2013 Team Needs: St. Louis Rams
John Castellane looks ahead to what the new league year has in store for the Rams after their encouraging start to the Jeff Fisher era.
2013 Team Needs: St. Louis Rams
The St. Louis Rams were ahead of schedule in 2012 as in Jeff Fisher’s first season as head coach, the Rams were very competitive and finished with a 7-8-1 record. In what was supposed to be a rebuilding season, the Rams impressively went undefeated against the NFC representative in the Super Bowl, the division rival San Francisco 49ers. Even more encouraging was their 4-1-1 record in a very tough NFC West.
With a promising season now over, the 2013 offseason will be pivotal for the Rams long-term growth. They have many of their own players set to become free agents (see a full list here) and have to make vital decisions, along with having a solid draft, to keep the momentum heading in the right direction. Let’s take a look at some of their biggest offseason needs.
In his first three seasons as the franchise quarterback the Rams are yet to supply Sam Bradford with a top end wide receiver. Danny Amendola remains a reliable option in the slot, but they lack the game-breaker on the outside, and Amendola himself is a pending free agent. Amendola also struggles to stay on the field because of injuries, which makes the decision of whether or not to obtain him even more complex. He finished the season as St. Louis’ most targeted receiver, being targeted on 28.8% of the routes he ran, and he led the team in receptions despite missing more than a month. His Drop Rate of 1.92 was second among slot receivers, and Bradford’s QB rating was 88.3 when throwing his way.
On the outside, the Rams used another free-agent-to-be, Brandon Gibson, and rookie Chris Givens most of the time. Gibson was the most productive of the two, which is scary because of his pending free agency. Bradford’s rating when throwing to Gibson was 108.3 and he led the Rams receivers with five touchdowns.
Regardless of Gibson’s situation, the Rams will be relying on Brian Quick to take a step forward in 2013. Quick was the 33rd overall pick last year and has all the physical tools needed to be a very good wide receiver. Coming from a small school his transition to the NFL may have taken a bit longer, and next year could be his opportunity.
Free Agent Fix: Mohamed Massaquoi
Along with retaining Amendola and Gibson the Rams need to add a playmaker on the outside. They might flirt with the big names like Dwayne Bowe, Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline, but they probably won’t be the main targets because of the money they will need to invest into Amendola and Gibson. However, a player like Mohamed Massaquoi (+1.4) could be a cheaper option with more upside. Massaquoi, a former second-round pick, hasn’t lived up to expectations in Cleveland and a change of scenery could be exactly what he needs. He can compete with Quick and Gibson for a starting job on the outside and add depth to the position. St. Louis would need two of those three to emerge and be threats on the outside, with Amendola running shorter routes from the slot, for the Rams to finally have a bona fide passing attack.
The starting safeties for the Rams in 2012 were a little hit and miss. Quintin Mikell, the steady veteran, turned in a very good 2012 season and seems to have a few more years of good football ahead of him. He is one of the leaders on the defense and missed only five tackles in the run game all season.
Conversely his starting partner, Craig Dahl, struggled through most of the 2012 season, finishing with 16 total missed tackles and at least one missed tackle in each of the Rams’ final eight games. His combined Tackling Efficiency of 5.7 was seventh-lowest in the NFL among 58 qualifying players. Dahl is a free agent this offseason and is unlikely to be retained. St. Louis needs to find an upgrade for him, and a player who can take over from Mikell in a few years as a leader on defense.
Free Agent Fix: Chris Clemons
It is a good year to need a safety, as there are many starting-caliber players on the market. After spending big money on free agent cornerback Cortland Finnegan last season, the Rams might not be willing to break the bank on a safety this year. Depending on how many finally hit the market, St. Louis would be wise to snatch up a reliable, emerging safety like Chris Clemons. Clemons (+4.4) is the most likely to hit free agency because the Dolphins have many other free agents they will need to re-sign and he could be the forgotten man. He might be costly, but the Rams need a safety and a young player in his prime, like Clemons, is an ideal fit. Clemons was the fourth-highest rated safety in coverage this season, which will complement the high frequency of Mikell blitzes perfectly. Clemons allowed zero touchdowns as the primary defender, while intercepting two passes. If St. Louis decides to spend their free agent money elsewhere, safety would be high on the draft day priority list and, according to early prognosis, it is a deep safety draft, so they could wait to fill this need.
The Rams have major question marks at both offensive tackle positions. After missing most of the early part of the season due to injury, Rodger Saffold performed well at left tackle. Saffold finished with a Pass Block Efficiency of 96.4, allowing 16 total pressures and two sacks in 350 pass blocking snaps. Despite his solid play, Saffold still has doubters, and there is speculation that a move to guard might be his best position.
On the other side, Barry Richardson started at right tackle and had a solid season. Richardson’s best play came at the end of the season, as in his last four games his lowest grade was +1.4 and he allowed only one sack. The former sixth-round pick played nearly every snap for the Rams and could be emerging as a strong right tackle. However, he is set to be a free agent this season and could be looking for more money than St. Louis thinks he’s worth.
Free Agent Fix: Gosder Cherilus
Assuming the Rams decide to keep Saffold at left tackle and let him grow, which appears to be the smart decision, then finding a right tackle will be paramount this offseason. They could decide to bring back incumbent Richardson, but a player like Gosder Cherilus (+23.4) would be the perfect fit. Cherilus is a natural right tackle, starting every game there for Detroit in 2012. He was the 10th-most efficient pass blocking offensive tackle in the league this year, allowing only four sacks on 787 pass blocking plays. With many elite offensive tackles scheduled to be free agents it is possible that a guy like Cherilus can be had slightly below market value. At 28 Cherilus is in the prime of his career and would complete a nice set of bookend tackles for St. Louis for the next five years.
Follow John on Twitter: @PFF_Castellane