkins, Houston – His team’s terrible record will probably prevent him from garnering serious consideration for the award, as will some of his inconsistencies, but Hopkins has made an instant impact for the Texans as a nice complement to veteran Andre Johnson. Hopkins has nearly eclipsed the 800-yard mark this season and is averaging 16 yards per reception. His chances to win are hurt by the fact that he only has two touchdowns on the season, but compared to other rookie wide receivers, Hopkins has had a good season and made a difference, even on a bad team.
Eddie Lacy, Green Bay – Lacy is most likely Allen’s biggest competition for offensive rookie of the year. He has gone over the 1,100-yard mark and found the end zone 10 times, while averaging nearly 80 yards per game. Most importantly, he has helped carry a team that has been without its starting quarterback for half the season. Lacy has had no trouble adjusting physically to life in the NFL, even against teams stacking the box against him. Perhaps most importantly, he’s only fumbled the ball once, so he’s taken care of the football and his team has been able to rely on him, which should carry him a long way in the rookie of the year race.
Zac Stacy, St. Louis – Stacy was my pick before the season as a rookie running back that could come out of nowhere and make an impact, and now he’s a dark horse to win rookie of the year. He didn’t start playing regularly until October, and yet Stacy still has 958 yards rushing on the season, making him second only to Lacy among rookies, and giving him a chance to eclipse 1,000 yards in what would essentially be three-quarters of a season. If his stats could be extrapolated to a full season and his team was better, Stacy would certainly be among the top two or three candidates for the award and have a real chance to be rookie of the year.
With just one week left to play in the regular season, it’s almost award season in the NFL. In preparation for awards season, let’s take a look at the top five candidates (in no particular order) for defensive rookie of the year.
Kiko Alonso, Buffalo – Many people believe that Alonso will end up winning the award, as he’s one of the leading tacklers in the entire NFL. His production has been incredible with 145 tackles this season, and he has given life to an otherwise terrible set of linebackers in Buffalo. He’s not only played well against the run with seven games of double-digit tackles, but he’s also done well in pass coverage with four interceptions and five passes defended. Alonso makes plays all over the field and is having the kind of season that warrants serious consideration for defensive rookie of the year.
Ziggy Ansah, Detroit – After missing a few games it’ll be hard for Ansah to win defensive rookie of the year, but his performance definitely deserves consideration. He hasn’t been the most consistent player this year, which should be expected as a rookie, but there’s no doubt that he’s made an impact, leading all rookies with eight sacks. Ansah has three games with multiple sacks, showcasing what he’s capable of doing and the kind of impact he’s made this season.
Alec Ogletree, St. Louis – There have been some growing pains for Ogletree this year, as he definitely had some maturing to do after his three years at Georgia, but he has shown improvement throughout the season and has really come on strong late in the season. Ogletree has adjusted well to playing outside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme after playing in the middle of a 3-4 scheme in college, and he’s made 45 tackles over the last five games. Most importantly, Ogletree has shown the propensity for creating turnovers, as he returned a 98-yard interception for a touchdown in week 6 and forced four fumbles, indicating he has a promising future in the NFL after a nice rookie season.
Star Lotulelei, Carolina – The stats don’t tell the whole story with Lotulelei, who has been an unheralded but important part of Carolina’s great defense this season. The Panthers are far less effective against the run when he is not on the field, as having a big body like Lotulelei that can stuff the run has helped raise the level of play of the entire defense. He has 40 tackles and two sacks, so without eye-catching stats it’s going to be hard for him to win rookie of the year, but based on the impact that he’s made on the field, he’s as deserving as anybody else.
Sheldon Richardson, New York Jets – The Jets have been one of the best teams at defending the run this season, and the addition of Richardson is a big reason why. He has 76 tackles on the season, which is astounding for a defensive lineman and will draw a lot of attention from rookie of the year voters. He got off to a fast start, has been consistent throughout the season, and has had several dominating performances. If there’s anybody that has a chance to take the award from Alonso, it’s Richardson, who is a safe bet to at least be a close runner up for defensive rookie of the year.
