NFC West: St. Louis Rams
ESPN.com Seattle Seahawks reporter Terry Blount makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.
Week 1: Green Bay Packers
All the pregame hype will center around the so-called Inaccurate Reception, the controversial Hail Mary catch by Golden Tate two years ago that won the game over the Packers at Seattle on a Monday night. Tate has moved on to Detroit, but the Seahawks now have too many weapons for the Packers to stop, no Hail Mary required. Prediction: Win
Week 2: at San Diego Chargers
The Chargers better hope they play a lot better than they did in the preseason game at Seattle, a 41-14 victory for the Seahawks on Aug. 15. San Diego will play better, but not good enough to beat a much better team. Prediction: Win
Week 3: Denver Broncos
The Broncos and their fans got a tiny bit of meaningless Super Bowl revenge in the preseason opener with a 21-16 victory over the Seahawks in Denver. Enjoy it while it lasts, boys. Repeating that outcome in Seattle is not an option. Prediction: Win
Week 5: at Washington Redskins
Traveling coast to coast to play on the road for a Monday night game is a tough task against any NFL opponent, and even tougher against quarterback Robert Griffin III. But the Seahawks catch a break in this one by coming off a bye week with plenty of time to prepare and be fresh for the journey. Prediction: Win
Week 6: Dallas Cowboys
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones gave Seattle a little bulletin-board material last month when he said the Seahawks were to blame for the increase in penalty flags during the preseason. There won't be near enough flags against Seattle for the Cowboys to win this one. Prediction: Win
Week 7: at St. Louis Rams
Any division game in the NFC West is a rugged battle. The Rams have a defensive line that gave the Seahawks problems a year ago. But they aren't strong enough overall to beat Seattle, even at home in their out-of-date dome. Prediction: Win
Week 8: at Carolina Panthers
The Seahawks were fortunate to win the season opener at Charlotte a year ago. That Panthers team was better than this one, but back-to-back road games against very physical defensive teams will end the Seattle winning streak. Prediction: Loss
Week 9: Oakland Raiders
Coming off their first loss of the season and returning home against an outmanned opponent, is there any doubt? Prediction: Win
Week 10: New York Giants
The Seahawks easily defeated the Giants 23-0 last year in New Jersey, a dress rehearsal for their Super Bowl victory at the same location -- MetLife Stadium. The Seahawks won't need a rehearsal to roll past the Giants in this one. Prediction: Win
Week 11: at Kansas City Chiefs
This likely will be a low-scoring game between two strong defensive teams. Odds are against any team that has to try to win by matching its defense against the Seahawks' D. Prediction: Win
Week 12: Arizona Cardinals
The last time the Cardinals played at CenturyLink Field was last December when they handed the Seahawks a 17-10 loss. That won't happen again unless the Seahawks get caught looking ahead to the 49ers game. The Seahawks don't look ahead. Prediction: Win
Week 13: at San Francisco 49ers
It's a Thanksgiving night, national TV game in the 49ers' shiny new stadium against the hated Seahawks. If San Francisco can't win this one, its time as a championship contender is over. Prediction: Loss
Week 14: at Philadelphia Eagles
This is the toughest part of the season for the Seahawks with back-to-back road games against likely playoff contenders. But the 10 days between games will help and be enough of a cushion to keep Seattle from losing two in a row. Prediction: Win
Week 15: San Francisco 49ers
This is a game that could decide which team wins the NFC West. No way the Seahawks lose to the 49ers twice in three weeks, especially not in front of a rabid full house of 12s. Prediction: Win
Week 16: at Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals probably will be fighting for a playoff spot, and the Seahawks already will be in at 12-2. That difference will be just enough for Arizona to win at home in the same stadium where the Seahawks will win the Super Bowl a few weeks later. Prediction: Loss
Week 17: St. Louis Rams
For the second consecutive year, the Rams close the regular season in Seattle. And for the second consecutive year, the Seahawks will beat them without much trouble. Prediction: Win
Predicted Record: 13-3
Watt, who checked in at No. 1 amongst defenders in our most recent #NFLRank project, was rewarded for his outstanding body of work early Tuesday morning. ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported Watt agreed to a six-year, $100 million contract extension with the Texans. Mortensen reports the deal includes $51.8 million guaranteed, the most for a defensive player in the history of the NFL.
