The St. Louis Rams are heading into the 2014 season with a retooled roster and better expectations.
Better, not high, because of the grueling division they’re in, but they have a promising outlook. Bringing in a few pieces to help further St. Louis’ ascension, this season, we may witness both their defense and offense finally coming full circle.
Adding explosive defensive tackle Aaron Donald to a line that already has the versatile Chris Long and Robert Quinn, who combined for 27.5 sacks last season, should be a treat for opposing offenses. And drafting highly-touted tackle Greg Robinson will surely stabilize the Rams’ offensive line.
St. Louis also nabbed former standout wide receiver Kenny Britt away from the Tennessee Titans, who when healthy/focused, can be one of the more dynamic targets in the league. And let’s not forget Tavon Austin, who is entering his sophomore season in the NFL.
Drafted in the first-round (8th overall) of the 2013 NFL Draft, Austin was a major bust to fantasy owners everywhere, but flashed signs of things to come towards the tail-end of last season, and should be a huge factor in the Rams’ offense this year. Austin’s potential is through the roof, and has a shot at being an elite wideout this season.
However, all of these contributors on St. Louis will only go as far as quarterback Sam Bradford takes them.
Coming off ACL surgery, Bradford is heading into his fifth season as the Rams’ starter, and is expected to be ready when the campaign commences. The big question though is his ACL will be ready, but will he be?
Selected No. 1 overall back in 2010, Bradford has been anything but a top draft choice. Falling victim to numerous injuries and looking incredibly mediocre, Bradford hasn’t been able to get his team past seven wins in a season, and has yet to take them into playoff contention.
Of course, you can make the case that Bradford’s been cursed with atrocious wide receivers throughout his four-year career, making it quite the predicament for any quarterback. But isn’t that the quarterback’s job to get on the same page as his receivers? Isn’t it his role to lead, and fire up his teammates? Tell Tom Brady how many bad receivers he’s had over the years; it’s not an excuse.
Which is why this 2014 campaign may be Bradford’s last shot to prove to the Rams he’s their quarterback of the future.
Am I being fair to a guy coming off ACL surgery? Yes. Look, if you’re selected as the first player in a draft, that labels you an inevitable superstar – period. Through the four seasons Bradford’s been in the league, he has yet to throw for over 21 touchdowns, which is simply not good enough.
In 2012, Bradford chucked less touchdown passes than Ryan Fitzpatrick (Texans’ backup QB) and Josh Freeman (jobless). Even though he performed in just 10 contests in 2011, Bradford threw just six touchdowns – six! That was as many as Dan Orlovsky, and he played in two less games! Talk about embarrassing. So, I ask again, am I being fair? Yes!
Bradford’s time is running out in St. Louis. Whether there’s an indication or not, the organization has put the dominos in place for the 26-year-old to thrive, and should he slip up, next year’s draft will certainly give us a clearer picture as to where the franchise will go.
Just look at Andy Dalton. Ever since he’s been in the league, the Cincinnati Bengals have earned a postseason berth, but because he’s yet to even come close to winning a playoff game, the organization is wasting no time in finding his replacement, should he falter again. Who am I referring to? A.J. McCarron – who by all accounts is a bonafide winner.
Again, there’s no confirmation that’s Cincinnati’s intentions, but McCarron’s add and Dalton’s contract lead you to believe that’s the direction. So if Dalton’s job isn’t safe, what situation does that put Bradford in?
Nonetheless, there’s no reason Bradford won’t excel this season. Plain and simple.
Zac Stacy came out of nowhere last season and is expected to be just as effective at running back this season as last, and will provide Bradford that ability to open the field better. Then you team him up with Tre Mason, who was believed by many to be the best halfback in the draft, and you got a sufficient running corps. Accompany them with large tight end Jared Cook and solid wideouts in Austin Pettis and Chris Givens, Bradford’s finally got ammunition.
Consider this judgment season for Bradford. I anticipate he’ll improve drastically now that he’s entering the prime of his career, but for his sake, he better hope it’s convincing enough to keep his job for 2015.
Time to activate the boomer in this Sooner.