With NFL teams stuck in a state of limbo thanks to the lingering lockout, we are taking a tour around the league and looking at where teams stand as they await the opening of the 2011 league year. Today, we offer our take on where the Rams stand.
Top three story lines
1. Will Sam Bradford and Josh McDaniels be a match made in heaven? Even though the Rams' offense scored 114 more points last season than it did in 2009, which was the second biggest improvement in the league, it ended the season on a sour note with a disturbingly bland prime-time effort in Seattle in which Bradford's longest completion was 20 yards. Enter McDaniels, the team's new offensive coordinator who has a strong track record with quarterbacks and previously worked wonders in the same capacity for the Patriots, overseeing a 2007 unit that scored a league-record 589 points. All signs point toward a much more creative, multifaceted offense with a lot more deep balls. McDaniels also will be serving as the QB coach for Bradford, who will be playing in his third different offense in three years but has previously flourished in the kind of spread offense that McDaniels is expected to install.
2. Will new majority owner Stan Kroenke be willing to open the purse strings in free agency to help fill what appear to be more than a few key post-draft needs? While the Rams loaded up on more weapons for Bradford in the draft and also bolstered their already vastly improved pass rush with the first-round selection of DE Robert Quinn, they completely avoided very needy areas such as backup running back, defensive tackle and offensive guard. It also is unlikely the later-round picks they spent on an outside linebacker, a cornerback and two safeties will sufficiently replenish those positions.
3. Just what will the depth chart look like after all is said and done at wide receiver and tight end, where suddenly there are warm bodies galore? It would not be a surprise at all if a host of holdovers received pink slips after the team spent three of its first four picks on pass catchers. Aside from Mark Clayton and spunky slot specialist Danny Amendola, none of the old guard appears to be guaranteed a roster spot.
2011 free-agency — whenever that happens
Unsigned players: DE C.J. Ah You (2), WR Danny Amendola (2), CB Quincy Butler (3), CB Chris Chamberlain (3), WR Mark Clayton (6), RB Kenneth Darby (3), CB Kevin Dockery (5), TE Daniel Fells (4), OT Renardo Foster (3), DT Gary Gibson (5), OG Adam Goldberg (7), LB Larry Grant (2), OG John Greco (3), DT Chris Hovan (11), DE Curtis Johnson (3), TE Darcy Johnson (4), CB Justin King (3), S Michael Lewis (9), WR Laurent Robinson (4), DT Clifton Ryan (4), TE Derek Schouman (4), OG Mark Setterstrom (5), OLB David Vobora (3) (Editor's note: The number after a players' name is his years of service in the league. If the NFL decides to go with free agency under the same rules as used in 2010, then a player would become a restricted free agent after three years and an unrestricted free agent after six years)
Analysis: The consensus continues to be that the re-signing of Clayton, who performed so well in 2010 before suffering a season-ending knee injury in Week Five, is likely to be the Rams' first order of business once the lockout ends. And Amendola isn't going anywhere. Other than those two, though, there doesn't appear to be any players the Rams plan on going out of their way to bring back. We've already talked about the needs the Rams could help fill via free agency, and it really does seem a concerted effort could be made to find an effective change-of-pace complement to Steven Jackson (Darren Sproles?) and a veteran safety to replace the departed O.J. Atogwe (Quintin Mikell?).
2011 rookie class
First-round DE Robert Quinn (No. 14 overall) — The Rams were mighty happy when Quinn, a potent natural pass rusher, fell into their lap. Quinn has some serious issues — he was suspended his final season at North Carolina for improper association with an agent and also has a benign brain tumor — but he looked great at the NFL Scouting Combine and should become a major force in the Rams' DE rotation right away with lots of valuable mentoring from veteran DE James Hall.
Second-round TE Lance Kendricks (No. 47 overall) — McDaniels is expected to borrow a page from the 2010 Patriots, who got a major lift last season from rookie TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. In a perfect world, the versatile Kendricks and similarly sure-handed second-year pro Michael Hoomanawanui will confound defenses the same way that Gronkowski and Hernandez did last season.
Third-round WR Austin Pettis (No. 78 overall) — Boise State's all-time leading receiver in receptions and touchdown catches is a big, smart, athletic pass catcher who can play all over the field.
Fourth-round WR Greg Salas (No. 112 overall) — Just like Pettis, Salas thrived in a pro-style spread offense (Hawaii) and appears particularly well-suited for the slot, where Amendola already fits like a glove.
Fifth-round SS Jermale Hines (No. 158 overall) — Hines lacks ideal speed but provides a strong physical and vocal presence. He played strong safety, free safety and linebacker at Ohio State and is better stopping the run than covering receivers.
Seventh-round CB Mikail Baker (No 216 overall) — A converted wide receiver who has played only one full season in the secondary, Baker does have top-end speed and could be best-suited as a kick returner.
Seventh-round OLB Jabara Williams (No 228 overall) — Williams was the Southland Conference Defensive Player of the Year as a senior. With a nice blend of speed and size, he could figure in the crowded mix at weak-side linebacker and also serve as a nice insurance policy for veteran Na'il Diggs on the strong side.
Seventh-round FS Jonathan Nelson (No 229 overall) — Nelson is a late bloomer and a bit undersized. But the Rams took note of his solid play in big games while at Oklahoma.
Lockout fallout: How impacted will the Rams be by the work stoppage?
On a scale from 1 to 10 (with 10 being the most significantly impacted), the Rams rate a solid 7. McDaniels' offense no doubt contains a lot of new wrinkles, and the lack of familiarity with it could be a huge hurdle to overcome, although it helps that Bradford is a devoted student of the game and is as smart as a whip. Getting their act together on defense won't be as big of a challenge, with workaholic MLB James Laurinaitis helping to whip everybody into shape on that side of the ball.