JVM: St. Louis Rams
In this series of pieces, Pro Football Focus is hammering into the value of players. To us it’s a “Jahnke Value Model” number, telling you what players were worth (by our grading) in 2013. You can read about the work we’ve done to create it here, but in short:
• It’s solely about what a player did on the field in 2013
• Players are grouped by positions so their play essentially earns them a portion of the positional salary pool
• It’s all about cap hits (these values are approximate)
Here are 2013′s most undervalued and overvalued St. Louis Rams:
(* Denotes player missed significant portion of time through injury)
1. Robert Quinn, Defensive End
PFF’s runner up for Defensive Player of the Year, Robert Quinn (+77.2) was the most dominant 4-3 defensive end in football last year by a wide margin. It wasn’t just the shear amount of pressures and stops he made, it was the speed with which he beat the offensive tackles that put Quinn on a level all by himself. There is no better example of this than his week 12 beat-down of Chicago’s Jermon Bushrod. Quinn may have only had one sack, but he collected 11 pressures and a majority of them came within 2.5 seconds of the snap (an extremely quick pressure). He ended the game with the highest grade we’ve ever given a 4-3 defensive end at +14.4. With another season left on his rookie deal, the Rams need to start thinking about keeping this guy around for the long haul.
2013 Cap Hit: $2.6m
2013 Jahnke Value Model: $16.5m
Value Differential: +$13.9m
2. Johnny Hekker, Punter
It might seem a bit amusing that a punter is St. Louis second most undervalued player, but it’s more a reflection of just how good Johnny Hekker was and not the talent on the Rams. We thought so highly of Hekker that we named him the best punter in football last season. He had the second highest grade per punt in the NFL and had by far the most net yards per punt at 44.3. Hekker along with Greg Zuerlein combined for the fourth highest value total for kicker/punter combos.
2013 Cap Hit: $489k
2013 Jahnke Value Model: $3.5m
Value Differential: +$3m
3. Jake Long, Left Tackle
It’s always nice to see a free agent signing pan out and that’s exactly what happened with Jake Long last season. Even though it was soured by an ACL injury in week 16, Long’s performance marked a return to form that hadn’t been seen from him since 2010. In 872 snaps the left tackle finished with a +25.8 grade and didn’t have a single game graded at -1.0 or lower. He ended the season as our eighth ranked tackle after finishing outside the Top 20 the previous two seasons. If his knee can get back to full strength, Long’s four-year, $34m deal looks to be a good deal for both sides involved.
2013 Cap Hit: $4.3m
2013 Jahnke Value Model: $7.2m
Value Differential: +$2.9m
4. Kellen Clemens, QB – Cap: $590k, JVM: $3.3m, Value Differential: +$2.7m
5. Joe Barksdale, RT– Cap: $560k, JVM: $2.9m, Value Differential: +$2.4m
6. Shelley Smith, RG – Cap: $580k, JVM: $2.5m, Value Differential: +$1.9m
7. William Hayes, DE – Cap: $2.1m, JVM: $3.9m, Value Differential: +$1.9m
8. Greg Zuerlein, K – Cap: $517k, JVM: $2.2m, Value Differential: +$1.7m
9. Zac Stacy, HB – Cap: $449k, JVM: $1.4m, Value Differential: +$910k
10. Will Witherspoon, LB – Cap: $555k, JVM: $1.4m, Value Differential: +$827k
1. Cortland Finnegan*, Cornerback
I’ve put the asterisk next to Finnegan’s name to signify that he missed a good portion of the season due to injury, but the truth is even if he played the whole season out Finnegan’s value wasn’t likely to go up. In just 367 snaps, Finnegan managed to have the second worst grade among corners at -19.7 and he was our second most overvalued player, regardless of position, in the NFL. He allowed a catch rate of 76.5% and a passer rating against of 136.0. All that from the cornerback with the second highest cap hit at the position. It was Finnegan’s second straight disappointing season and he has another $10m cap hit looming in 2014.
