NFL team previews: St. Louis Rams

RB Steven Jackson

With the 2012 NFL season approaching fast, we go around the league to preview every team. Last up: the St. Louis Rams.

OUTLOOK

The Rams took a huge step back in 2011 and will have a revamped look this year. The changes in St. Louis start at the top, as Jeff Fisher was hired as the team's new head coach. Fisher is well-respected across the NFL, but his mission to get the Rams back on track is still expected to take at least a year or two.

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The Rams' overhaul didn't stop with Fisher as over 20 players from last year's roster won't be returning this year. Despite those mass defections, there is some talent left on the roster. Quarterback Sam Bradford and running back Steven Jackson will continue to lead the Rams' offense while defensive ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn should continue chasing down opposing quarterbacks. But with too many holes still yet to be filled, St. Louis will likely be relegated to the bottom of the NFC West in 2012.

OFFSEASON

The biggest accomplishment for the Rams was the addition of Fisher, as a handful of other teams were vying for his services. Cornerback Cortland Finnegan was signed to provide a physical presence in the team's secondary and will reunite with Fisher, who coached Finnegan in Tennessee. Defensive end Kendall Langford and defensive tackle Trevor Laws also will help boost a defense that struggled last season.


Chris Long had 13 sacks last year for the Rams.

ROOKIES

Outside of first-round pick defensive tackle Michael Brockers, the Rams focused on relative unknowns in the draft. However, there were talented additions such as wide receiver Brian Quick, who many believe can develop into a legitimate No. 1 wideout. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins was a risk in the third round, but if he stays clean off the field, the return on that investment could be immense.

Despite the positive additions, St. Louis's rookie crop is underwhelming, considering the team once held the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, which they traded to Washington for more picks. The Rams drafted 10 players overall, five in the first three rounds.

THE SCHEDULE

With a new head coach and an overhauled roster, St. Louis' 2012 season would have likely been a rebuilding year regardless of what teams were on the schedule. Factor in that the Rams' slate is amongst the toughest in the NFL –- the league's fourth-most difficult schedule in terms of their opponents' 2011 winning percentage -– and the team is expected to struggle for a second consecutive year.

It will be an uphill battle for St. Louis within the NFC West division as San Francisco, Arizona and Seattle are all expected to contend for the division title. A brutal midseason four-game stretch features the Packers, Patriots, 49ers and New York Jets with a bye week in the middle. Overall, St. Louis will have plenty of opportunities to get better but probably won't have many victories to show for it.

BEST OFFENSIVE PLAYER

Steven Jackson, running back. Quarterback Sam Bradford will eventually pry this honor away from Jackson, but for now the veteran running back remains the best.

BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER

Chris Long, defensive end. Long struggled at times early in his career but has developed into one of the best pass rushers in the league.

WILL WIN DIVISION IF ...

Everyone else in the NFC West falters and the Rams progress much faster than expected. Bradford and company seemed on the verge of something big heading into 2011, but it will be back to the drawing board for this season and beyond.

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