Soon after that news broke, Quinn offered his congratulations to his fellow 2011 draftee via Twitter.
Congrats to @JJWatt on the new luxurious extension...#WellDeserved
— Robert Quinn (@RQuinn94) September 2, 2014
It's left unsaid here but Quinn also might as well have tossed in a hashtag with the words "thank you" after it. That's because with Watt now officially setting the bar in uncharted territory for a defensive player, Quinn has a pretty good idea of what his next contract is going to look like. Luxurious, indeed.
Clearly, Watt's value to the Texans makes him a player they know they can't replace. He's a dominant run-stuffer and an incredibly productive pass-rusher while playing a position where it's hard to get sacks.
The Rams should view Quinn the same way after his breakthrough 2013 season. In posting 19 sacks and seven forced fumbles, Quinn proved beyond a doubt that he's the Rams' best and most valuable player. Beyond his pass-rush production, Quinn also made great strides as a run defender and, for whatever it's worth, earned record-high grades for a 4-3 defensive end from Pro Football Focus.
The scary thing about Quinn is that he's only 24 years old and just scratching the surface of what he can do in the NFL. Working with defensive line coach Mike Waufle, one of the best in the league at his craft, there's almost no ceiling to what Quinn could become.
The Rams have Quinn under control for the next two years at the reasonable cap charge of a combined $9,971,381, which includes the bargain rate of just over $3 million this season. In theory, they could wait it out and use the franchise tag if they wanted but it seems unlikely they'd go that route since there's no reason to potentially anger the easy going Quinn.
Instead, my expectation is the Rams will wait until after this season to begin talks on extending Quinn. After the year, the Rams will free plenty of cap space (a number which could be even bigger if they part ways with quarterback Sam Bradford) and Quinn will have a chance to add another dominant year to his overall body of work.
There's little doubt the Rams will work to ensure Quinn remains a franchise fixture well into the future. Now that the bar has been set, it's not really a matter of if but when.
ESPN.com St. Louis Rams reporter Nick Wagoner makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.
Week 1: Minnesota Vikings
Adrian Peterson destroyed the Rams the last time he visited St. Louis but the defense should be much improved, Craig Dahl no longer plays for the Rams and they should be able to score enough to start the season with a win. Prediction: Win
Week 2: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
An early-season trip to Florida will provide quite a challenge in terms of heat and humidity after a mostly mild St. Louis summer. The Bucs look like they could be vastly improved and the Rams wilt late in the Florida sun. Prediction: Loss
Week 3: Dallas Cowboys
Dallas back DeMarco Murray will be a popular fantasy play this week given his recent success against the Rams, but this time should be different as the Rams head to the bye with a 2-1 record. Prediction: Win
Week 5: at Philadelphia Eagles
An absolutely brutal stretch of schedule gets off on the wrong foot, as the Rams can't keep up with the Eagles' high-octane offense. Prediction: Loss
Week 6: San Francisco 49ers
The nightmare of this matchup from prime time a year ago could be erased here but the 49ers find a way to pull this one out late. Prediction: Loss
Week 7: Seattle Seahawks
The Rams are a perennial headache for the Seahawks, especially at home, and that will be no different this time. But not having Sam Bradford at quarterback will again leave the Rams a play short of the upset. Prediction: Loss
Week 8: at Kansas City Chiefs
The Rams surprised many by blowing out a perceived AFC power on the road against Indianapolis last year. The Chiefs get a similar treatment. Prediction: Win
Week 9: at San Francisco 49ers
The Rams' first trip to Levi's Stadium ends like their last one to Candlestick: with a convincing loss. Prediction: Loss
Week 10: at Arizona Cardinals
Two trips out West in as many weeks with another tough opponent caps off the most brutal three-game stretch of the season with a close loss to the Cardinals. Prediction: Loss
Week 11: Denver Broncos
This game could be closer than it might look on paper considering how physical, aggressive teams give the Broncos problems. Ultimately, what could be Peyton Manning's final visit to St. Louis sends him back to Denver with a win. Prediction: Loss
Week 12: at San Diego Chargers
The losing streak reaches four games and the Rams officially hate the West Coast more than mid-'90s fans of the Notorious B.I.G. Prediction: Loss
Week 13: Oakland Raiders
The Rams come out on top in the battle of two teams most often speculated to move to Los Angeles. Prediction: Win
Week 14: at Washington Redskins
There will be much reminiscing about the infamous 2012 trade these two teams made in the week leading to this game but it's RG III's Redskins who win a close one. Prediction: Loss
Week 15: Arizona Cardinals
This is the Rams' best bet for a win in the division and they follow through by knocking off the Cardinals. Prediction: Win
Week 16: New York Giants
The Giants' retooled offensive line is no match for the group coached by Mike Waufle, the man who once led the Giants' defensive line to Super Bowl glory. Prediction: Win
Week 17: at Seattle Seahawks
Ending the season with a loss in Seattle has become something of an annual tradition. Prediction: Loss
Predicted Record: 6-10
Coach Jeff Fisher made it clear the roster could still have some tweaks, but for now let's take a look at how the roster looks. Earlier, we started with the offense . Now, let's take a look at the defense and special teams.
