Thursday, June 23, 2011

Could Tiki Barber Be an Option For the Rams?

As the NFL lockout entered day number 100 today, the Rams remain helpless as far as finding some help for Steven Jackson in the backfield.

Until the league and the players reach some sort of agreement, they'll remain handcuffed and won't be able to sign any free agents.

In the meantime, it remains pretty clear that finding Jackson's backup is a high priority.

The 27-year-old Jackson already has 1,878 rushes combined throughout his seven year career.

Out of his six season as the team's starting running back he's averaging 290.66 carries a season, which is actually pretty average for a full-time runner, but the amount of carries is not terribly troubling alone.

His bruising style of play forces his body to take a considerable amount of abuse each week, and those 290 carries a season takes a bigger toll on a power back like Jackson, as oppose to maybe a guy like Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans.

This forces the Rams to make finding a third down running back a primary objective in free agency.

But it's not just Jackson's workload that forces the Rams to face the issue, it's also the newly hired offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

McDaniels frequently works multiple backs in his offensive schemes-- such as the Denver Broncos last season, who had Knowshon Moreno take the majority of the snaps (182 carries), but Laurence Maroney (74), Correll Buckhalter (59) and Lance Ball (41) had a combined 174 carries as well; and the 2007 New England Patriots had Maroney (185), Sammy Morris (85) and Kevin Faulk (62) combine for 332 attempts.

Steven Jackson will not sit ideally by and cough up half of his carries to a backup, since he prides himself on being the team's primary back-- but that doesn't mean the coaches are stupid enough to watch him rapidly deteriorate in front of their own eyes.

The Rams will likely target a free agent back that fits the mold of the stereotypical "third down running back"-- it will be a smaller guy that runs with speed and agility, and it will preferably be someone who is a threat as a receiver as well.

The general consensus among fans suggests that the Rams will target Darren Sproles of the San Diego Chargers.

Sproles fits the "third down back" mold perfectly, and he'd even help on kick and punt returns, which would allow Danny Amendola to focus solely on his duties as a wide receiver.

And it's not just speculation that suggests Sproles is the guy-- prior to the 2009 season the Rams attempted to bring Sproles to St. Louis for a visit during free agency before he ultimately returned to the Chargers, so that should tell us that coach Steven Spagnuolo and General Manager Billy Deveney approve of him.

However, given the philosophy of McDaniels' previous offensive schemes, it's possible that Sproles by himself will not be enough, and McDaniels might be looking to sign a third running back capable of taking carries.

Tiki Barber retired after a ten season career with the New York Giants immediately after the 2006 season, just shortly before his 32nd birthday.

His retirement was certainly not due to a decline in his play, as that 2006 season brought him 1,662 rushing yards (2nd in the NFC), as well as 465 receiving yards.

His exit from the game was due to an overall difference in opinion between himself and the head coach, mainly due to the fact that he felt he deserved more carries.

But last March, Barber filed the necessary paperwork in order to come out of retirement officially, which means the 36-year-old will be looking for a running back job for an NFL team this Fall.

On the same day Barber filed the paperwork, the Giants (who still own his contract) officially confirmed to the media that they will immediately release him as soon as the lockout ends, which means the elderly running back will be available to any team that wants to take a shot at him.

So could he fit in with St. Louis?

Given the constant disputes between Barber and Giants head coach Tom Coughlin, as well as Barber's overall willingness to express his opinions through the media, it's likely that he doesn't fit the philosophy that St. Louis is trying to build-- that philosophy concentrates on acquiring players with high quality personalities, who put the team before themselves.

But is Barber truly that low and shady of a character?

He has a clean legal rap sheet, and he doesn't miss team meetings or partake in any other activities that frequently result in fines or penalties. He's basically under scrutiny just for having opinions.

Expressing those opinions to the national media is probably an error in judgement, but it's not like he's incapable of being supportive, it's just that the bad comments get the most attention from the media.

And after a four year absence from the game, Barber seems humbled. He seems like someone who won't likely cause problems, especially since whatever team signs him is the team that's giving him a second chance.

"The game never needs you because there's always someone else to come and take your place", said Barber during an interview on HBO's Real Sports. "But right now, I need the game. I need to prove to myself that I can be successful at something".

Coach Spagnuolo has experience with Barber during his time as the Giants' defensive coordinator, so if he shows interest in Barber, then that should be a testament to how genuine Barber's new attitude truly is.

But how does he fit in with the team?

He can't come in and be the Rams' No.2 running back. That position is too important to try and fill it with a gamble like Barber.

However, if the team can sign a player such as Darren Sproles, then it wouldn't be a terrible idea to at least give Barber a look as the team's No.3 running back, and of course pay him the league minimum.

If Barber is even half the player he was in 2006, which is possible since his body has not taken any hits during the past four years, then he could be valuable as the third running back on the roster.

Whether he will actually get carries during the games is another matter, but it's important to build depth in order to prepare for any scenario.

