After finishing 7-9 last season, the St. Louis Rams are the bottom-feeders of the NFC West.
It feels disrespectful to refer to the Rams in such terms. They lost starting quarterback Sam Bradford last season, yet finished with seven wins in the NFL’s most iron-filled division. That’s more than bottom-feeding.
The Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers picked up four wins each to finish last in the NFC South. The Minnesota Vikings had five wins, good for fourth in the NFC North. Then, there’s the abominable Washington Redskins and their three wins, jettisoning them to the NFC East cellar.
Still, the Rams know they are behind amongst their peers. The participants in the NFC title game – the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers – came from their division, as did the Super Bowl champion. The Arizona Cardinals won 10 games, including the rare feat of winning in Seattle, yet missed the playoffs.
For St. Louis, they have an opportunity for talent hoarding at this week’s NFL Draft, which runs May 8-10. The Rams have 12 total picks, including Nos. 2 and 13 overall.
“We have a long way to go,” St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher said. “I think we’re closing the gap a little bit. But every time you play a division game, you know what to expect. I think people make the case it’s extremely physical, extremely talented, outstanding quarterback play, and you’ve got the top defenses, you know, with respect to Arizona, Seattle, and San Francisco.”
He saw the development of the division while briefly unemployed.
“When I had taken the year off (2011), I started watching ball probably early November and I think you could see it coming together,” Fisher said. “You could see the outstanding job (San Francisco) coach (Jim) Harbaugh did. And you could see, any time you give (Seahawks coach) Pete Carroll just a little bit of time to put it together, he’s gonna make something happen. So I anticipated significant improvement, but I don’t think anybody expected it to be as competitive as it is now.”
Like Seattle, Arizona has six draft picks, one in each round except the seventh. A looming question for the Cardinals is when they begin to look beyond 34-year-old quarterback Carson Palmer. The Cardinals’ first pick is 20th overall, which will give them several options. An edge rusher is also a need.
“All three teams that we’re facing are very, very good defensively,” Arizona general manager Steve Keim said. “You have to keep pace. It leaves very little room for error, not only in the draft but in free agency as well.”
San Francisco’s 11 picks give it more draft flexibility than the Seahawks or Cardinals. It also has a recent history of often trading to move around in the draft.
Offseason issues have glommed onto the 49ers. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick was part of a “suspicious incident” in Miami – along with 49ers wide receiver Quinton Patton and Seattle wide receiver Ricardo Lockette – which was investigated, but did not result in anyone being charged.
San Francisco linebacker Aldon Smith, who has a history of troubles, was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport after allegedly suggesting he had a bomb while going through airport security.
The 49ers can begin to push those topics back with what should be a busy draft day.
It’s also a chance for all three teams in the division to inch closer to the Seahawks.