There were certainly some unexpected occurrences during week 10 of the NFL schedule. Let’s try to recap everything and wrap up the week that was with the good, the bad, and the ugly:
Tavon Austin – We’ve impatiently waited for the 8th overall pick in this year’s draft to show us something and Austin finally delivered. He caught just two passes, but they totaled 138 yards and both finished with him running into the end zone. Austin also ran a punt back 98 yards for a touchdown, as he finally showed off his explosiveness and was the primary catalyst for the Ram’s blowout win over the Colts. The key is now for Austin to repeat that type of performance in the weeks to come, as St. Louis still doesn’t have much of a passing attack, even with his dynamic playmaking ability.
Seattle’s offense – The Seahawks have had some really poor performances in recent weeks and nearly lost their last two games, but they had a real nice bounce back effort against the Falcons on Sunday. Quarterback Russell Wilson flirted with 300 yards passing, running back Marshawn Lynch went for 145 yards on the ground, and Golden Tate topped the 100-yard mark receiving. Of course, it did come against Atlanta’s defense, so take it with a grain of salt, but Seattle gained nearly 500 yards, had great balance, and didn’t turn the ball over, which is a huge step in the right direction for their offense.
Antonio Brown – Brown was a one-man wrecking crew against the Bills. He had 104 yards receiving and broke off a 50-yard punt return, as he was Pittsburgh’s best player in two phases of the game. Brown has been the only reliable receiver Ben Roethlisberger has had this season, and when he has games like this the Steelers have a chance to win, which they did quite easily on Sunday.
Carolina’s defense – The Panthers were unbelievably impressive on defense against San Francisco. Granted, the 49ers haven’t been the most impressive offensive team in the NFL this year, but holding them under 100 yards throwing the ball and 151 total yards is a great accomplishment. Even against a quality offensive line, the Panthers were able to get pressure on Colin Kaepernick all game long and sacked him six times, holding San Francisco to just three field goals and giving their offense opportunities to put enough points on the board to win.
New York Giant’s turnovers – The good news is that the Giants won and kept their slim playoff hopes alive, but they certainly didn’t make it easy on themselves by turning the ball over three times. The Giants fumbled the ball away twice and Eli Manning continued his unsteady play by throwing a pick six. Ultimately, they were able to hang on for the win, but they won’t be able to get away with mistakes like that against tougher teams moving forward.
E.J. Manuel’s return – The Bills were glad to welcome back their starting quarterback, especially after last week’s failure with Jeff Tuel at quarterback, but Manuel definitely had some rust to shake off and didn’t play the way Buffalo was hoping he would. Manuel had trouble with his accuracy, and even when he did make accurate throws, his receivers didn’t do him any favors, as the Buffalo offense was stagnant for much of the game. For a rookie to miss a month with an injury, we should have expected him to struggle, but if Manuel had been sharper the Bills would have had a chance to win a game they needed to have to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Jay Cutler’s return – There was a lot of excitement in Chicago about Cutler’s return for the big divisional matchup against the Lions, but things did not go according to plan for the Bears. Cutler looked a little off for much of the game, and despite plenty of good throws, he completed just 21 of his 40 pass attempts. By the end of the game, Cutler was back on the sidelines with another injury, as Josh McCown nearly led the Bears to a game-tying score. McCown played well while Cutler was out, and who knows if things would have gone differently had Cutler taken another week off to recover and McCown had played the entire game.
Injury to Sean Lee – Lee left the Cowboy’s game against the Saints in the first half with a hamstring injury, and it completely changed the complexion of the game. Dallas was missing the leader of their defense, and it showed. The Cowboy’s defense looked like last year’s defense, as they got torched against Drew Brees and the New Orleans passing game without Lee’s intelligence and coverage skills.
Jake Locker’s injury – This week was supposed to be an opportunity for Locker to get back on track, but instead Locker threw just nine passes, including an interception, before having to leave with an injury that appears to be season ending. Back up Ryan Fitzpatrick played well, but the Titans still lost to Jacksonville, and despite still being in the middle of the wild card race, they can’t feel good about their chances with Fitzpatrick as their quarterback for the rest of the season.