Defensive line (9) Chris Long, Robert Quinn, William Hayes, Eugene Sims, Michael Brockers, Kendall Langford, Aaron Donald, Alex Carrington, Ethan Westbrooks
The deepest collection of talent on the team and perhaps the best line in the league, this group has a little bit of everything. The Rams kept nine in 2013 and it was no surprise when they did so again this week.
Linebacker (5) James Laurinaitis, Alec Ogletree, Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Ray-Ray Armstrong, Daren Bates
This is the thinnest position on the defense and it would not surprise if the Rams looked to add more help, particularly if they can find a veteran with some experience. Because offenses around the league regularly play with three or four receivers, the Rams will be in sub packages quite a bit which means the need for help here isn't urgent. But a single injury of any note would certainly change that.
Cornerback (6) Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson, Lamarcus Joyner, Brandon McGee, E.J. Gaines, Marcus Roberson
Johnson's sprained MCL will cost him four to six weeks and forced the Rams' hand to keep an additional body that likely came in the form of Roberson. McGee has an ankle injury which has cost him time in the preseason. Joyner projects to stay as the nickelback, with Jenkins starting in one spot on the outside. The interesting battle in the short term is who gets the nod to start opposite Jenkins. McGee has a little more experience but if he's not fully healthy, Gaines could get the first chance.
Safety (4) T.J. McDonald, Rodney McLeod, Maurice Alexander, Cody Davis
Instead of the five the team has carried in the past, the Rams are going with these four for right now. Alexander and Davis will be key special teams contributors right away, but neither offers any meaningful playing experience in the league as depth behind the starters.
Specialists (3) Johnny Hekker, Greg Zuerlein, Jake McQuaide
This trio should be together for the long haul.
As coach Jeff Fisher hinted Saturday afternoon, the Rams went heavy at positions like linebacker and safety, where they don't have a lot of depth on the active roster, which ultimately left defensive end Michael Sam off the list. The Rams have five defensive ends on the 53-man roster.
Of the 10 players to stick around on the practice squad, only the two linebackers did not spend the preseason with the Rams. Allen spent training camp with the Carolina Panthers after entering the league as an undrafted free agent out of Michigan State. Reddick spent time with the New Orleans Saints last year and through this preseason.
The other eight spent the offseason and preseason with the Rams.
In the past three years, the Rams have clearly been the league's youngest team, but what's interesting is they haven't exactly been older in consecutive years despite sticking to their youth movement.
When Rams coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead took over in 2012, they cleaned house and made it clear they aren't afraid to roll with young players in prominent positions. That first year, they went from one of the league's oldest team to the youngest at an average age of 25.32 years.
They stuck to the plan last year and were actually younger with an average age of 24.96 years. They are a little older this year, but not as old as they were in 2012.
Regardless, there is something to be said for the Rams having a plan and sticking to it. There are no awards for being the youngest team in the league, but a lot of franchises pay lip service to the idea of building through the draft then panic and change the plan when things don't go well.