If Steven Jackson is injured for a long period of time at any point in 2011 (knock on wood), then the Rams could possibly survive with Sproles and Barber sharing the carries, assuming Barber still has at least something left to offer.

At the very least he can be cut from the roster without consequence, but in a best case scenario he provides the offense with depth in case of an emergency, so that alone should be enough to earn him a tryout.    

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Which Rams Rookie Is Most Likely to Contribute the Most in 2011?

After the 2009 NFL draft, the hope was that offensive tackle Jason Smith would live up to his $33 million contract as soon as possible by becoming the most productive rookie for the Rams, who spent the No.2 overall pick of the draft on him.

Instead, Smith was sidelined for eight games due to his struggles with a concussion.

The 35th pick of the 2009 draft, linebacker James Laurinaitis, was the one who eventually stepped up and contributed the most as a rookie.

In 2010, No.1 overall pick Sam Bradford took every snap of the season for the team at quarterback, and he did a phenomenal job in the process. Also, Rodger Saffold, who was the No.33 overall pick, started all 16 games as the left-tackle.

The Rams selected eight new players throughout the seven rounds of the 2011 NFL draft, so which of those players will be the one to step up for the team during the upcoming season?

Here is the list of the newly drafted players, who are ranked in order of their likeliness to be the most productive rookie by percentage.

Lance Kendricks TE (Round 2, No. 47 Overall)
Top Rookie Probability: 28%

"Tight End" describes Kendricks' roster spot, as he'll be much more than a tight end for the Rams. His versatility will allow him to line up as a wide receiver, catch passes out of the backfield, as well as out of the traditional tight end position. His size and speed also make him an overall more talented player than the other two receivers drafted (Austin Pettis, Greg Salas), and since the Rams are desperate for offensive weapons, Kendricks is practically guaranteed playing time.

Robert Quinn DE (Round 1, No.14 Overall) 
Top Rookie Probability: 26%

Obviously the fans would love to see the flashy first round pick as the next superstar for the team, especially as a rookie, but there are several things that may prevent that. Defensive end Robert Quinn could very well be the best rookie of 2011 given that he's an extremely talented athlete. However, Quinn will have to beat out veteran James Hall for the starting position, and he'll also be competing with second-year player George Selvie for playing time. Also, Quinn has been out of football since 2009 due to being suspended by the NCAA in 2010.

Austin Pettis WR (Round 3, No.78 Overall)
Top Rookie Probability: 15%

Austin Pettis plays a position that was very weak for the Rams last season, but with Donnie Avery and Mark Clayton returning from injury, Pettis will find himself in the middle of a fierce training camp battle. If he doesn't grasp the offense immediately, then he will lose playing time to a receiver that does. However, Pettis is a big receiver with sure hands, which is exactly what the Rams have been looking for. If Pettis is on the field, then Sam Bradford will get him the ball.

Jermale Hines S (Round 5, No.158)
Top Rookie Probability: 11%

Jermale Hines has several factors working in his favor that could make him into a very pleasant surprise for the Rams. The team just lost safety O.J. Atogwe to the Redskins, which leaves a void in the secondary. That gives a player like Hines a great opportunity to make an impact as a rookie, but his luck doesn't end there. Given that he weighs around 220 pounds, there has been speculation that he could possibly play outside-linebacker, which is a position that's certainly a need for the Rams. However, Hines is a raw player and it may take time to develop him at either position.

Greg Salas WR (Round 4, No.112)
Top Rookie Probability: 10%

Greg Salas and Hines are practically equal as far as their likelihood of being the team's top rookie in 2011. Like Hines, Salas has some things working in his favor, but it's mostly going to be an uphill battle. The Rams are weak at receiver, and Salas is a big red-zone target with solid hands. There is no doubt that the coaching staff wants a reliable receiver like Salas out on the field, but he'll be competing against Danny Amendola, Danario Alexander, Donnie Avery, Mark Clayton, Brandon Gibson, Austin Pettis, Dominique Curry and Mardy Gilyard. It's never easy for a fourth round talent to beat out multiple players for playing time.

Jabara Williams LB (Round 7, No.228)
Top Rookie Probability: 5%

Jabara Williams, like any seventh round pick, will struggle to make the team. If he does make the team, then the Rams will certainly expect him to contribute on special teams, but given Williams' position he has a better shot at contributing than the other seventh round picks. The Rams have very little talent at outside-linebacker other than veteran Na'il Diggs, so it wouldn't be outrageous if Williams earned pretty regular playing time at some point in the season.

Mikail Baker CB (Round 7, No.216) 
Top Rookie Probability: 3%

The Rams already have their starting cornerbacks (Bradley Fletcher, Ron Bartell), so Mikail Baker will not be getting regular playing time on defense unless a severe case of the injury bug hits Rams Park. Something that gives Baker a shot at playing time is his experience with returning kicks. General Manager Billy Devaney does not seem overly excited about Baker's return skills, so they didn't draft Baker for that role, but if the regular kick returner gets injured then Baker could find himself contributing in the return game.