2013 Cap Hit: $15m
2013 Jahnke Value Model: $515k
Value Differential: -$14.5m
2. James Laurinaitis, Linebacker
The real question here is how did James Laurinaitis ever get a front loaded five year, $41.5m contract that currently has him as the sixth highest paid linebacker per year? There is really no way Laurinaitis could have played at a level to justify the second highest cap hit among middle linebackers last season. He’s just not at that level. We’ve never ranked him better than the 14th-best middle linebacker (2010) and he’s only had one positively graded season in five years. Last season Laurinaitis was our 21st-ranked inside linebacker with an overall grade of -8.7. He ranked 20th in Run Stop Percentage (8.1) and 22nd in tackling efficiency (9.7). The unfortunate part is that the Rams are locked into Laurinaitis’ $10.4m cap hit next season because of the dead money on his contract.
2013 Cap Hit: $12.4m
2013 Jahnke Value Model: $1.3m
Value Differential: -$11.1m
3. Sam Bradford*, Quarterback
It was a cruel twist of fate that Sam Bradford’s last game in 2013 was also the highest graded of his career against one of the top defenses in the league. In that game Bradford was accurate on 23-28 targeted passes at Carolina before he tore his ACL on a freak play running towards the sideline. It was a huge setback for Bradford who had been playing well outside of a dreadful -5.9 grade against San Francisco in Week 4. Bradford’s play, along with his contract, has been a sore spot in St. Louis for the past four seasons. His grades by season have been -10.3, -3.4, +3.1, and +0.5. Basically they’ve been paying top 10 quarterback money to a league average quarterback for a few years now and it’s led to average teams.
Bradford’s six-year, $78m contract was the last big deal handed out under the old CBA. The thing is it was set up as such so the Rams couldn’t even cut Bradford until 2014 and even now if they do it they’ll have to take on $7.2m in dead money. St. Louis is in a unique position holding the 2nd and 13th overall picks. If they wanted to they could draft a quarterback at the top of the draft and start over again, or they could give Bradford more help at wide receiver and hope he finally turns it around. Either way the Rams need to get their quarterback position figured out before they turn into a legitimate contender.
2013 Cap Hit: $12.6m
2013 Jahnke Value Model: $4.2m
Value Differential: -$8.4m
4. Scott Wells*, C – Cap: $6.5m, JVM: $670k, Value Differential: -$5.8m
5. Chris Long, DE– Cap: $8.6m, JVM: $4.2m, Value Differential: $-4.4m
6. Kendall Langford, DT – Cap: $6m, JVM: $2.2m, Value Differential: -$3.8m
7. Jared Cook, TE – Cap: $4m, JVM: $1m, Value Differential: -$3 m
8. Tavon Austin, WR – Cap: $2.3m, JVM: $1.3m, Value Differential: -$1m
9. Harvey Dahl*, RG – Cap: $2.8m, JVM: $1.8m, Value Differential: -$1m
10. Brian Quick, WR – Cap: $1.3m, JVM: $465k, Value Differential: -$764k
Summary – Team Value Differential: -$22.2m
Outside of the big three overvalued players the Rams really weren’t too bad on their contracts. Finnegan, Laurinaitis, and Bradford contributed $34m to the deficit and were three of the top 20 most overvalued players in the entire NFL. When you guarantee big money to players, you better make sure they are going to be consistently strong players, and the Rams just haven’t done that. It would also help St. Louis’ value differential if they had more impact from guys on rookie contracts. Of their Top 10 undervalued players, only three were drafted by St. Louis and are on their rookie contracts. That lack of production is alarming. The Rams need young players like Janoris Jenkins, Alec Ogletree, and Tavon Austin to take their games to the next level in order to get their overall value differential into the positive.
Follow Mike on Twitter: @PFF_MikeRenner