In an effort to get to the playoffs for the first time since 2003, the Rams no doubt are using the Colts' blueprint. Like the Super Bowl champs, St. Louis has a loaded offense with top-level producers at each of the skill positions. But also like the 2006 Colts, the Rams have a joke of a run defense. (That'll just turn around in the postseason, right?)
The Rams were 28th in points allowed and 31st in run defense last year, so it makes perfect sense that the team's biggest free-agent additions were on the offensive side. Mike Martz did leave the building, right? Drew Bennett and Randy McMichael fill needs by giving the team some big receivers, and Marc Bulger should look to them often in the red zone. Maybe that will keep the offense from settling for field goals; the Rams led the league with 32 last year.
The front office didn't completely ignore the defensive deficiencies. If offseason practices are any indication, rookie lineman Adam Carriker will merit his first-round selection. He played end in college, so there will be an adjustment to playing inside at tackle. The team traded for end James Hall, who should provide an upgrade opposite pass rusher Leonard Little, and Chris Draft could push for a starting linebacker job. Whether or not the defense improves, owners won't have a hard time finding fantasy options in St. Louis.
Projected draft round Player Round Marc Bulger, QB 5 Steven Jackson, RB 1 Brian Leonard, RB 17 Torry Holt, WR 2 Isaac Bruce, WR 10 Drew Bennett, WR 11 Randy McMichael, TE 11 Jeff Wilkins, K 17 Defense/special teams DND Draft position based on a standard 12-team combined scoring and yardage league with a 17-round draft. DND: Do not draft.
Torry Holt, WR. It's a testament to Holt's career that 2006 can be considered a "down" year. He posted his seventh consecutive 1,000-yard season, but he also had his lowest yardage total since his rookie year. He had 10 touchdowns, but he scored as many after October 15 as he scored on October 15 (three). Although Holt didn't miss a game, you can bet that his knee was an issue. He had offseason surgery to repair a torn meniscus, and all indications are he'll be fine for camp. There are plenty of weapons around him in St. Louis, which is both a plus and a minus, but there's little doubt Holt again will be a dependable No. 1 for fantasy owners.
Steven Jackson, RB. Jackson did it all for the Rams in 2006. He caught at least six passes in half of his games, and only once was he held under 18 carries. That workload allowed Jackson to finish with 2,334 total yards. Not one to settle, Jackson has set a personal goal of 2,500 yards this year. The Rams, however, don't want to put Jackson through another season with 436 touches. Rookie Brian Leonard and the receivers will attempt to handle some of the load. Still, Jackson will get his work and his points. The only player I value more highly this year is LaDainian Tomlinson.
Marc Bulger, QB. I attended an awards banquet a few weeks ago at which Bulger was one of the honorees. I believe he was there with his agent, which wasn't a bad move given that the QB is due for a contract extension. No NFL quarterback had more 300-yard games than Bulger's eight last season. Only three scored more touchdowns. Bulger threw eight interceptions, the fewest for a quarterback who played all 16 games last year. The 16 games are themselves noteworthy - Bulger had never made it through a full season healthy before. With the weapons at his disposal, it's easy to picture him again finishing among the top QBs in '07.
Leonard Little, DE. Little saw as much attention from blockers last year as Paris Hilton gets from the media. This attention was merited, though. Despite the constant double-teams, Little led the Rams with 13 sacks. No one else on the team had even six. If James Hall can keep opponents busy on the other side, the Rams will have quite a pass rush, and fantasy owners will have a top IDP lineman. Key additions:WR Drew Bennett, LB Chris Draft, WR Dante Hall, DE James Hall, TE Randy McMichael.
Key losses: WR Kevin Curtis, DB Travis Fisher, WR Shaun McDonald, G Adam Timmerman.
Drew Bennett, WR. Bennett will take over Kevin Curtis' No. 3 receiver role and eventually replace Isaac Bruce as the team's second starter. "Eventually" could be as soon as this season. Even if Bennett continues to be the No. 3, Curtis showed that the role in St. Louis still can provide value. Bennett is a bench option this year, and a better choice in 2008.
Isaac Bruce, WR. I remember listening to the St. Louis Rams' first game. It was against the Packers at Lambeau Field. Some young receiver blocked and recovered a punt, and on the next play, he caught a touchdown pass. It was the start of a career season for Bruce. Amazingly, that was 12 years ago, and he's still contributing. He has lost some of his explosiveness, and he's fighting a losing battle against time. This isn't Jerry Rice. To expect much from Bruce at age 34 is not wise, but don't write him off, either. He still can supply some solid performances.
Randy McMichael, TE. McMichael isn't a game-changer, but he is a good receiving tight end who will fit well in St. Louis. While Holt and Bruce work the sidelines and deep areas, McMichael will use his big body to take control of the short middle. He worked with coach Scott Linehan in Miami, so it won't take him long to get comfortable in the offense. His yardage numbers could slide, but he should get into the end zone more than he did last year (three TDs). His career high of five touchdowns came in his one season with Linehan. Call McMichael a borderline starter.
Jeff Wilkins, K. For most of Wilkins' 10 years with the Rams, he alternated good seasons (odd-numbered years) and bad ones (even-numbered). He would score well and then flop the next season, only to become a bargain the following year. He must have felt like Bill Murray's character at the end of Groundhog Day when he finally broke the pattern. Instead of temporarily declining in 2006, Wilkins had one of his best campaigns. He remains accurate and can hit from beyond 50. Because the Rams' offense gives him plenty of opportunities, Wilkins is a good fantasy choice. Plus, it's an odd-numbered year.