It's a bit easier for the Rams to stick to the plan with an experienced coach like Fisher in charge, but it should also be clear that youth is no longer an excuse for this team.
The Rams are young by design, but they also have a lot of players with plenty of playing experience. In fact, the Rams might only have one rookie -- cornerback E.J. Gaines -- in the starting lineup on opening day, and if they do, it's because of an injury to certain starter Trumaine Johnson.
Snead likes to refer to the mistakes of his young team as "spilling milk" and has said he hopes that two years of spilling milk leads to much less in 2014.
It will have to if the Rams' plan to break through this season is to come to fruition.
That's an important distinction to make at this time of year with rosters in flux all over the league. Rams coach Jeff Fisher didn't hesitate Saturday to mention that his roster could look much different soon enough.
"We got to 53 (players), as everybody else has," Fisher said Saturday. "I can’t say that we’re done. We’re no different than any other team in the league. We’re going to watch the wire and see if it’s at all possible for us to upgrade our football team over the next couple of days.”
In looking at the roster, there are a couple of positions that stand out as places where the Rams could tweak. Since starting quarterback Sam Bradford suffered a season-ending ACL injury against Cleveland, Fisher has been open about the team's interest in potentially adding a quarterback to provide depth behind Shaun Hill.
As it stands, only Austin Davis remains on the roster behind Hill after the Rams released rookie Garrett Gilbert. The Rams have carried just two quarterbacks at times in two years under Fisher but Davis has never taken a snap in a regular-season game.
Fisher again mentioned the Rams have not engaged in any trade discussions for a quarterback but that they would keep all of their options open as they scour the market.
“Well we’ve gone into most games with two quarterbacks on the active roster," Fisher said. "We have one on practice squad here and there. That’s not an issue. The quarterback position is a position that we’re going to address, that we’re going to monitor. We’ll get the list (of cuts) and we’ll see what’s out there. I’m sure there’ll be workouts and tryouts and a potential to do some things at the position but right now as I said a couple of days ago, we’re not going to overreact. We’re going to apply patience to this situation.”
It would also stand to reason that the Rams will take a closer look at linebackers who come available. They only have five for now, which is at least one fewer than they normally carry. They don't have to add a sixth but the only backups are second-year players Ray Ray Armstrong and Daren Bates, neither of whom has played much other than special teams.
As for where corresponding roster moves could come from, tight end would seem a logical place to start. The Rams have five on the roster, including youngsters Justice Cunningham and Alex Bayer.
“It’s probably heavy at the position," Fisher said. "But it shows you what both Alex and Justice have been able to do and contribute. Again, there’s going to be some movement on the roster. We’ve felt like this year’s roster going in may be heavy here and there. We’ve got an additional spot, unfortunately, because (WR Stedman Bailey) ‘Sted’ won’t be with us for four weeks so you can go heavy here or there.”
Although it is certainly subject to change in the coming days or weeks, it turns out the Rams had some spots with a different look and others that were pretty standard.
Here's the breakdown of how many players the Rams are carrying at each position on the 53-man roster compared to what they had going into week 1 each of the past two years. (Previous numbers courtesy of ESPN's Mike Sando's excellent roster file)
Quick hit: The Rams will probably continue to look to add at this position but might wait a week to find a veteran so his contract won't be guaranteed.
Quick hit: Chase Reynolds counts as a fifth but he's here for special teams. Isaiah Pead didn't count as a fifth entering 2013 because of a suspension.
Quick hit: The Rams are heavy at this spot and if they're to make a move to add at another position, this seems like a strong contender to provide the corresponding move.
Quick hit: Stedman Bailey will return after missing the first four games because of a suspension. The Rams will then have to make a decision on where to trim elsewhere to put Bailey back in the mix.
Quick hit: The Rams are apparently expecting Barrett Jones to return soon enough, but in the meantime they'll carry just eight healthy linemen.
Quick hit: This is a deep, talented group but it's fair to wonder how healthy they are at end since William Hayes did not play in a preseason game and Eugene Sims missed practice and last week's preseason game with his leg in a brace.
