For today’s Top 5, I decided to take a shot at ranking the most underappreciated Rams as the team wraps up OTAs and heads into training camp. Some of these guys will be fighting for their roster spots in upcoming months, but their contributions in 2013 shouldn’t go unremembered. Let’s get started.
5. Defensive end Eugene Sims (with a nod to William Hayes as well)
For as much attention as the duo of Robert Quinn and Chris Long command at the defensive end position, the versatility and quality depth that both Sims and Hayes embody were major reasons for the defensive lines successes as a unit in 2013. Both lined up at end and tackle at times last season, and there wasn’t much of a drop-off in performance during their limited amount of time on the field. Look for them to continue to their roles as under-the-radar defensive contributors this fall.
4. Tight end/fullback Cory Harkey
As I wrote about in January, Harkey was one of those guys who always seemed to be in the right place at the right time last season. In his first full year on the roster, Harkey lined up at both fullback and tight end and made the most of the opportunities that came his way. As a matter of fact, eight of Harkey’s 14 career receptions have been for a first down conversion or a touchdown. And, for me, this was one of the highlights of last season.
3. Running back Benny Cunningham
While fellow rookie running back Zac Stacy was lauded for his breakout 2013 season (deservedly so), Cunningham showed burst of his own during spot duty. He received only 47 carries compared to Stacy’s whopping 250 in 12 games but averaged a fantastic 5.7 yards on each attempt. Exactly what you want from a spot back. With the presence of 2014 third round pick Tre Mason, Cunningham may have to fight for carries in the upcoming season, but look for him to resume a role in the return game.
2. Defensive tackle Kendall Langford
Outside of the no. 1 person on our list, no one starting spot was as quickly written off after this year’s draft than Langford’s. Obviously if a team takes a defensive tackle in the first round (in this case Aaron Donald), one would expect them to be among the starting lineup sooner rather than later. However, Langford has earned the right to at least be the starter next to Michael Brockers as the team heads into training camp. After a rocky first season with the team in 2012, Langford had a very solid 2013 campaign with 5.0 sacks, 18 quarterback hurries, and 36 tackles.
1. Offensive tackle Joe Barksdale
Without the presence of Barksdale, the revolving right side of the Rams’ offensive line would have been in serious trouble. Injuries to Rodger Saffold and Harvey Dahl meant the team had to keep experimenting with patchwork line rotations, but Barksdale emerged as a more-than-capable right tackle as a result. He started 13 of the team’s games and was the second-highest graded offensive lineman on the team (behind fellow tackle Jake Long), according to Pro Football Focus. Barksdale is the obvious opening day starter at right tackle barring unforeseen circumstances, even given the presence of second overall pick Greg Robinson.