StrategyAugust 20, 2009

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Daily Preview: St. Louis Rams

By Brett Koenig

The Rams are rebuilding — they’re very young all around and are likely to lose more games than they win yet again. New head coach Steve Spagnuolo comes from a winning organization in New York and has already impressed. The team had a great draft and has a lot of potential not only at the skill positions, but across the board. Whether they can put it together and make the playoffs in a year or two is unknown, but they are certainly headed in the right direction.

QB: Marc Bulger, Kyle Boller
RB: Steven Jackson, Kenneth Darby, Antonio Pittman
WR: Donnie Avery, Keenan Burton, Laurent Robinson, Ronald Curry
TE: Randy McMichael
K: Josh Brown

Quarterback: Marc Bulger has shown a flash or two of greatness in his career, most notably in 2006 when he threw for 4,300 yards and 24 touchdowns. Since then however, it’s been mostly downhill. In the last three years, Bulger has been sacked 124 times and has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns since 2006. The new coaching regime is committed to running the ball, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Bulger is without fantasy value.

The Rams are rebuilding and will likely have another down year, but they’re trying. They’ve placed a lot of talent around Marc Bulger. Steven Jackson is clearly a great receiver out of the backfield and is able to take some pressure off Bulger, while a host of young, talented receivers including Donnie Avery, Keenan Burton, Laurent Robinson and Brooks Foster help keep the defense honest. Bulger’s success this year is likely in the offensive line’s hands. They’ve been one of the worst in the league as of late, but are improving; the drafting of Jason Smith is a big step in the right direction. Is Marc Bulger going to take you to the championship? Probably not, but he could turn out to be a decent backup and a guy you may want to take a chance on.

Running Back: Steven Jackson is often thought of as one of the top five or six fantasy running backs in the league, and rightfully so. He’s struggled to stay healthy but has still run for over 1,000 yards each year since he became the starter. In 2006, when he was able to start every game, he put up over 2,300 total yards and had 16 touchdowns. With this kind of potential he’s always a target in the first round of fantasy drafts, even in the putrid Rams’ offense.

Similar to Bulger, Jackson’s success is largely based on the offensive line. In college, Jason Smith proved himself as a dominating run blocker and hopefully will be able to continue this production in the NFL. If he can indeed be the run blocker he was in college, Steven Jackson could be in for a great year. The line is certainly a major weak point, but it may not be as bad as everyone thinks. Alex Barron has been moved to left tackle because the coaching staff presumes at this point in their respective careers, he’s a better pass blocker than Jason Smith, and as much as I disagree, that’s where he is. Barron is the major weak point: he’s had a major problem with false starts throughout his career and has accounted for more than his fair share of Bulger’s 124 sacks since 2006. The rest of the line is surprisingly solid. Jacob Bell was injured most of last year but he possesses talent, and played well for Tennessee before the Rams signed him. Jason Brown is widely considered to be one of the best centers in the NFL, and while Richie Incognito will likely start the year, John Greco will compete for that job and he is pretty well-liked by the coaching staff. Jason Smith will start the year at right tackle, which should help the Rams run game even if he continues to struggle in pass protection. The coaching staff has expressed that they would like him to move the left tackle next year. It has yet to be seen if the passing game can keep the defense honest, but at the very least, Jackson will get a lot of touches and should put up big numbers in both the running and passing game.

Wide Receivers: The injury to Donnie Avery is a huge hit to the receiving corps; he’ll be back by Week 3 at the latest, but he’s trying to learn a new system and won’t be able to do that if he’s sitting on the bench with an injury. If you were to use one word to describe the Rams’ receivers, the word is “young”. The three starting wideouts are 25 years old or younger, with Avery having the most receptions of the bunch with 53. This will definitely be an important year for all of them, including rookie Brooks Foster.

It’s a very explosive group, and if Avery can recover from this injury, and get a hold on the new scheme he could be a decent value as a WR3, especially in keeper or dynasty leagues. In their first preseason game, Laurent Robinson hauled in a 50-yard pass in tight coverage, displaying a bit of that speed and ability the group has and may need to keep this Rams team in the game. The defense has been all but awful the last few years and if they can’t keep opponents from scoring, the Rams will have to air it out in order to keep games close.

Tight End: Randy McMichael started off hot last year before suffering a broken leg that ended his season. He’s shown some flashes this preseason and in the first preseason game caught two of Bulger’s four passes for 25 yards, a good sign that he’s being targeted. I wouldn’t take him as my first tight end, but he’s definitely worth a late-round flier that might produce for you.

IDP: O.J. Atogwe is really the only player that’s worth an early pick as he’ll be the best player on the team’s defense yet again, and is pretty much a lock for over 60 tackles and 5+ interceptions. Will Witherspoon is moving back to OLB, which is where he belongs, and he’ll be able to spend more time trying to get to the quarterback so he’s worth a look along with Chris Long, who apparently has looked pretty good in camp thus far.

It isn’t likely that any of these guys (barring Jackson) will carry your fantasy team this year, but some of them could surprise and put up some decent numbers, not to mention they can be had in the later rounds of your fantasy draft. Their schedule is by no means easy, which could lead to another long year, but I like the potential of many of the young players on this team.

Brett Koenig is a college student who intends to join the marines as an officer. In the meantime, however, he spends countless hours on the Cafe sharing what he believes is useful knowledge. It probably isn't.
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