Andy Dalton – For most of their game against the Ravens, Dalton did more harm than good for the Bengals, and reminded us that he may actually be the biggest thing that’s standing in the way of Cincinnati being able to make a deep playoff run. Dalton threw three interceptions and completed less than 50% of his passes, as a subpar performance by him played a big role in a Cincinnati loss for the second straight week.
Indianapolis Colts – The Colts had the advantage in several statistical categories, except for the ones that really mattered: they had just 18 rushing yards, they turned the ball over five times, and they converted just two of their 12 third down opportunities. Andrew Luck had perhaps his worst game as a pro, throwing three interceptions and fumbling a ball that got returned for a touchdown. Indianapolis followed up last week’s close call against Houston with a truly pitiful effort, as they are a far cry from the team that beat Denver a couple weeks ago.
Green Bay’s quarterback situation – If losing Aaron Rodgers wasn’t bad enough, back up Seneca Wallace couldn’t even get through his first series without going down with an injury as well. Wallace actually completed his first five passes and looked to have good command of the offense, but when the Packers had to go to third string quarterback Scott Tolzien they didn’t have much of a chance, especially after the Eagles took a commanding lead early in the 3rd quarter. Not only did Green Bay lose at home, but they are also in real bad shape at quarterback moving forward, and could have trouble staying in contention until Rodgers gets back.
As the preseason comes to an end, we continue our NFL preview and preseason power rankings with perhaps the best division in football, the NFC West.
1A. San Francisco – Who knows what could have happened if a power outage in the Super Dome didn’t steal momentum away from the 49ers in last year’s Super Bowl, but regardless, San Francisco is a leading favorite to get back to the Super Bowl out of the NFC. With injuries to key receivers, quarterback Colin Kaepernick will be challenged to do even more this season, although he still has Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis at his disposal, as well a reliable power back in Frank Gore to hand the ball off to.
Kaepernick is also a multi-dimensional player that can also be a handful for opposing defenses when he uses his legs to make plays, and if he continues to improve upon what he did last season he should be able to carry the 49ers a long way. Defensively, San Francisco’s biggest problem last season was in the secondary, but they did plenty to address that issue during the offseason, while also bringing in plenty of reinforcements in the front-7 to make them an even deeper team on the defensive side of the ball. With one of the most talented rosters and one of the best coaches in the NFL, there aren’t a lot of teams that will be able to stand in the way of San Francisco returning to the Super Bowl this season.
1B. Seattle – There’s little that can be said about the 49ers that can’t also be said about the Seahawks, and little that separate the two teams heading into the regular season. They have a smart and talented mobile quarterback in Russell Wilson, as well as a powerful running back in Marshawn Lynch leading the offense. Seattle still isn’t overly impressive at wide receiver, at least not after the loss of Percy Harvin to hip surgery, but a quarterback like Wilson doesn’t necessarily need Pro-Bowl wide receivers to be effective. What will help Wilson more than anything this season will be Seattle’s defense, which was good last season and could be even better this year, especially up front. They may be meaningless games, but the Seahawk’s defense shutdown some impressive offenses during the preseason, and they look like they could be in mid-season form when the regular season gets underway. With a strong defense and a young quarterback that’s only going to get better, Seattle is not far from where San Francisco is atop the West division or atop the NFC in general.
3. St. Louis – The Rams are a distant third in the NFC West, but in almost any other division they’d be no worse than second, if not first, in the preseason power rankings. After losing Steven Jackson and Danny Amendola in free agency, the Rams have a new-look offense predicated on speed with the addition of rookies Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey to go along with Chris Givens. The addition of speed is nice, but the Rams also need quarterback Sam Bradford to step his game up, and they’ll also be relying on Daryl Richardson and a group of unproven running backs to carry their rushing game. Defensively, St. Louis will be average, no better and no worse, and it should be enough to make them an average team. But if the Rams want to stay close to San Francisco and Seattle and compete for a playoff spot, their offense needs to utilize its speed and become explosive; otherwise, they’ll remain a distant third in the NFC West.
