Through the first eight games, let's take a look at the top 10 surprises for the Rams so far during the 2010 season...
10) Uh-Oh vs On-a-bun
The Rams took two young tight-ends in the 2010 draft; they took Mike Hoomanawanui in the 5th round, and Fendi Onobun in the 6th round. Many people thought that Onobun, with his freakish athletic abilities, would be the steal of the draft, and some even thought that he would contribute this year. Though Onobun has not quite developed, the other tight-end Big Mike (AKA Uh-Oh, AKA Illinois Mike) made an immediate impact during the preseason, catching quarterback Sam Bradford's first two touchdown passes. Big Mike missed the first five game entirely, but he is back to health and ready to play. Big Mike caught his first regular season touchdown against Tampa Bay, which was only the second game of his career.
9)The Young/Unexpected Hero's on 'D'
The defensive success this year is, in a large part, due to the stars, such as James Laurinaitis, Chris Long, OJ Atogwe, and Ron Bartell. However, a lot of the unit's success is due to the young hero's who have made an impact. Bradley Fletcher has made the cornerback tandem very solid, not quite a "shut down" tandem (yet), but with 39 tackles and 2 interceptions he is getting the job done. Some of the other unexpected hero's include Larry Grant and James Hall, who have a combined 8.5 sacks on the season.
8) Mark Clayton
Though Mark Clayton's season was abruptly ended due to a devastating knee injury, he was a pleasant surprise nonetheless. Clayton and Bradford already had a chemistry between them, as they have practiced together in the past. Clayton was brought in to fill-in for the injured Donnie Avery, and he was doing a magnificent job, recording 22 receptions for 300 yards and 2 touchdowns in his first four games, meaning he was on-track for 80+ receptions and 1200 yards for the season. Clayton's return in 2011 will be greatly anticipated.
7) Fred Robbins
The Rams knew they needed help at defensive-tackle going into the season. In hindsight, the signing of Fred Robbins (and possibly the injured Chris Hovan) were signs that the Rams were going to pass on Ndamekong Suh, and pick Bradford. But how much help would an aging veteran like Robbins bring? Obviously more than any of us thought. Robbins has 15 tackles and 2 sacks on the season, but his real value is that he opens up opportunities for Chris Long to make big plays, a luxury that Long has not had in the past.
6) Big Roger
After drafting Bradford in the first round, many thought that the Rams would then try to surround Bradford with an offensive weapon in the second round. The Rams instead took an equally logical alternative by purchasing a plane ticket for Mr.Barron, and drafting Roger Saffold in the second round. At first, no one was sure whether he would play right-guard or right-tackle, but Saffold opted for 'none of the above' and stole #2 overall pick Jason Smith's job on the blindside. Not only did Saffold steal the left-tackle job, but he has been playing at a very high level.
5) 4-1 at home...
During the 'Greatest Show on Turf' the Edward Jones Dome was one of the most dreadful stadiums for the opposition to play in, but after the Scott Linehan crisis, you could hear crickets in the stands. It is nice to see that (almost overnight) the dome has become a difficult place for the opposition to win games. The crowd still isn't as packed or as loud as it could be, but it is a tough place to beat the Rams once again.
I put Danny Amendola ahead of Mark Clayton for some obvious reasons. The first being that Amendola is still healthy, and the second being that Clayton was a first round pick, whereas Amendola was cut by Dallas as an un-drafted free-agent, and added to the Philadelphia Ealges' practice squad. The no-name receiver out of Texas Tech is now one of the more electrifying slot receivers in the league.
3) Rookie of the year?
OK, so the quarterback gets an unfair advantage when it comes to offensive Rookie of the Year consideration, but that doesn't change the fact that Bradford has been impressive (to put it lightly). When a quarterback gets drafted by a 1-15 team that had a poor offensive-line the previous year, it is not even a guarantee that the quarterback will start immediately, let alone have a shot at breaking Peyton Manning's rookie record for passing yards.
2) Top 10 defense...
At the end of the 2009 season the Rams ranked 29th in total defense (yards per game), and half way through the 2010 season they rank 10th in total defense. The unit has been playing very aggressively, and they have kept the Rams in every game, other than the game against Detroit. The total revival of this unit is what made the #1 surprise possible...
1) First place in the NFC West...
Yep, that's right. The Rams, who went 1-15 in 2009, and still have a lot of players from that 2009 team, are currently the first place team in the NFC West half way through the season. They still have to learn how to win on the road, but if they do, then they will defy all odds and make a lot of so-called "experts" look like fools.