Quick hit: The Rams could really use some more depth here, especially if they could find a capable veteran. They should be able to get by with five because they spend so much time in sub-packages but if they have injuries here, the depth is shallow and unproven.
Quick hit: With Trumaine Johnson working back from a knee injury, the Rams had to go a bit heavier here, hence the inclusion of undrafted rookie Marcus Roberson.
Quick hit: The decision to keep only four was an easy one considering there was no obvious option for the fifth spot. Like linebacker, the Rams have no proven depth with any sort of meaningful defensive snaps behind the starters.
Quick hit: As dependable a group as you'll find in the NFL.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- From the moment the St. Louis Rams used the 249th pick in May's NFL draft on defensive end Michael Sam, there was never any doubt that he'd have an uphill climb to win a roster spot on the team's deepest unit.
In so many ways, St. Louis was the perfect place for Sam. It's two hours from the University of Missouri, where he played his college football. There's a built-in fan base of the many Missouri alums in the St. Louis area. Owner Stan Kroenke is also an alum and maintains a home in Columbia. Former teammates such as center Tim Barnes and cornerback E.J. Gaines are already on the roster.
But in the way that mattered most -- the football way -- it was always going to be hard for Sam to make the roster. He found out just how difficult that was Saturday afternoon when the Rams announced Sam was one of the 21 players the team released.
"When we drafted Michael, we mentioned that it was going to be a tough road," coach Jeff Fisher said. "Those four defensive ends we have on the roster are good. And they’re very productive. As well as the tackles. That’s the strength of our football team. But again, it was a football decision."
It was a football decision that ultimately boiled down to two things: whether Sam could beat out Westbrooks and, barring that, impressing the coaches enough to persuade them to go even heavier on the line by keeping 10.
The competition between Westbrooks and Sam started out relatively even. Sam was a seventh-round pick, but Westbrooks was the team's prized find in rookie free agency as he received the largest signing bonus among the team's undrafted rookies.
Sam and Westbrooks dueled in the preseason, posting similar stats in the four games and playing more snaps than the other defensive linemen. But as the preseason wore on, it was clear Westbrooks offered every bit as much talent in a more versatile package.
"He was very, very productive in the preseason for us and played all four spots," Fisher said. "He’s a very, very talented young player that I think has a really good future."
With Westbrooks stating a case too good for the Rams to ignore, Sam's best shot to make the roster came down to whether the team wanted to keep 10 defensive linemen, a number well above the usual standard.
Although Sam played well enough to prove he belongs in the NFL, he wasn't so overwhelming that the Rams couldn't keep him. He played almost exclusively as a left defensive end, and any hopes that he could gain an edge by working on special teams never materialized.
Given the injuries to cornerback Trumaine Johnson and offensive lineman Barrett Jones and the need to keep an extra body at those spots, keeping 10 was just not palatable.
"Nine defensive linemen on a roster is a significant number, especially when you are a four-down lineman team," Fisher said. "Nine is a number that you look at to start the season. If you go with 10, then you are going to be short someplace else, and we are just not there."
The Rams could be is in a position to put Sam on the practice squad if he clears waivers. We'll find out Sunday at noon ET whether he will. Fisher declined to comment on the practice squad, but a league source said the team would like to keep Sam there if possible. Either way, that's no sure thing.
"I was pulling for Mike, I really was," Fisher said. "I don’t say that very often, but I was. Mike came in here and did everything we asked him to do."
Indeed, Fisher isn't exaggerating when he says Sam was not a distraction and his time in St. Louis was all about football. And football was the reason that his time on the roster came to an end Saturday afternoon.
Light at linebacker: It's no surprise the Rams cut four linebackers, leaving only five on the current roster. Though they are likely to continue searching for a sixth linebacker to add some depth, none of the rookies vying for a spot did enough to earn a spot. The Rams gave Phillip Steward plenty of chances to make a case to be on the roster, but he couldn't take advantage. Don't be surprised if the Rams add to the position before the opener against Minnesota.
Quarterback quandary: Again, nobody will be taken aback by the team's decision to cut sixth-round quarterback Garrett Gilbert. He wasn't able to provide the consistency needed to win a spot, though the team could bring him back to the practice squad. But since starter Sam Bradford was lost for the season, the plan has been to add another quarterback with some experience. Even if the Rams had kept Gilbert on the roster, it was almost certainly as a place-holder until they can find a veteran capable of backing up starter Shaun Hill.
