Projecting St. Louis Rams' Starting Lineup Post 2014 NFL Draft
The St. Louis Rams are just one short week away from being on the clock. And when the newest members of the team are selected, the starting lineup will be dramatically altered.
I’ve taken several shots at predicting the Rams’ Week 1 starting lineup for 2014 (here and here), but now that the stocks of various players have gone up and down, it’s time to make a fresh prediction of the lineup.
In this scenario, the Rams trade down with the Atlanta Falcons in the first round. Atlanta gets the No. 2 overall pick, while the Rams get the No. 6 overall pick, as well as an additional second-round selection.
Please use the comment section to let me know if you think this is a competitive starting lineup for the NFC West, and feel free to share your suggestions.
Starter: Sam Bradford
Unless the Rams drop a bombshell and select a quarterback in Round 1—an act that would undoubtedly stun the fanbase—there's no question that Sam Bradford will receive another competition-free year as the team's starting quarterback.
Bradford finished with solid numbers last season (14 touchdowns, four picks and 1,689 yards in just seven games), but a devastating knee injury cut the would-be breakout season short.
If Bradford can maintain the level of play he demonstrated in 2013, the Rams will not have any issues at the quarterback position.
Starter: Zac Stacy
Zac Stacy not only cracked the starting lineup as a rookie fifth-round pick last season, but he excelled as St. Louis' workhorse back.
In just 12 starts, Stacy managed to exceed 1,000 yards from scrimmage and scored eight total touchdowns. With that kind of production, it's obvious that Stacy will once again lead the way in 2014.
Starters: Jared Cook, Lance Kendricks
Jared Cook was an adequate receiver in 2013 with 51 catches for 671 yards and five scores. His yards total breaks St. Louis' franchise record for receiving yards by a tight end. (Not too shabby for a season considered by many to be a disappointment.)
With the emergence of Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and (hopefully) Brian Quick, among others, it's reasonable to believe that Cook's numbers will either decrease or remain the same next year. But regardless, he'll still be a dependable member of the offense.
Lance Kendricks was underutilized as a receiver last season, but he'll also play a big role in 2014 as a receiver and as a run-blocker.
Wideout: Sammy Watkins, Clemson (First-Round Draft Selection)
Slot: Tavon Austin
Flanker: Chris Givens
As mentioned in the introduction, this scenario has the Rams trading down with Atlanta to obtain the No. 6 overall pick, which is used to grab Sammy Watkins out of Clemson.
Watkins finally gives Bradford and the Rams a legitimate No. 1 receiver. Watkins is dominant on short and intermediate routes—making him a perfect fit for St. Louis' "dink-and-dunk" offense—and he also has the necessary speed to shoot down field for the deep ball.
With Watkins, Austin and deep-ball specialist Chris Givens, the opposing secondaries will absolutely dread the St. Louis aerial attack. All three receivers in this lineup are capable of scoring on any given play.
Left Tackle: Jake Long
Left Guard: Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State (Second-Round Draft Selection)
Center: Scott Wells
Right Guard: Rodger Saffold
Right Tackle: Joe Barksdale
The Rams made a hefty $31.3 million investment in Rodger Saffold, according to Spotrac, and he'll be counted on as a starting guard, as well as the backup left tackle.
Since Saffold is already playing the role of the No. 3 swing tackle, there's a good chance the Rams will pass on Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews in Round 1. However, while the offensive line may be off limits in the first round, don't be surprised to see the Rams beef up the line with a second- or third-round selection, such as Mississippi State's Gabe Jackson.
In this scenario, Jackson fills the last remaining weak spot on St. Louis' offensive line. With Jackson added to the mix, the Rams will field an excellent line in 2014.
Also, it's worth noting that center Tim Barnes has a real shot at winning the starting center gig. Veteran Scott Wells has the higher salary, so it makes since that he's the starter for now, but Barnes may very well dethrone him by Week 1.
Left Defensive End: Chris Long
Defensive Tackle: Michael Brockers
Defensive Tackle: Timmy Jernigan, Florida State (Second-Round Draft Selection)
Right Defensive End: Robert Quinn
Due to the trade down with Atlanta that was proposed in the introduction, the Rams have two second-round picks. One of those second-rounders is for Jackson on the offensive line, and the other is for Timmy Jernigan on the defensive line.
Jernigan's stock is slipping due to the emergence of Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald, but Jernigan is still very much a borderline first-round talent, so he's an extremely valuable selection in the second round.
Kendall Langford is hardly a disappointment, but he's clearly the weak link of the defensive line. If the Rams have the opportunity to replace Langford with a young, promising talent, such as Jernigan, they should take that opportunity.
The combination of Jernigan and Brockers gives St. Louis an unbelievable duo in the middle—a duo that will be supplemented by Langford, who will remain a valuable member of the rotation.
The improved play in the middle will also open things up for the defensive ends. Chris Long and Robert Quinn are already the most feared pass-rushing duo in football, but their sack totals will continue to rise if the play in the middle is elevated.
With Jernigan added to the mix, the Rams will field the best 4-3 defensive line in football, second to none.
Middle Linebacker: James Laurinaitis
Outside Linebacker: Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Alec Ogletree
James Laurinaitis will once again lead the way for the St. Louis linebackers in 2014. He's the quarterback of the defense and will be counted on as a playmaker as well.
Jo-Lonn Dunbar had a down year in 2013, but his play will improve now that Gregg Williams (Dunbar's former coach in New Orleans) has been hired as St. Louis' defensive coordinator.
Alec Ogletree—a first-round draft pick from last year—will man the linebacker spot opposite Dunbar. Ogletree is a rising star, and his emergence will take St. Louis' defense to the next level.
Cornerback: Janoris Jenkins
Cornerback: Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State (First-Round Draft Selection)
Strong Safety: T.J. McDonald
Free Safety: Dion Bailey, USC (Third-Round Draft Selection)
The Rams will be ecstatic if Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert falls out of the top 10 and lands into their lap at No. 13 overall, but that's not something the team can count on.
If Gilbert is gone, the Rams can remedy the situation by selecting Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard. Dennard is the second-best corner in the draft and will be a Day 1 starter for St. Louis.
Cornerback Trumaine Johnson will still see a heavy workload in the secondary—he's not being marginalized one bit in this scenario—but Dennard and Janoris Jenkins will be the official starters.
The Rams are also desperate for help at safety, which is why this scenario has them grabbing Dion Bailey of USC in the third round. Bailey will be an immediate starter up top and is a clear upgrade over Rodney McLeod.
If Bailey is not available, Florida State's Terrance Brooks is another intriguing option at safety to keep an eye on.
There's a lot of youth in this secondary, but the group is also loaded with talent and playmakers. The Rams will get by just fine with this foursome.
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.