Throughout the week, we’ve been ranking all the players on the St. Louis Rams roster from worst to best (90-70 on Monday, 70-50 on Tuesday, 50-30 on Wednesday, and 30-10 yesterday). Today, we finally unveil the Top 10 players on the roster, none of whom should be too much of a surprise. With that said, it’s interesting to notice how few of these players would have been on this list two or three years ago.
If you happen to disagree with any of our rankings or have any other comments, feel free to let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @ArchAuthorityFS. Until then, here are your Top 10 Rams:
10. Michael Brockers, DT
Brockers, the Rams’ first-rounder in 2012, is quickly developing into one of the better all-around defensive tackles in the NFL. He’s only 23 and declared for the draft after his redshirt sophomore season, meaning that 2014 would be his first year as a pro if he hadn’t been an early entrant. No player develops quite the same, but it’s worth noting that Robert Quinn, who also declared as a redshirt sophomore, really broke out last year in what otherwise would have been his rookie season. Last year, Brockers virtually equaled the production of Ndamukong Suh, who many casual fans would consider to be the league’s all-around defensive tackle; Brockers had 46 total tackles compared to Suh’s 49, while they both had 5.5 sacks.
Everything is set up for Brockers to succeed this year, as he’s had two years to adjust to the league, and he’ll also be helped by the presence of rookie pass rusher Aaron Donald, who should keep offensive lines from ever double-teaming Brockers. If the 6-foot-5, 326-pounder can stay healthy this year, look for him to have a breakout season.
9. Zac Stacy, RB
Stacy had a great rookie year and really made a name for himself around the league. After he took over as the Rams’ starter in Week 5, he had the seventh-most rushing yards of any running back in the NFL. And despite being a non-factor in the first four weeks of the year, Stacy was just short of 1,000 rushing yards for the season. Despite Stacy’s success last year, there was some thought that rookie Tre Mason could wrestle away his starting job before the beginning of the year. So far, though, it looks like Stacy is still going to get the lion’s share of the carries, and if he remains healthy he has a good chance to restore the Rams’ legacy of 1,000-yard rushers that Marshall Faulk and Steven Jackson had kept going for so many seasons.
8. Sam Bradford, QB
Bradford isn’t respected by many people—either Rams fans or national media—because of the injuries that have prevented him from finishing the 2011 and 2013 seasons. It’s easy to forget, however, that Bradford was having the best season of his career last season before going down with an ACL injury. He was on pace to lead NFC West quarterbacks in touchdown passes, and at the pace he was going he would have had more passing yards than both Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson.
Bradford also led some rather untalented Rams teams to near playoff berths in both of his healthy seasons (2010 and 2012). There are higher expectations now that the Rams have devoted so much time and effort into assembling a talented young roster, so Bradford needs to lead the Rams to the playoffs this year. But since he’s had a good chunk of time to bulk up his body, and also has had the most time he’s ever had with one offensive coordinator and group of receivers, don’t be surprised if Bradford really starts living up to expectations in 2014.
7. James Laurinaitis, LB
There are some signs that the 27-year-old Laurinaitis’s career may have peaked; he failed to lead the Rams in tackles for the first time in his career last year, and he’s been limited by an ankle injury during training camp this year. With that said, Laurinaitis is still one of the better inside linebackers in the NFL, as he’s a very good tackler who can also contribute in coverage and as a pass rusher. As rookie Alec Ogletree took some of the load off Laurinaitis’s shoulder in 2013, he flashed those additional skills more than usual, when he had a career-high 3.5 sacks. That’s not even to mention his great command of the defense, which certainly was beneficial to Ogletree as he adjusted to both being a pro and playing a new position at weakside linebacker. So if his health isn’t an issue in 2014, expect Laurinaitis to be one of the most important players on the Rams’ defense once again.
6. Alec Ogletree, LB
There’s always the dreaded sophomore slump to worry about, but if Ogletree comes close to replicating his 2013 production he’ll firmly establish himself as the leader of the Rams’ back seven. The 6-foot-3, 245-pounder had a great rookie season in 2013, picking up a team-leading 117 tackles plus 1.5 sacks and a 98-yard interception returned for a touchdown against the Houston Texans.
