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Sun, Feb 7, 2016

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CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist

Draft team needs: St. Louis Rams


An ankle injury limited Sam Bradford to just 10 starts during a forgettable 4-12 season. (Getty Images)  
An ankle injury limited Sam Bradford to just 10 starts during a forgettable 4-12 season. (Getty Images)  

Things looked so bright for the St. Louis Rams last summer.

They were coming off a season of hope, finishing one game away from a division title with a team of good, young players and a foundation quarterback in Sam Bradford.

I pegged them as a team on the rise on a three-day trip to St. Louis for camp last summer.

Was I ever wrong?

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The hope of August turned into a horrible 2-14 season as a glut of injuries cost general manager Billy Devaney and coach Steve Spagnuolo their jobs.

Jeff Fisher takes over as coach, bringing with him a reputation for physical teams that like to run the football. How that meshes with the modern game and Bradford's ability to become an elite passer is one of the interesting dynamics of this offseason.

The Rams pick sixth in the first round, thanks to a trade down with the Redskins that netted much-needed extra picks.

QB: Bradford appeared ready to move into the upper half of passers in the NFL, but an ankle injury suffered in late October and all the other injuries prevented that from happening as he started just 10 games. The dumbest thing now are the whispers that he might not be good enough. He has all the tools and the drive to be a top-10 passer. He just needs help and he has to stay healthy. The current backup is Tom Brandstater, but they could still add a veteran backup after the draft. But this is all about Bradford. The Rams have to build their team around his right arm.

RB: Steven Jackson isn't a kid anymore. He will be 29 in July, a year away from that magic year of 30 for backs. Jackson ran for 1,145 yards last season, averaging 4.4 per carry. And he did so for an offense that struggled to throw the football. Cadillac Williams was the top backup with 361 yards, but he isn't expected back. That leaves Quinn Porter as the top backup for now, which is why the Rams need to find a back in this draft somewhere.

WR: The Rams receivers weren't good last season and Brandon Lloyd, who led the team with 51 catches after coming over from the Broncos, signed with New England. If the season started right now, the Rams receivers would be Brandon Gibson, Danny Amendola (coming off a torn triceps), Greg Salas and Steve Smith. They also have high hopes for Austin Pettis, who had 27 catches as a rookie. But he was suspended for the final two games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy and will sit the first two games this season. There is no No.1 receiver on the roster, which is why Justin Blackmon early would make a lot of sense for the Rams.

TE: The Rams had high hopes for rookie Lance Kendrick after a big preseason last summer, but he had problems catching the football. He finished with 28 catches. Even so, he has the tools to be an effective receiving tight end. The backups are Michael Hoomanawanui and some inexperienced players. Hoomanawanui has flashed at times, but injuries have kept him on the sideline too much of the time.

OL: The Rams line was a disaster last season as injuries and poor play led to a bad season. Bob Dahl, who came over as a free agent, was the only player to start all 16 games. He was expected to be the right guard, but injuries forced him to get starts at tackle. Left tackle Rodger Saffold had a great 2010 season, but seemed to fade some last season before missing the last seven games with a torn pectoral muscle. Even so, he's got the talent to be a top tackle. Right tackle Jason Smith had his season marred by concussion issues that remain a concern moving forward. The Rams did sign center Scott Wells away from Green Bay to anchor the line. He is a smart player who should help solidify the unit. The left guard will be a battle between Bryan Mattison and Robert Turner, who was signed as a free agent from the Jets.

DL:In Chris Long, the Rams have a top-level defensive end. He had 13 sacks last season and might have been in the Pro Bowl if the team were better. He plays with a relentless style. The other end will be second-year player Robert Quinn, who flashed late in his rookie season. He was the team's first-round pick last season and has the ability to be a 15-sack player. William Hayes, who was signed as a free agent from Tennessee, will be the top backup at end. Eugene Sims is also in the mix. On the inside, the Rams signed Kendall Langford away from the Dolphins to help upgrade a spot that needed it. He will likely team with Darrell Scott, but the team did also sign Trevor Laws from the Eagles. This line should be improved.

LB: Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis is one of the best at his position in the NFL. He is good both against the run and the pass. It's too bad the Rams weren't good last season because many missed out on his special play. There wasn't a lot around him, which is why the Rams signed Jo-Lon Dunbar away from the Saints. Dunbar is the type of linebacker Fisher loves because of his speed. He had a good year for the Saints last season. The other spot is wide open and the Rams need to add some bodies to compete there. Justin Cole is one player who will be in the mix.

DB: The secondary was a disaster last season, especially on the corners. They lost their top corners to injuries, which led to a bunch of young players and aging veterans getting on the field. That's why they went out and signed Cortland Finnegan away from the Titans. Under Fisher, he had his best seasons. Finnegan is a tough, feisty player who will bring an attitude to the secondary. The other corner should be Bradley Fletcher, if he can show he's overcome a second torn ACL. He was on his way to be a top cover player before the second injury. Josh Gordy, who played well at times, and Jerome Murphy, who was lost for the season after a training-camp injury, are also in the mix. The Rams signed Quintin Mikell as a free agent last season and he was just OK. It didn't help that the safeties had to cover for the young corners. The other safety will be Darian Stewart, a player the team likes. Harvey Dahl, who has starting experience, will be the top backup.

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.

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