As each NFL team is officially eliminated from postseason contention, the Eye on Football crew will whip up a review of that team's 2012 season. Today, we look at the Rams. For more of our End of the Road series, click here.
What went wrong
A record of 7-7-1 with one week to go is the definition of middling and there were plenty of problems that kept the Rams from contending.
Their offensive line is a major issue: They traded former first-round pick Jason Smith for turnstile Wayne Hunter, Rodger Saffold dealt with injuries and they allowed Sam Bradford to get sacked 35 times (20th in the NFL). The running game struggled as well too, averaging just 4.2 yards per carry and 109 yards per game.
Steven Jackson will end up topping 1,000 yards by the end of the year, but he's not the same guy he once was and trade rumors -- along with extra carries for rookie Daryl Richardson -- made things uncomfortable for a while.
Bradford's performance in 2012 was certainly an improvement over his 2011 campaign, but he still completed just 59.5 percent of his passes and averaged 6.5 yards per attempt. The former first-overall pick threw 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Some (a lot?) of the blame for Bradford's struggles can be pinned on his complete lack of real weapons in the receiving game.
What went right
On the bright side, Bradford's performance certainly eased some concerns about his viability as a franchise quarterback. That notion was even more under the microscope with the Rams trading out of the No. 2 spot and allowing the Redskins to grab the electric Robert Griffin III. Had Bradford flopped again this season, that move would've looked particularly questionable in hindsight, regardless of how many picks the Rams acquired.
Janoris Jenkins was suspended one game during the year for violating team rules, but the Rams have to be thrilled about his response: The rook has four defensive touchdowns since then, including three interceptions returned for a touchdown. He got torched in coverage at times, but what rookie cornerback doesn't? If Jenkins keeps his nose clean during the offseason, he'll very much look like a steal in the draft. Combine him with Cortland Finnegan, and the Rams should be good to go at corner for the next few years.
Some of the receivers should give the Rams hope. Danny Amendola actually is the second coming of Wes Welker. Chris Givens had a stretch of five games with a reception of 50 yards or more during the middle of the season. Brandon Gibson led the team in receiving yardage and touchdowns.
The Rams had a ton of turnovers before the 2012 season, bringing in Jeff Fisher to try to turn things around, so expect little change on the coaching staff.
Jackson is probably the biggest possible change -- the running back will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and it would be stunning if the Rams actually brought him back, especially with Richardson and Isaiah Pead on the roster.
This is where things get really fun for Rams fans. A year after hitting home runs with Brockers and Jenkins (the jury is still out on second-round pick Brian Quick), the Rams will have a pair of first-round picks and a pair of second-round picks (at minimum) because of the trade with the Redskins.
Yes, needless to say St. Louis fans should root hard for the Cowboys in Week 17. Either way, the logical move for the Rams is to beef up protection for Bradford. As of right now, NFLDraftScout.com has the Rams taking Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan or LSU safety Eric Reid at 17th overall and Georgia guard Chance Warmack or North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper with the 20th overall pick.
There's plenty of offensive-line talent available in this draft so it's a potentially logical move. The one hesitation here is that in his 16 years at the helm of the Titans, Fisher didn't spend a single first-round draft pick on an offensive lineman. Would he be willing to change that philosophy with so many picks an obvious need?
It's quite possible. But it's also possible he could eye a versatile wideout like Tavon Austin out of West Virginia or an explosive home-run threat like North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard.
Either way, the Rams will have plenty of picks to grade. If they hit on them like they did in 2011, it could pay off in a big way.
2013 will be ...
Tough Progression. The Rams look like a team that's up and coming. Just one problem: The NFC West is becoming a pretty darn good division. The Seahawks are stacked with young talent on defense and have a franchise quarterback and one of the best running backs in football. The 49ers will keep being the 49ers. And if the Cardinals get a quarterback, they too could be dangerous.
St. Louis' -42-point differential indicates a struggling team. Take out their 38-point blowout loss to the Patriots in London and they look much better. After taking the Niners to overtime twice and managing a few impressive wins and then heading into the offseason with as many picks as they have, we could be looking at a Rams team with some reasonably high expectations in 2013.