What's next: The Rams will spend Saturday evening and Sunday morning piecing together their 10-man practice squad. Many of the practice squad players will be those released by the team in the past week. Some candidates include tackle Sean Hooey, defensive tackle Deantre Harlan, linebacker Lawrence Wilson, cornerback Greg Reid, guard Travis Bond and receiver Austin Franklin.
Rams moves: Released WR Emory Blake, G Bond, DE Kourtnei Brown, S Christian Bryant, DT Matt Conrath, S Avery Cunningham, WR Franklin, QB Gilbert, DT Harlan, LB Aaron Hill, T Hooey, DB Reid, LB Etienne Sabino, DE Sam, TE Brad Smelley, LB Steward, T Mitchell Van Dyk, WR Justin Veltung, OL Brandon Washington, LB Wilson and CB Darren Woodard.
WR Stedman Bailey will be placed on the reserve/suspended list for first four games.
But Friday afternoon into Saturday, the team began making moves to get close. They've released 17 players already and will be able to place receiver Stedman Bailey on the reserve/suspended list for the first four games. That leaves the Rams with just four more moves to make to get from 75 to 53.
Released so far: WR Emory Blake, G Travis Bond, DE Kourtnei Brown, S Avery Cunningham, WR Austin Franklin, QB Garrett Gilbert, DT Deantre Harlan, LB Aaron Hill, OT Sean Hooey, CB Greg Reid, LB Etienne Sabino, TE Brad Smelley, LB Phillip Steward, OT Mitchell Van Dyk, WR Justin Veltung, LB Lawrence Wilson and CB Darren Woodard.
So with four moves to make, the Rams have some tough decisions as they try to balance the numbers with special teams with their efforts to keep the 53 best players on the team.
There are a few places they are still heavy.
At tight end, the Rams still have five players. They will likely keep four, leaving them a decision between Justice Cunningham and Alex Bayer. According to Jim Thomas, of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Cunningham suffered an ankle injury against Miami on Thursday night. That could easily mean Bayer makes the roster and the Rams make a move with Cunningham.
In the secondary, the Rams currently have 11 players on the roster including six cornerbacks. I expect them to keep six because of the injuries to Trumaine Johnson (knee) and Brandon McGee (ankle). But five safeties is probably too many. T.J. McDonald, Rodney McLeod and Maurice Alexander are locks. Cody Davis and Christian Bryant might be in a battle for what could be a final spot with special teams a strong factor.
At defensive line, the Rams have 11 currently on the roster with eight set in their spots. That leaves Ethan Westbrooks, Michael Sam and Matt Conrath jockeying for position. At this point, Westbrooks looks to be locked in. Conrath has been battling an undisclosed injury, which could require additional maneuvering in the form of a settlement if the Rams wish to part ways with him.
On the offensive line, Barrett Jones presents the biggest conundrum. He had back surgery and is out for an extended period. The Rams could place him on injured reserve if they don't believe he'll be back in a reasonable amount of time. If they choose to keep him, it would mean keeping 10 linemen, as they did last year.
And, at running back, the Rams have five currently on the roster but it's entirely possible they'll keep it that way. They carried five last season and Trey Watts and Chase Reynolds both have strong cases to stick.
We'll find out officially at today's 4 p.m. ET deadline.
There were no surprises in the first group of cuts, but there are some things worth noting that could play in favor of defensive end Michael Sam.
Things working in Sam's favor:
-- Amongst the Rams' first 17 cuts were one quarterback and four linebackers. That's significant in the sense the Rams now have just two quarterbacks and five linebackers on the roster. Theoretically, they could move forward with those numbers at those spots. If they do, going lighter on numbers at those positions could leave an opening for the Rams to go heavy on the defensive line and retain both Ethan Westbrooks and Sam.
