Predicting Rams' Starting Lineup After the First Wave of Free-Agent Signings
The St. Louis Rams have displayed a lack of interest in this year's class of free agents, so it's difficult to predict what changes will be made to the starting lineup in 2014.
The team has not signed a single outside free agent, so it's apparent that St. Louis is looking to primarily use the draft to upgrade the roster.
It's a long offseason, and free agents will eventually be inked to contracts. But for now, it's clear that most of the new faces in 2014 will be rookie faces.
This article will take a shot at predicting St. Louis' starting lineup in 2014, adding both potential free-agent targets and realistic draft options into the mix.
Look over this lineup, and let me know in the comments section if you feel this starting lineup is capable of competing in the tough NFC West.
Starter: Sam Bradford
Sam Bradford had an impressive passing ratio in 2013 with 14 touchdowns and just four interception. He passed for 1,687 yards and ended his season with a career-high passer rating of 90.9.
Despite playing in just over six games before being lost for the season due to injury, Bradford demonstrated that he's on the right track in his development. His production bought him another year under center.
If Bradford can pick up where he left off in 2013 and stay healthy, the Rams will be set at quarterback for years to come. If he struggles or is injured once again, the Rams will search for a successor.
Starter: Zac Stacy
Zac Stacy had 973 rushing yards in 2013 despite carrying the ball just one time in the first four games of the season.
If Stacy starts for 16 games in 2014, it's likely he'll easily exceed 1,000 yards rushing. With proper run blocking, he'll post Pro Bowl numbers in the upcoming season.
Stacy entered the 2013 season as a fifth-round drafted rookie, so expectations were low. But he demonstrated a hard-nosed run style and has a knack for picking up yards after contact. As a result, he'll carry the load for years to come.
Wide Out: Sammy Watkins
Slot: Tavon Austin
Flanker: Chris Givens
Due to the re-signing of Rodger Saffold, Sammy Watkins makes the most sense for the Rams at No. 2 overall.
Auburn tackle Greg Robinson is an intriguing option and is certainly still on St. Louis' radar, but Saffold is now the team's No. 3 swing tackle. That leaves Watkins as the more logical option.
Watkins is a true No. 1 receiver to team up with Bradford. Combined with deep-ball specialist Chris Givens and electric playmaker Tavon Austin, the Rams will boast a dangerous aerial attack if this scenario comes to fruition.
All three receivers are capable of producing a touchdown at any given moment.
Receiving Tight End: Jared Cook
Utility Tight End: Lance Kendricks
Jared Cook had a respectable first year in St. Louis, racking up 671 yards and five scores as a receiver, but he was too inconsistent.
If the Rams draft Watkins—taking away potential targets from Cook in the process—it's hard to picture Cook surpassing his 2013 production, but he'll be a valued member of the offense regardless.
While Cook hauls in the majority of the passes, Lance Kendricks will also contribute a few dozen receptions in the passing game. However, Kendricks' primary value will come as a run-blocker.
The Cook-Kendricks duo makes for a strong combination at tight end. As a result, this is one position the team can ignore in the upcoming draft.
Center: Tim Barnes
Guard: Rodger Saffold, Barrett Jones
Tackle: Jake Long, Joe Barksdale
As mentioned, Robinson should still be in play for St. Louis' No. 2 overall draft pick, but the Rams already have enough talent currently on the roster to field a competitive offensive line in 2014.
Center Tim Barnes is still developing but was an adequate starter in place of the injured Scott Wells during the 2013 season. He'll battle for the starting job in camp and will likely come out on top.
Saffold found his niche starting at guard last season and will return to the position in 2014. He'll likely be joined by Barrett Jones, who had a red shirt year in 2013 due to a foot injury, according to ESPN. Jones was a fourth-round draft pick a year ago and has the talent to win the job over Brandon Washington.
Jake Long and Joe Barksdale will secure the corners. Long is recovering from a knee injury, according to ESPN, but if he's not ready for Week 1, Saffold will step in at left tackle until he heals.
Defensive End: Robert Quinn, Chris Long
Defensive Tackle: Henry Melton, Michael Brockers
Other teams are interested in Melton, who is arguably the best player currently available in free agency, but for the sake of imagination and entertainment, we'll plug Melton into this lineup.
In this scenario, there's not a single weak spot up front. The Rams own the best 4-3 defensive line in football, second to none.
Not only that, but the team also possesses solid depth to add to the unit's potency (William Hayes, Eugene Sims, Kendall Langford). However, if Melton signs, there's a chance St. Louis will cut ties with Langford to save money against the salary cap.
This scenario gives St. Louis a star-studded defensive line that will strike fear into even the most ferocious NFC West rivals.
Outside Linebacker: Alec Ogletree, Ray-Ray Armstrong
Middle Linebacker: James Laurinaitis
James Laurinaitis is not the best middle linebacker in the league, but he's a leader on the field and plays smart football.
And while Laurinaitis is the brains of the St. Louis defense, Alec Ogletree is the brawn. Ogletree—a rookie first-round pick in 2013—is developing nicely and is a force to be reckoned with in 2014.
On the side opposite Ogletree, the Rams will have youngsters Ray-Ray Armstrong and Daren Bates competing for the job against veteran incumbent Jo-Lonn Dunbar.
Dunbar certainly has a realistic shot at winning the job, but count on the Rams putting faith into the youth movement. Armstrong showed flashes of impressive playmaking skills last season, so expect the second-year pro to get his shot on defense.
Cornerback: Janoris Jenkins, Justin Gilbert, Trumaine Johnson
Safety: T.J. McDonald, Dion Bailey
The secondary is the weakest unit on the entire roster, yet the Rams showed only slight interest in veteran defensive backs during the first week of free agency.
It's possible the coaching staff feels that the defensive scheme hurt the secondary last year and that the addition of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will correct the issue by toughening up the playbook and doing away with the 10-yard cushions.
That's one possible explanation for St. Louis' lack of interest in defensive backs.
Or, perhaps, the team is enamored with a number of cornerback and safety prospects entering the draft. After all, why spend money on a veteran when the draft class is loaded with top-notch talent?
If that's the case, expect the Rams to use a number of early draft picks on defensive backs. This scenario has St. Louis grabbing Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert at No. 13 overall, as well as USC's Dion Bailey in the second round.
Gilbert and Bailey would give the Rams a young, talented secondary to be proud of. It would give St. Louis its very own "Legion of Boom" in the making.
Steven Gerwel is the longest-tenured Rams Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report and serves as the Rams' game-day correspondent. You can find more of Gerwel's work by visiting his writer profile or by following him on Twitter.
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