"The Rams added more starters from the draft than the other teams in the division," Matt from Idaho wrote to the NFC West mailbag. "If division records are the same next year, will you still rank the Rams low in all categories?"
Matt Williamson Ranks West by Position
John from Redding, Calif., struck a similar tone: "It amazes me that you praise Les Snead and Jeff Fisher for their draft savvy and yet it seems like within the division their post-draft rankings have gone down across the board. You won't give teams credit for drafting a position because we don't know until we see them play, and then praise every other team for their great positional drafts with non-proven players. Too much contradiction."
Matt and John aren't alone.
"I've noticed that there is not a lot of love for St. Louis in any of these ratings," @larry_dupre wrote. "Rams have better defense than your rating"
Matt Williamson, the NFL scout for ESPN.com, went position by position when putting together the rankings. The first thing he said to me upon looking at a chart with the rankings was, "It just dawned on me Seattle has a one or two on my list at every position but tight end. San Francisco actually has a couple fours. Some are debatable."
The Rams fared well in division play last season, but they were clearly the third-best team in the NFC West. The moves they have made this offseason were mostly geared for the long term. Jake Long and Jared Cook figure to provide immediate upgrades. While I applaud the Rams for selecting Tavon Austin, Percy Harvin will be a better football player in Week 1, and perhaps for a long time. The Rams arguably lost ground to the Seahawks at wide receiver in the short term this offseason even though they upgraded the talent level.
I would have ranked the Rams' defensive line higher than Williamson ranked it. But I also see his point about Seattle having superior quality depth at the position.
The No. 3 ranking for Jeff Fisher among NFC West head coaches seems too low. Fisher did get the better of Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll, in my view. He did more with less. Williamson gave Harbaugh and Carroll credit for their team building, not just their on-field coaching. Fisher hasn't had enough time to measure up in that category, but he is well on his way after acquiring those first-round picks from Washington last offseason.
In the end, we know the 49ers and Seahawks are good. We think the Rams are going to be good, and we respect the way they represented themselves in NFC West play last season. If we were to replace the numerical rankings in the chart with arrows pointing up, down or sideways, the Rams would come out better. We chose another course and there was simply less projecting to do when ranking more established rivals.