-- Ten is a big number on the defensive line, but it could be a necessity given the team's injuries at end. William Hayes is still working his way back from offseason surgeries. He's practiced but did not appear in any preseason games. Hayes looks like he could be ready for the opener but the Rams could take the precaution of having more insurance in the meantime. Eugene Sims is also battling an injury. He didn't practice last week and sat out the preseason finale against Miami with a brace on his leg. The status of both players remains to be seen, but if the Rams do have concerns that either or both could be ready, it could work in Sam's favor.
-- Sam's performance in preseason games showed he can play in this league. He had 11 tackles and three sacks in those four contests and even offered some production against the run in the finale against Miami. He's one of the 53 best players on this team and teams often try to keep the 53 best guys if they can find a way to make the numbers work.
Things working against Sam:
-- While injuries to Sims and Hayes could work in Sam's favor, there are other injuries that could work against him. Namely, the Rams are banged up at cornerback and will miss starter Trumaine Johnson for four-to-six weeks. Brandon McGee is also dealing with an ankle injury. The Rams cut some corners Friday but they're almost certainly going to have to carry six going into the season. The offensive line offers similar concerns with Barrett Jones working his way back from back surgery. The Rams could do some other things with Jones besides carrying him on the 53-man roster but if they don't, his inability to play right away will require the Rams to carry another body at the spot.
-- When this all started, special teams looked like a way for Sam to add to his value in his efforts to make the roster. Now, it might work against him. If the Rams are light on linebackers, they might have to go heavier somewhere like safety or receiver so they can have additional bodies to run down kicks and punts. Sam simply doesn't fit that type of role.
-- It's important to remember that these are not final rosters. These are initial rosters. Things can change as the days go by. The Rams have openly acknowledged they'll be looking for a veteran quarterback and will do the same at linebacker. So while the Rams are light in those spots now, that isn't necessarily a permanent condition.
Though Thursday, three St. Louis Rams -- linebacker James Laurinaitis (No. 93 defense), left tackle Jake Long (No. 63 offense) and defensive end Chris Long (No. 37 defense) -- had cracked the list. On Friday's final day, the list revealed the highest-ranked Ram, defensive end Robert Quinn.
Quinn made the biggest jump of any player in this year's rankings, moving from unranked last year to No. 6 on defense this year.
Defense, No. 6, Robert Quinn
Stats & Info: Quinn led the NFC with 19 sacks last season, the most by a Ram since sacks became official in 1982. Quinn's seven forced fumbles also led the NFC last season.
My take: Although Quinn made quite a leap in this year's rankings and being called the sixth best defensive player in the league is no slight, I can't help but feel like Quinn is too low on this list. I suppose you could make the argument that he needs a little more of a body of work before he can crack the top five, but these rankings are based on the here and now. I have the privilege of seeing Quinn every day so maybe that clouds my view, but I doubt there's a defensive player in the league that has the combination of production and upside that Quinn showed coming out of last season. I personally would have Quinn only behind Houston's J.J. Watt, who is at No. 1 on the list, and Seattle safety Earl Thomas, who is No. 3. I have little doubt that Quinn's trajectory will only continue to point him upwards as these rankings continue. What's scary for the rest of the NFL is he's only 24 and still scratching the surface of what he can do.
In the past, Fisher sometimes has even opted to play his starters for a chunk of the fourth and final preseason game, a contest most teams usually hand over to the junior varsity in its entirety.
After what happened to Fisher's starters in Cleveland last Saturday, who could blame him?
"I think both coach (Philbin) and I were kind of on the same page as far as not playing players," Fisher said. "They had a lot of players out. We did so, too, not typically something that we do, but again, after what we experienced last weekend, we thought it was what’s best for our team. We gave a lot of younger players an opportunity to play."
Fisher hasn't always used the gradual build. In 2013, he sat most of the starters in the fourth preseason game, but he had hinted all this preseason that he was going to play them against the Dolphins. Then he watched helplessly in Cleveland as quarterback Sam Bradford was lost for the season to an ACL tear, cornerback Trumaine Johnson suffered a sprained MCL that will keep him out four to six weeks and three other starters -- defensive tackles Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford and offensive lineman Rodger Saffold -- left the game with ankle injuries.
