When you play in the toughest division in the NFL, you better have the talent to compete in the division and that talent has to step up when it matters most, but what if you beat your division and still don’t get the title? That was the situation the St. Louis Rams found themselves in, after finishing 4-1-1 in the NFC West, but 3-7 outside of the division. In order to correct the mistakes they made in 2012, the Rams need a few key players to step up in 2013.
These are the five St. Louis Rams’ players that must breakout in 2013.
5. Brian Quick
Brian Quick was the first player drafted in the second-round of the 2012 draft and became a big disappointment after only catching 11 passes for 156 yards and 2 touchdowns. That’s not how high second-round picks should perform, and Quick needs to emerge as a consistent secondary option for Sam Bradford in 2013. That remains to be seen if it’s possible for Quick who looked like he had a long way to go in 2012, but he could turn it all around this offseason. If Quick can start showing some flashes of the player the Rams thought they drafted in 2012, then the Rams will be well on their way to becoming more competitive outside of their division. Otherwise, the Rams will have to rely on other targets that might not be enough to get over the hump.
4. T. J. McDonald
The Rams’ starting safeties in 2012 are not on the team anymore. Quintin Mikell was released and Craig Dahl is a San Francisco 49er now. The Rams are attempting to get younger at the safety position, and T. J. McDonald is one of the young safeties they’ll need to make big strides as a rookie. The good news is McDonald displayed the necessary skills to be an enforcer in run support with some ball skills too. The only major flaw in his game is McDonald’s pass coverage skills that need a lot of improvement in consistency, but if he can work to improve quickly in training camp, then he will be a major part of the Rams’ defense in 2013.
3. Zac Stacey
I don’t normally like to give up on players after their rookie season, but Isaiah Pead saying he was “miserable” in his rookie season is not a good mindset. I appreciate the honesty, but Pead shouldn’t be miserable about not being ready for the NFL. The fact he was humbled that badly in 2012 speaks to major confidence issues in the future, and why would I pick a running back to step up if he’s struggling to be confident in his own self-worth? It may be harsh for Pead to read this, but Zac Stacey was drafted to light a fire under him. Yet this is a fire Pead cannot even begin to know how to put out.
Adding competition to a demoralized player can backfire, and Zac Stacey has the talent and mental toughness to take the job from Pead without much of a struggle. How much of a fight Pead puts up may surprise me, but Stacey is clearly the more mentally prepared running back. The point of all this discussion is the Rams need a running back to replace a legend. They don’t have to be as good as Steven Jackson physically, but they do have to believe they can be. Pead can’t possibly begin to believe he can replace Jackson, and that’s why my money is on Stacey.
2. Tavon Austin
The Rams traded up into the top ten to grab Tavon Austin at eighth overall, but Austin might be under the most pressure to perform in 2013. He will have to replace Danny Amendola and must become a major player in the passing game. How Tavon Austin goes, so does the passing game, because he will be the number one option. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a rookie, but how he deals with it, will make his story for the rest of his career. The Rams gave a lot to get Austin, and he may be in an unwinnable situation to live up to his draft spot. However, he has the talent to succeed and if he does, will go a long way to bringing the Rams back in the division.
1. Sam Bradford
The last player that has to step up for the Rams in 2013 is obviously Sam Bradford. He’s in the final year of his rookie contract and the only question to answer is will Bradford emerge as an Elite QB, or put up Bradford numbers again in 2013? Bradford numbers aren’t bad, but they’re backup quarterback quality numbers. This is the moment where we find out if Bradford is Quentin Tarantino or Kevin Smith. Can Bradford emerge with a major hit in 2013 or fail to meet expectations for the rest of his career?
2013 will tell the tale, but this offense is what’s holding the Rams back. The defense is doing its job, but the offense is failing to put up points. If they can start scoring points, then the Rams may find themselves on top of the NFC West this season. Otherwise Bradford will be packing up his things to another team, and the search for a franchise quarterback will continue.
This concludes the Rams’ five players that must breakout in 2013. Feel free to comment on my blog and follow me on twitter @Jmcobern1.
James Cobern is a NFC West Division Leader for TPF and can be contacted at JCobern@ThePenaltyFlagBlog.com