St. Louis Rams: 7 building blocks for 2016
Change will be the operative word in 2016 for the Rams, who will relocate the franchise from St. Louis to Los Angeles. While the Rams have gone nine consecutive seasons without a winning record, there is reason for optimism for that to change. The team is stocked with top young talent who will attempt to end that streak in 2006. Here are seven of them.
1. Todd Gurley
Gurley lived up to his enormous hype during a fabulous rookie season, finishing third in the league in rushing with 1,106 yards and scoring 10 touchdowns despite missing three full games. Gurley played half of his first season less than a year removed from major knee surgery, so he should be even better in 2016. That's a scary thought for opponents after Gurley became the first running back in history to rush for at least 125 yards in each of his first four career starts. Gurley also managed to put up big numbers despite facing opponents geared to stop him due to the team's lack of weapons on offense. St. Louis had the league's worst passing attack at 175.3 yards per game and also ranked last in total yards (297.6).
2. Aaron Donald
What Gurley is to the offense, defensive tackle Donald is to the other side of the ball. Like Gurley, Donald was a first-round draft pick (No. 13 in 2014) and has exceeded expectations in his first two seasons. Donald already is being touted as perhaps the league's best interior lineman and earned Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors in 2015. Possessing a combination of strength along with an explosive first step, Donald's 69 tackles ranked first and his 11 sacks tied for No. 1 at his position as he easily surpassed his impressive rookie totals of 48 tackles and nine sacks.
Wide receiver Tavon Austin scored a career-high 10 touchdowns for the Rams in 2015.
3. Tavon Austin
The Rams finally started to figure out how to best utilize the talents of Austin, yet another first-round pick who was drafted No. 8 overall in 2013. Although his 52 receptions were a dozen more more than his total from his rookie season, Austin's best success came when he was in motion and playing off Gurley in the backfield. At 5-foot-8 and 176 pounds, Austin is hardly a prototype wide receiver, although he scored half of his career-best 10 touchdowns in the passing game. He averaged 8.3 yards a carry and scored four TDs on 52 rushing attempts and is always a dangerous threat in the return game.
4. Robert Quinn
The Rams were expected to have one of the best front fours in the game, but the production of their pass rush diminished following injuries to Quinn and fellow defensive end Chris Long. A back injury limited Quinn to eight games, ending his string of three consecutive seasons with double-digit sacks, including an NFC-leading 19 in 2013. Quinn recorded four of his five sacks through the first five weeks of the season before his injury woes cropped up and he was finally placed on injured reserve. Quinn could miss the beginning of the team's offseason conditioning program after undergoing back surgery.
Linebacker Alec Ogletree was leading the Rams in tackles when he broke his leg in Week 4.
5. Alec Ogletree
Ogletree was another huge loss for St. Louis' defense after suffering a broken leg in Week 4, forcing the team to move safety Mark Barron into the third-year linebacker's starting slot. As was the case with Quinn, the Rams' run defense regressed following the injury to Ogletree, who led the team in tackles in each of his first two seasons. The 6-foot-2, 245-pound Ogletree, a first-round pick along with Austin in 2013, appeared on his way to a career year. He had a team-leading 42 tackles at the time of his injury, including 16 in Week 2 at Washington.
6. Rob Havenstein
Havenstein was among four offensive linemen drafted by the Rams in 2015 and started all 13 games in which he was healthy. A second-round pick out of Wisconsin, the 6-foot-7, 321-pound Havenstein was the only offensive tackle to not allow a sack in 2015, according to Pro Football Focus. Health was never an issue in college for Havenstein, who played in a school-record 54 games for Wisconsin.
7. Jamon Brown
Brown was selected one round behind Havenstein and was the Week 1 starter alongside him at right guard until sustaining a season-ending leg fracture in Week 10, a game in which Havenstein also was hurt. Coach Jeff Fisher told reporters after the injury that Brown was "off to a great rookie year." The 6-foot-4, 323-pounder will be counted on to team with Havenstein on the right side to open holes for Gurley.