Today’s top-5 list attempts to rank the incumbent rams that are most likely to break out in 2014. While May’s draft will play a major part, it can be argued that any success the Rams plan to have in 2014 will hinge on these players’ ability to do just that.
Some honorable mentions include cornerback Trumaine Johnson, linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong, and running back Benny Cunningham, but for now let’s take a look at who we believe can take the next step in 2014.
Defensive tackle Kendall Langford
Langford is a polarizing figure in St. Louis. Some are quick to write off the contributions of the former Dolphin, but Langford brushed off a rocky 2012 to become a very solid contributor in his second year with the Rams. Langford upped his sack and quarterback pressure total in 2013 and was one of the defense’s better players down the stretch. Langford recorded four of his five total sacks and 12 of his 16 quarterback hurries on the season after Week 9.
Defensive tackle Michael Brockers
Brockers improved his individual game in just about every facet in 2013 and looks poised to take the next step as he enters his third season. It helps to have a stellar quartet of defensive ends surrounding him in Robert Quinn, Chris Long, William Hayes, and Eugene Sims, but Brockers seems destined to become a force of his own as his game continues to develop. Fair or not, the former first round pick is slowly becoming a fan favorite and will be expected to perform accordingly as his career ascends.
Safety T.J. McDonald
Although a leg fracture suffered in the Rams’ Week 4 contest against the 49ers sidelined the rookie out of USC for seven weeks, McDonald played well enough after his return to the lineup to make him someone to watch in 2014. He’s the penciled-in starter at this point – if only due to a lack of Rams’ secondary depth – but the 2013 third-rounder will undoubtedly want to put an unlucky season behind him. We’ll have to wait and see if new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams can help accelerate his development in 2014.
Wide receiver Stedman Bailey
In 2013, we saw just a glimpse of the toughness and reliability that it appears Bailey can bring to the table. Despite not seeing the field much until the second half of the season, Bailey’s willingness to fight for extra yards and simply hang onto the ball quickly endeared him to Rams’ faithful in a season plagued with drops among the receiver unit. It’s still a bit unclear exactly what the Rams have in Bailey, but look for his role to develop further and his snap count to increase in 2014.
Offensive tackle Joe Barksdale
It can be argued that Barksdale already had a break out year in 2013, as his level of play filling in for the injured Rodger Saffold at right tackle went beyond what many would have expected. Barksdale played so well that upon Saffold’s return, Saffold slid over to guard to allow Barksdale to stay on the field. However, now that Barksdale has a full season under his belt and the remainder of an offseason in that role to continue his development, who knows how good he can be in 2014? Behind left tackle Jake Long, he graded out as the team’s second best offensive lineman in 2013 according to Pro Football Focus, as well as the team’s best pass blocker.