If Ogletree can improve like many experts have been speculating he will under new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, his ceiling is limitless. He needs to improve his pass rushing and playmaking ability, but if he does that he could definitely challenge Tampa’s Lavonte David as the best 4-3 outside linebacker in the league.
5. Chris Long, DE
Long is no longer the best defensive end on his own team, but he’s still one of the better pass rushers in the league. Despite the fact that he was limited by an injury early in the 2013 season, Long still managed to have 8.5 sacks on the season. Obviously there are only so many sacks to go around on a defensive line that also features elite pass rushers including, but not limited to, Robert Quinn and Aaron Donald, but there’s no reason to think that Long can’t have another great season. He averaged 11 sacks a season over his previous three campaigns, and if he’s on his game Long very well could reach double-digit sacks again this year.
4. Johnny Hekker, P
Seeing as he was a Pro Bowler in 2013 and was the punter for a team that set the NFL’s single-season average net punt yardage record, it would be very logical to call Hekker the best punter in the NFL. Having averaged over 45 yards on his punts in each of his first two years in the league, he’s a legitimate weapon for the Rams. And with Hekker still only 24 years old and working with a group of special-teamers that will be more experienced in 2014, special teams coach John Fassel legitimately believes that the punt team can get even better this season. There’s only so much that a punter can do to impact a team, but Hekker just about does it to the max.
3. Jake Long, OT
Long had a bit of an adjustment period in his first season with the Rams, but once he got a few games under his belt it was clear that Long was still one of the best left tackles in the NFL. The 6-foot-7, 322-pounder was rated as the second-best run-blocking tackle and the seventh-best tackle overall in the league by Pro Football Focus during 2013. Unfortunately, his season ended in Week 15, when he suffered a torn ACL. But with the quick recovery that Long has had, it looks like he’ll be back to full strength this year. He may be off his game a bit due to the fact that he missed out on the opportunity to work out like he usually would over the offseason, but if the past is any indication Long will still make things very difficult for opposing pass rushers every week.
2. Rodger Saffold, OL
It’s almost like Saffold, the Rams’ starting left tackle from 2010 to 2012, is starting a new career now that he’s shifted to the guard position. Always one of the strongest players on the roster, Saffold added even more bulk to his 6-foot-5 frame by going from 318 to 332 pounds. And after a fantastic performance to end the 2013 season, Saffold earned a five-year, $31 million-dollar contract from the Rams this offseason. Long may be a better player than Saffold, but he probably won’t be the best left tackle in the league again. In contrast, Saffold has a great chance to become the best guard in the NFL, and the Rams obviously showed that they believed he had that potential when they made him one of the highest-paid guards in the league. Saffold has to stay healthy; that’s far from a certainty considering his previous injury, but it might be easier for him to stay on the field considering that playing on the inside will leave him less at risk to the shoulder injuries that have repeatedly troubled him. As long as he’s on the field, Saffold is one of the Rams’ most valuable offensive players.
1. Robert Quinn, DE
After a dominant 2013 season which one him the Pro Football Writers of America’s Defensive Player of the Year Award and earned him his first Pro Bowl berth, there’s little question that Robert Quinn is the Rams’ most valuable player. The 6-foot-4, 264-pounder has really come into his own as a pass rusher, and just as importantly, he’s figured out how to be a dominant run-stuffer. Quinn’s 19 sacks were good for second in the league (only behind, it’s worth noting, the Colts’ Robert Mathis, who has since been suspended under the league’s performance enhancing drug testing program), while his 57 total tackles ranked him seventh among 4-3 defensive ends around the league. With offensive lines now having to deal with fearsome rookie defensive tackle Aaron Donald and a healthy Chris Long in addition to Quinn, it’s very possible that the fourth-year defensive end could have an even better year in 2014. No matter what, he’s established himself as the leader of the defense and looks like he’ll be a superstar for years to come.