4. Arizona – The Cardinals have one of the bleakest outlooks in the NFL, as they play in a division with three other teams that are head and shoulders better than them. Replacing quarterback Kevin Kolb with Carson Palmer should be a significant upgrade, especially with a nice trio of wide receivers led by veteran Larry Fitzgerald. However, they’re relying on Rashard Mendenhall, who is still trying to prove he’s healthy after his ACL injury, to lead their rushing attack along with some late-round draft picks. Defensively, there are plenty of interesting players, including Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu in the secondary and a unique blend of rookies and veterans at linebacker, but the unit may not be able to stand out. In most other divisions, Arizona could be an interesting team to watch and might be capable of making some noise this season, but until they can prove otherwise, they’ll enter the 2013 season at the bottom of the NFC West.
Yes, it’s preseason, and yes, it’s just the first week, when starters don’t really get a lot of playing time, but there are still a few things we can take away from the first week of pre-season games:
Daryl Richardson is leading the Rams running back race – The word coming out of St. Louis prior to the game was that Richardson was the favorite to be the team’s starting running back, and that is obviously the case following one pre-season game. Richardson only got four carries, but he averaged six yards per carry. Isaiah Pead also gained six yards per carry, but he also coughed up a fumble, which will hurt his chances of winning the starting job considerably. Replacing Steven Jackson won’t be easy, but at least they have a good idea of who will be replacing him, as opposed to throwing a bunch of different candidates against the wall and hoping one of them sticks.
Washington Redskins are in good hands with Kirk Cousins – We probably won’t see Robert Griffin III at all this preseason, and there’s no guarantee he’ll be ready for the regular season opener, but the Redskins can rest easy knowing they have Cousins as their backup. Cousins didn’t play much, but he completed six of his seven passes and looked the part of a quarterback that can start in the NFL for an extended period of time. He won’t do the same things Griffin does, but among backups, he could be as good as they get, and if they’re forced to start the regular season with him as their quarterback, they’ll still be in good shape.
The Falcons struggle with mobile quarterbacks – Josh Johnson, who you probably don’t know but who is battling with John Skelton to be Cincinnati’s backup quarterback, ran wild against the Falcons on Thursday night. He racked up 64 rushing yards on just four attempts, including a 43-yard run in which he gashed Atlanta’s defense, who had no clue what hit them. If this is a sign of things to come, the Falcons could be this year, because they aren’t going to win the NFC if they can’t find a way to contain quarterbacks that can pull the ball down and run.
The Eagles quarterback competition is far from decided – Both Michael Vick and Nick Foles made a positive impression on Chip Kelly against the Patriots. Both quarterbacks led the team on a touchdown-scoring drive, and while Foles lost a fumble, he also ran for a 10-yard gain, showing that he does have some mobility. Even Matt Barkley did some nice things, despite looking like a rookie at times. Nobody expected a decision from Kelly to come soon, but judging from this game, there may not be a whole lot to separate Vick and Foles right now, which means we could be waiting quite a while until the Eagles announce who their starting quarterback is going to be.
There is never a stress-free time to be an NFL quarterback, but some of the league’s starting signal callers have painted themselves into an especially pressure-filled corner.
The following three quarterbacks could be in a drastically different position depending on how their 2013 season fares, so without further ado...
1. Andy Dalton
If anything or anyone is prone to the scalding heat of NFL fans and media, it is Andy Dalton’s fiery-hot ginger crown. The Bengals’ quarterback has drawn rays of criticism due to slow finishes in each of the past two years, ending in back-to-back losses at Houston in the 2012-2013 postseasons. Dalton has been red-hot at times—typically in early-season matchups against weak defenses—followed by periods of Sanchezian ineptness. Entering his third NFL season, Dalton is in make-or-break territory, as the jury is still out about his long-term viability in a starting role. The determination in his ginger-browed gaze is hard to doubt, though, so he gets the 2013 season to prove what he can do.
