During the Les Snead/Jeff Fisher era, the St. Louis Rams have focused on building their team through the draft. Through two seasons, it appears the coaches, scouts and general manager have an eye for talent (for the most part).
In 2013, the Rams selected seven players who all contributed to varying degrees. But how will those players progress for next season? Full discretion… I do not have a functioning crystal ball and thus these are only educated guesses.
Tavon Austin, Wide Receiver (Round: 1, Overall: 8)
It took a few games, but the Rams finally figured out how to maximize Austin’s unique skill set. He’s not a receiver that will catch 10 passes a game. He’s not a runner that can carry the ball 15 times a game. But get the ball in his hands 10 times a game on passes, rushes and punts, and Austin will make something happen.
He – and the Rams – should be more comfortable with his role in 2014. Austin can use his natural abilities as opposed to feeling pressured to make a game-changing play every time he touches the ball. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see the Rams use Austin more in the run game.
Alec Ogletree, Linebacker (Round: 1, Overall: 30)
For the first time in four years, someone other than linebacker James Laurinaitis led the Rams in tackles. That man was Alec Ogletree. The linebacker out of Georgia led the team with 117 total tackles and also forced six fumbles and returned his lone interception for a touchdown. He capably filled the role of outside linebacker the team envisioned for him when they made him the 30th overall pick.
Looking ahead to 2014, Ogletree should prove to be another building block for the defense. He appeared to get more comfortable as the season progressed when he didn’t have to think about a play as it was unfolding – he could react instead.
T.J. McDonald, Safety (Round: 3, Overall: 71)
Thrust into a starting position early on, McDonald was holding his own until a fractured leg sidelined him for six weeks. He seemed to pick up where he left off upon returning and recorded his first career interception and sack in Week 15 and Week 16 respectively. There was also this tackle of San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis that earned McDonald some notoriety.
The Rams will attempt to make significant improvements in the secondary, but will be counting on McDonald to take a step forward next season. He’s a big hitter and showed potential – but the Rams will need it more consistently in 2014.
Stedman Bailey, Wide Receiver (Round: 3, Overall: 92)
Bailey didn’t register his first reception until Week 9 against the Tennessee Titans. He would have to wait another couple weeks for his second. Despite his limited involvement early on, Bailey emerged as a valuable receiver in the second half of the season. He further displayed big-play ability on his first career touchdown, a 27-yard run against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 16.
It’s possible Bailey did the most to improve his position on the depth chart for 2014. His sure-handed play was a benefit for backup quarterback Kellen Clemens and seemed to help Bailey earn Fisher’s trust. With no clear-cut candidate for the Rams top receiver in 2014, Bailey’s role could further expand next year.
Barrett Jones, Guard (Round: 4, Overall: 113)
The Rams were thrilled to land Jones in the fourth round in April and the pick was lauded by draft “experts.” Unfortunately, injuries stunted his playing time and made Jones’ transition to the NFL that much more difficult. He managed to play in four games, but his contributions were minimal.
That’s expected to change in 2014. With big changes potentially looming for the Rams offensive line, the team could (and should) look to Jones to fill one of the holes.
Brandon McGee, Cornerback (Round: 5, Overall: 149)
Another player who was nagged by injuries, McGee was active for 15 games but was used sparingly. The Rams cornerbacks as a whole played poorly throughout the season, but limited playing time made it hard to get a read on McGee.
With a revamped secondary coming this offseason, McGee will need to work to distinguish himself.
Zac Stacy, Running Back (Round: 5, Overall: 160)
Stacy was a revelation at running back for the Rams after taking over as the starter in Week 5. His emergence allowed the team to emphasize the run, and he responded by rushing for 973 yards and seven touchdowns on the year. Only Eric Dickerson and Jerome Bettis have rushed for more yards as rookies for the Rams. To honor his season, Stacy earned the Carroll Rosenbloom Memorial Award for Rookie of the Year.
His play eliminated one potential draft need for the Rams. The team might still look to take a change of pace back later in the draft, but Stacy is firmly entrenched as the starter going into 2014. Expect the Rams to ride him heavily next year. And with the luxury of a full season, he should be able to reach the 1,000 yard rush mark.