Rams defense. Frequent blitzes will create a solid supply of sacks and turnovers for this unit, but it's not a team to target if you need to keep the score low. The front seven is undersized, and opponents will run at will against it. Although linebackers Will Witherspoon and Pisa Tinoisamoa have the speed to make plays all over the field, they can't do it with 320-pound linemen pushing them around. Don't get caught thinking about this unit on draft day.
Brian Leonard, RB. Leonard played fullback in his final season at Rutgers, and the Rams could use him in that role. He's not a powerful lead blocker, though, so it's more likely he'll serve as more of an H-back. Leonard has good hands and will be useful as a backfield receiver. He also is a tough runner who can keep Steven Jackson fresh by taking a few carries. I just checked the rates, and the cost of insurance for Jackson is a late-round selection of Leonard.
Gus Frerotte, QB. It's OK if you mistake Frerotte for the Linehan family dog: The quarterback follows the coach wherever he goes. The two spent two seasons together in Minnesota while Linehan coached the Vikings' offense. When Linehan moved to Miami to become the Dolphins' coordinator, Frerotte followed. A year later, Linehan became the Rams' coach. Frerotte joined him in St. Louis. Because of that time together, Frerotte knows Linehan's offense better than he knows some of his family members. He'll keep things moving if he's called upon, so give him a look if Bulger gets hurt.
Joe Klopfenstein, TE. Klopfenstein had consecutive four-catch games last December, but any plans of handing him a larger role in 2007 were scuttled when the Rams added McMichael. Klopfenstein could surprise if McMichael is injured, but he'll begin the season a long way from fantasy-worthy.
Ultimate Fantasy Football Tip: Good luck trying to fit Steven Jackson's $10.23 million salary on your roster for Week 1. You'll need to build your roster value before considering him. Marc Bulger and Torry Holt also are pricey options. Bulger is the sixth-most expensive player in the game, and Holt is 13th. Even Jeff Wilkins, second among kickers at $3.35 million, will cost you. The only value here (and it's a good one) is Drew Bennett at $2.05 million.
TO KNOW LIST Coaching: Worries that the Rams would score less without Martz were unfounded. The team, in fact, put up more points in 2006 than it did in either of the previous two seasons. Linehan's experience is on offense, and he knows how to put his skill players in position to succeed. The team passed 58 percent of the time last season, although it was more dedicated to the run late in the year after coordinator Greg Olson took over the play-calling. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett likes an aggressive, attacking defense, which should help Little have another strong season.
Offensive line: Seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle Orlando Pace anchors the line. He missed the final seven games last season after tearing his left triceps muscle, but he's expected to be 100 percent for training camp. While Pace was out, the team fully implemented a youth movement up front. Longtime starter Adam Timmerman is gone, and 14-year vet Andy McCollum is viewed as a backup. Their younger replacements tend to be better at run blocking, which is just another reason to like Steven Jackson this year.
Schedule analysis: You'll enjoy the Rams' dome advantage when it counts. Four of the team's final six games are at home, and for fantasy owners, it's more like four of the final five, assuming your league ignores Week 17. The Rams averaged 26 points in home games last season (19.8 on the road). With the team indoors for most of November and December, you also won't have to worry about winter weather wiping out potential production from these stars. Another bonus: St. Louis faces only four teams that had winning records in '06. Fantasy Strength of Schedule: Tied for fourth-easiest.
That was a well-written piece, I enjoyed it a lot. I agree with most of what you said. First key to this season for the Rams is stopping the run. The secondary isn't awful, with Chavous and Atogwe (he's all right I guess) at safeties and Tye Hill, Fahkir Brown and others at CB. But we need to stop the run. Witherspoon's a beat in the middle, but the problem is, the interior D Line has been so bad that the linebackers just can't do anything. Plus, it doesn't help that Tinoisamoa is pretty undersized (he's a warrior and as tough as they come, but too small), and Chillar I really don't find very appealing at the other OLB spot. Glover has to play well, and I hope Carriker and Wroten also can wreak havoc at DT. I'm disappointed it didn't work out with Jimmy Kennedy but I guess that's just the way it goes sometimes. DEs are fine with Little and Hall, the biggest key is going to be those DT.
Second key- PLAY CALLING! I know the offensive numbers were gaudy, but watching this team week in and week out, the play calling was horrendous at times. Linehan was too conservative- I'm not suggesting a Mike Martz type offense where we run reverses in the red zone or anything, but I mean we did too much of this dink and dunk crap instead of trying to go vertical. It was better at the end of the year after Linehan gave it up but I still think we need to be going down the field. I have no problem getting SJax involved in the passing game but it's when we're just passing to him for the heck of giving him a touch that I don't like.
Third key- Health of offensive line- Hopefully, Pace can return to form and stay healthy, and hopefully McCollum will be healthy enough as well to contribute at C (although I hear Dustin Fry may be challenging him for that). Incognito will be the RG most likely and he needs to just calm the heck down and play some football. He's too emotional out there. He's talented but kind of a headcase. And speaking of headcases if Alex Barron can learn what a snapcount is that would really be beneficial. I think we'll see him improved next season as well- the physical talent is there, now he's got to work on the mental part. LG is completely up for grabs right now, it'll either be Adam Goldberg or Mark Setterstrom. Neither were too impressive last year but I thought Setterstrom played well in the opportunities given to him. Didn't like Goldberg all that much.
"Nobody in football should be called a genius. A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein."
-Joe Theismann (pronounced theese-MAN, not rhyming with Heisman)