When things clearly are going against you, it made sense for Fisher not to tempt fate by forcing the issue in Miami. There were a few Rams who probably could have used the work, including linebacker James Laurinaitis (ankle) and defensive lineman William Hayes (offseason surgeries), after sitting out the other preseason games. Laurinaitis even lobbied to play.
Weighing the benefit of a few snaps against Miami backups against the possibility of further injury or re-injury really made it an easy decision.
By the time the Rams' 14-13 loss to the Dolphins was complete, Fisher saw the result he wanted, even if the scoreboard might have indicated otherwise.
"There were some good things in there; there were some frustrating things," Fisher said. "You get frustrated with some of the young mistakes our players make. Overall, our training room is empty right now, so that’s good news."
(Note: WR Stedman Bailey is expected to make the team but is suspended for the first four games of the season and will not count on the initial 53-man roster.)
Sam Bradford leaves the Rams with just the three players mentioned above on the roster. Davis is the No. 2 for now but the Rams will keep their eyes open for a veteran to add experience. These three could make the initial cut but the most likely scenario is they keep Hill and Davis and Gilbert goes to the practice squad after they locate a veteran.
RUNNING BACKS (4)
Chase Reynolds is difficult to leave off because of his value on special teams, but Watts has just offered too much upside for the offense and willingness on special teams to be left off. It wouldn't surprise if the Rams kept both but it's hard to do this without at least including Watts.
With Bailey suspended the first four weeks, the Rams could take a longer look at another wideout for the first quarter of the season but there isn't one who has really emerged as worthy. Givens reminded many why he deserves to stick against the Browns but Pettis has been nearly invisible. Without Bailey, it stands to reason Pettis would stay but upon Bailey's return, that could change.
TIGHT ENDS (4)
The first three are probably pretty safe, but the Rams could have an intriguing competition for a potential fourth tight end if they opt to keep four. Cunningham versus Alex Bayer continues to be one of the more interesting battles on the roster. Cunningham is the better blocker, while Bayer has shown more as a pass-catcher. It's really difficult to determine which flavor the Rams prefer but I'm going back to Cunningham because of his value as a blocker on special teams.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)
- Jake Long
- Joe Barksdale
- Scott Wells
- Greg Robinson
- Rodger Saffold
- Davin Joseph
- Travis Bond
- Tim Barnes
- Mike Person
The Rams have serious questions about their depth on the offensive line. Barrett Jones' situation remains in flux and few of the backups have stood out. It's hard to project the depth beyond Joseph and Barnes but the guess here is the Rams do something to stash Jones and save the roster spot then opt for Person and Bond in a tight race over Brandon Washington and Sean Hooey.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)
- Chris Long
- Robert Quinn
- William Hayes
- Eugene Sims
- Michael Brockers
- Kendall Langford
- Aaron Donald
- Alex Carrington
- Ethan Westbrooks
This is the toughest decision on the roster right now. Westbrooks and Michael Sam have both done enough in camp and the preseason to stake a claim to a spot. At this point, it would be a surprise if Westbrooks didn't make it. Jeff Fisher has hinted at a different look in terms of roster composition this year and it's not out of the realm of possibility they could keep both. It's hard to project where they could chop elsewhere to create space, though. The other X factor here is the health of Hayes and Sims. Neither played against Miami and Hayes has yet to appear in a preseason game. Perhaps that could open the door for both Sam and Westbrooks to stay.
Barring injury, it's hard to imagine a scenario in which the first five don't make it. But the sixth spot is more of a question mark. That spot is anybody's guess. Steward stays there for now but Lawrence Wilson and Aaron Hill could surprise. And the Rams will definitely scour the waiver wire for others.
With Johnson out four to six weeks, this looks like the spot that could keep Sam from making the roster. The Rams will have to carry Johnson on the roster but will probably need to keep another body for depth in the meantime. It's not easy to choose one from the group of Roberson, Greg Reid and Darren Woodard. Roberson has flashed the most in coverage, Reid is the best tackler and Woodard is sort of the happy medium between the two. We'll go with Roberson because he's gotten the most opportunities, an indication the coaching staff likes his potential.
Put simply, the Rams don't have anyone else who has showed enough to earn a spot and Joyner could play safety in a pinch. Alexander and Davis are core special-teams players.
These three are set in stone.