Jonathan Nelson CB (Round 7, No.229)
Top Rookie Probability: 2%

The Rams drafted Jonathan Nelson to contribute on special teams and provide some depth at cornerback. He won't see regular playing time on defense, but anythings possible. Perhaps after years of development he can become a player capable of starting, but he won't do it as a rookie.  

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Top 75 Greatest Rams of All Time

Here is a detailed list outlining the top 75 greatest Rams of all-time. I wrote the article for the Bleacher Report, and the full article can be seen here:

The list includes an almost unjust number of player from the last decade, primarily to make it fun for the young and the old. And not just the old. But the old greats still get their props.

If you want to cut to the chase and see the list without going through each slide, then here it is...

75) Chris Long
74) Donnie Jones
73) Kevin Curtis
72) London Fletcher
71) Andy McCollum
70) Ernie Conwell
69) Sam Bradford
68) Ron Bartell
67) Dre Bly
66) Az-Zahir Hakeem
65) James Laurinaitis
64) O.J. Atogwe
63) Ricky Proehl
62) Adam Timmerman
61) Johnnie Jones
60) Charley Cowan
59) Carl Ekern
58) Mike Jones
57) D’Marco Farr
56) Jerry Gray
55) Dave Elmendorf
54) Kent Hill
53) Rosey Grier
52) Mike Lansford
51) Kevin Carter
50) Cullen Bryant
49) Vince Ferragamo
48) Jim Everett
47) Dan Towler
46) Todd Lyght
45) Wendall Tyler
44) Lamar Lundy
43) Kevin Greene
42) Jack Reynolds
41) Grant Wistrom
40) Willie “Flipper” Anderson
39) Ollie Matson
38) Leonard Little
37) Bob Brown
36) Andy Robustelli
35) Dick Bass
34) Dick “Night Train” Lane
33) Jim Benton
32) Les Richter
31) Aeneas Williams
30) Marc Bulger
29) Fred Dryer
28) Leroy Irvin
27) Jack Snow
26) Lawrence McCutcheon
25) Jeff Wilkins
24) Dennis Harrah
23) Rich Saul
22) Larry Brooks
21) Eddie Meador
20) Roman Gabriel
19) Tom Fears
18) Nolan Cromwell
17) Isiah Robertson
16) Henry Ellard
15) Bob Waterfield
14) Tom Mack
13) Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch
12) Steven Jackson
11) Norm Van Brocklin
10) Orlando Pace
9) Jackie Slater
8) Torry Holt
7) Jack Youngblood
6) Merlin Olsen
5) Eric Dickerson
4) Kurt Warner
3) Isaac Bruce
2) Marshall Faulk
1) Deacon Jones

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Why The Rams Could Potentially Benefit From the NFL Lockout

The Rams could benefit from a long lockout? No one has made that prediction yet.

All we've heard regarding the St. Louis Rams and the lockout is how they will suffer, mainly due to Josh McDaniels' new offense that the players need to learn, and the fact that they have a second year quarterback (Sam Bradford) that is still developing.

Both those points are very true, and those aspects could certainly prove to be harmful towards the team.

Not every team in the NFL is learning a new offense like the Rams, but every team will be missing the same amount of practices and training camp, so they are not at a disadvantage in that sense.

We don't know how quickly the players will learn the offense, but we do know that the Rams play three very intimidating opponents to start the season.

They open the season against the Philadelphia Eagles in St. Louis, and the Eagles have a potent aerial attack that could expose the Rams' weak secondary.

The Week 2 game has the Rams facing off against the New York Giants on Monday Night Football at the Meadowlands. The Giants have an offense that can get it done on the ground or in the air, and they have a fierce defensive line.

Then, the Rams go back to St. Louis to play their third consecutive difficult game against the Baltimore Ravens, who have notorious defense that could completely shut down the Rams' offense.

If the NFL lockout lasts several games into the season, it's hard to believe that the Rams would not benefit from skipping one (or all) of their first three games.

Of course the fans would be losing by missing out on those games, and some of the players would certainly struggle to grasp the new offense in a short period of time- but if the ultimate goal is to make the playoffs and secure a higher seed with the best possible record, then missing first couple of games could help towards accomplishing just that.
Here is what the 2011 schedule would look like if they missed the first three games:

1. Vs. Washington Redskins 12:00 PM

2. @ Green Bay Packers 12:00 PM

3. @ Dallas Cowboys 3:15 PM

4. Vs. New Orleans Saints 12:00 PM

5. @ Arizona Cardinals 3:15 PM

6. @ Cleveland Browns 12:00 PM

7. Vs. Seattle Seahawks 3:05 PM

8. Vs. Arizona Cardinals 12:00 PM

9. @ San Francisco 49er's 3:15 PM

10. @ Seattle Seahawks Mon. 7:30 PM

11. Vs. Cincinnati Bengals 12:00 PM

12. @ Pittsburgh Steelers 12:00 PM

13. Vs. San Francisco 49er's 12:00 PM