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.
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%
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.