With a new head coach and general manager now in place, along with owner Stan Kroenke’s willingness to spend money to fill roster hot spots, look for the Rams to be players in free agency when the league year starts March 13. While the yearly NFL draft remains the bloodline of every NFL organization, there are a few players that can and will bring impact to teams immediately.
Below are both positional needs for the Rams and those players I feel would walk in and become playmakers and difference-makers. Recruiting players that fit the Rams scheme will be critical as they work to build a championship foundation.
Re-signing Danny Amendola is the key to this position for two reasons: 1. He is a natural born slot machine and works the defense with under routes. He is tough and has the ability to play at a high level with production and a passion for the game. 2. Better known as the human crash dummy, which is a compliment, for his high level of toughness as a returner and the fearless disregard of his body.
Other receivers that would make immediate impact:
Vincent Jackson (San Diego Chargers): Big-play receiver that is looking for a new start with an organization that appreciates his ability to play the game outside the numbers and deep down the field. He is a soft-hands catcher with proven play-making ability, which creates separation from defenders with initial quickness, burst and good route-running skills. This difference-maker has the speed to stretch the field with production, and is a threat in the red zone. Checking character and injury history on this player will be critical. Despite finishing second to DeSean Jackson, who is likely to receive a franchise tag from the Philadelphia Eagles) on the pro board, Jackson’s Blue attributes, skill set and past production makes him my No. 1 free-agent receiver.
Marques Colston (New Orleans Saints): When this player was coming out of Hofstra, he attended the East-West Shrine game and turned heads instantly with his athletic ability, great size and speed combination. He is a tall receiver with good route-running skills, quickness in and out of cuts and soft hands to catch outside of his frame. He can contort his body at the highest point with production. This player has been dinged with injuries the past few years and injury history needs to be checked out thoroughly. Colston is a mismatch in space with Blue skills (playmaker and difference-making ability).
Brandon Lloyd (St. Louis Rams): This receiver turned out to be worth the fifth-round pick that was traded to the Denver Broncos for his services. With a depleted receiving group, Lloyd quickly established himself as the Rams’ top receiver, regardless who was at the helm (Sam Bradford, A.J. Feeley or Kellen Clemens). He is a crafty route-runner with short area burst and acceleration creating separation from defenders. He has soft and strong hands with great concentration to make the acrobatic catch. Despite his willingness to play for coach Jeff Fisher, It will be interesting to see how the Rams’ pro department and new coaching staff evaluate Lloyd’s non-run-after-catch production.
Mike Tolbert (San Diego Chargers): A very good role player. A No. 2 running back that can carry the load in an emergency situation. He is an inside runner with low center of gravity, pad level, natural body lean and power with a strong lower body with good yards after contact production. Ball security was a slight issue last season; needs a few lessons on carrying the ball high and tight. He has natural receiving skills and soft hands.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis (New England Patriots) – Coach Bill Belichick may have out-drafted this running back with a pair of young players in Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen. While his overall production was down compared to the 2010 season, the emergence of the dual tight end formation, which was productive, took reps away from this runner. Keep in mind, Green-Ellis has yet to fumble in his career with several hundred carries under his belt. He is a running back that is still very effective, which he displayed in Super Bowl XLVI. This player would be a dependable backup to Steven Jackson.
Carl Nicks (New Orleans Saints): This former Nebraska Cornhusker has developed into a very good guard at the NFL level of competition. He has exceptional size and girth, strength and explosive use of hands allows him to punch and steer defenders. With the Rams needing help immediately on the offensive line, Nicks fills that need. Last year, Harvey Dahl played well at right tackle the latter part of the season and if he stays there, this would make for a very strong right side of the offensive line to open holes for Jackson and help protect Bradford. With Saints’ former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams now on the Rams’ staff, giving Fisher the inside scoop and having a relationship with the big man could help in luring him back to the Midwest.
Anthony Spencer (Dallas Cowboys): I love the versatility this linebacker brings to the table. He is a very good athlete that can play in space and cover a tight end or running back in routes, and has the ability to rush the passer. He is an explosive tackler with collision, wrap and finish. Has very good football instincts with read reaction quickness. Has displayed strength and explosion at point of attack against the run, with shed and lateral pursuit.
Cortland Finnegan (Tennessee Titans): Pound for pound, he is one of the toughest players I have seen throughout my years of grading the NFL. He’s a good off-man cover corner; can play bump and run with explosive use of hands to grab and steer, knocking receiver off their route path and disrupting timing. I like the fact he has the mentality of a linebacker at the corner position. He tackles like a safety and despite his size he doesn’t play small. I love his toughness, attitude and he doesn’t back down to anyone. This player would be a major upgrade for the Rams, who lost 10 corners to injuries during the 2011 season. A former Jeff Fisher player, look for the Rams to make him an offer.