2. Sam Bradford
After three NFL seasons, Sam Bradford has failed to surpass either 4000 yards or 7 wins. The St. Louis Rams are still waiting for the 2010 first-overall pick to perform at a truly high level, and while he gets a break for an underwhelming supporting cast, the time for excuses has passed. The Rams rapidly-improving defense, which ranked a respectable 14th in 2012, has finally been complemented by some offensive weaponry. The additions of rookie receiver Tavon Austin and criminally-underused tight end Jared Cook give St. Louis the explosive elements they have missed in seasons past, depriving Bradford of legitimate excuses from here on out. If the Rams have a disappointing season, Bradford’s competency as a starting quarterback will be seriously questioned. Conversely, a strong performance with a revamped offense could help Bradford make his way up the QB totem pole.
3. Joe Flacco
Andy Dalton, Sam Bradford, and . . . Joe Flacco? This entry may stand apart from the previous two, but make no mistake—the reigning Super Bowl MVP faces more pressure than ever before. Aside from taking home the Lombardi Trophy after a magnificent playoff run, Flacco’s $120-million contract, including $52-million guaranteed, make him the NFL’s second-highest paid player. Like Bradford, Flacco has never passed for 4000+ yards, and has had more than his share of “meh” performances over the past 5 seasons. Flacco has redefined the way that NFL teams value quarterbacks, and while he won’t be expected to put up Drew Brees-like numbers, inconsistencies will be scrutinized like never before. The NFL universe scoffed at Flacco when he proclaimed his elite status, and since his successful middle-finger of a Super Bowl win, pundits will tear him to shreds with a sub-par follow-up in 2013.
Last year it was Alfred Morris, a running back picked in the 6th round out of Florida Atlantic by the Washington Redskins that came out of nowhere to become a major contributor and a major factor in Washington’s run to the playoffs. This year, if you’re looking for a rookie running back that comes out of nowhere and makes a big impact, look no further than Zac Stacy, who the St. Louis Rams drafted in the 5th round out of Vanderbilt.
Stacy certainly fits the mold. Just like Morris, he’s undersized, he comes from a college that’s easy to overlook, and without high-end speed or athleticism it’s easy to dismiss Stacy as a potential playmaker, but with his track record and skill set there are plenty of reasons to think he can become a valuable player in the NFL. Also like Morris, Stacy will become an impactful player during his rookie season.
Stacy comes to the NFL from the SEC, a conference where running backs are king, and over the past two seasons he was the most consistent and productive running back the league had, outperforming several talented backs, including Colts running back Vick Ballard. In 2011, he rushed for 1,193 yards and 14 touchdowns, averaging 5.9 yards per carry, and in 2012 he rushed for 1,141 yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging 5.5 yards per carry. Stacy did all that while facing some of the best defenses in the country and running behind one of the smallest offensive lines in the SEC. After achieving such high levels of success in the SEC at a place like Vanderbilt, the NFL is not as much of a step up as it might be for other players, which makes Stacy more than capable of making an impact as a rookie.
What stands out about Stacy physically is his strength. Despite not having ideal size, he is well built and a powerful runner between the tackles. The fact that he was so consistent in the SEC the past two seasons is a testament to his ability to run up the middle, take hits, and gain yards after contact. His willingness to be physical will play well in the NFL and that style of running will help offset his lack of size. Stacy isn’t going to break free for a lot of long touchdown runs, but he’s going to consistently get positive yards, which helps to set up play action and helps his team move the ball.
In St. Louis, Stacy will definitely get an opportunity to earn significant playing time as a rookie. With Steven Jackson leaving in free agency, the other running backs on the Rams roster are Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead, but neither is an established back in the NFL. After the Rams lost a power back like Jackson, Stacy could be the perfect power back to replace him, as well as complement all the speed that St. Louis has at wide receiver, giving their offense a nice blend of power and speed.
Even though there were more than a dozen running backs chosen in the late rounds of the draft, and many more signed as undrafted free agents, all with a chance to surprise the league the way Morris did last year, Stacy may be the most likely back to do so. He has a track record of success against high-level competition, he has the right kind of skill set, and he has an opportunity play as a rookie. It all adds up to Stacy replicating the kind of success out of the backfield that Morris had for the Redskins last season.
The St. Louis Rams are going old school, at least they’re trying to. More than a decade after Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk and Isaac Bruce led the 'Greatest Show on Turf” in St. Louis, the Rams are trying to return to the days when their offense lit up the scoreboard on a regular basis. In a division where they face two stingy defenses and have to keep pace with two of the best young quarterbacks in football, the Rams need to find a way to distinguish themselves, and the way they’re going to do that is with large amounts of speed on the offensive side of the ball, which they hope will return them to the days when they had one of the most potent offenses in the NFL.
Throughout the entire offseason, the Rams have worked to overhaul their offense, with the emphasis being on speed. It started when they parted ways with veteran wide receiver Danny Amendola and veteran running back Steven Jackson. Amendola and Jackson have been long-time fixtures on the St. Louis offense, and while they both remain productive players who signed sizeable free agent contracts with other teams, the Rams were willing to let both players go in favor of brining in young players with speed to surround quarterback Sam Bradford.
During the draft is when the Rams did their most significant work in trying to reshape their offense. They traded up to the 8th overall pick in the draft in order to take West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin, a player they clearly coveted heading into the draft. Later in the draft, the Rams took Austin’s college teammate Stedman Bailey. Both Austin and Bailey are undersized compared to the average NFL wide receiver, but they are both lightning quick and possess incredible speed, which makes them a threat to break off a big play every time they touch the ball. Drafting Austin and Bailey has added a vast amount of speed to the Ram’s roster, which they hope will pay off for them, especially on their turf field, where players with speed and quickness can excel.
Austin and Bailey will be joining the Ram’s leading receiver from last year Chris Givens, who is another young, speedy, and slightly undersized wide receiver. With Givens and the two rookies, the Rams will have a trio of fast receivers, which will enable them to spread the field, create space for their playmakers, and utilize their speed to create big plays. If the Rams are able to stretch the field vertically, it should open up space across the middle of the field for their speedsters, which could make them a dangerous offensive team.
Clearly, all the changes to the Rams offense this offseason have revolved around getting younger and getting faster. By doing so, they have essentially exchanged veterans Amendola and Jackson for rookies Austin and Bailey. If things work out according to plan, the Rams could revive the “Greatest Show on Turf” offense that worked wonders for them more than a decade ago.
When the St. Louis Rams drafted Brian Quick with their first of three second round picks in the 2012 draft it was assumed by most that it would take some time for his raw athleticism and physical ability to translate to production. While taking Quick with the 33rd overall pick was considered a reach, even the most ardent critics of this pick couldn’t have predicted as bad a first season as Quick had.
In his first season in the NFL Quick struggled mightily to get playing time, which is made evident by his meagre stats line of 11 receptions for 154 yards and 2 touchdowns, including this beauty of a grab. Inability to create separation from NFL corners and adapt to what the defenses were bringing limited Quick to 32 snaps over his first four games.
With new found opportunities presented by the departures of Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson in free agency, Quick is going to have to find a way to improve upon the numbers he posted in his rookie campaign. If not, he will find his name added to the list of physically gifted receivers, who’s talent never equated production in St.Louis - if you’re thinking Donnie Avery and Danario Alexander, well played.
Unlike last year Quick won’t have to make hurdles over established veterans to get playing time. As of right now Quick is already listed as the starting receiver in the flanker position once occupied by Brandon Gibson, as per OurLads. While playing as the Z receiver in the Rams offense will come with increased blocking responsibilities, it was also have Quick planted firmly in Bradford’s line of sight. Assuming Quick can start to use his imposing frame and speed to better separate himself from defensive backs, this puts him in line for a huge increase in snaps and presumably increased stats to accompany them.
While this Rams offense - at least where it’s receiving corps is concerned - will most likely center around the production they can get out of Tavon Austin in his rookie season, it will need improved play from Quick to take that next step. The days of the Sam Bradford checkdown are gone, it’s up to Quick and the rest of the Rams receivers to determine how successful the switch is.
You can follow J.D. Burke: @JDBurkeOV