EARTH CITY, Mo. -- This week, ESPN.com is rolling out its #NFLRank of the top 100 players in the league on each side of the ball.
As of Thursday, the list has revealed the bottom 40 of the list on each side. On Wednesday afternoon, ESPN.com NFL Insider columnist Mike Sando explored some of the names that won’t appear on that list this year but figure to do so in the future.
Sando sifted through a group of names that didn’t quite make the cut, perused advanced statistics, watched some game tape from 2012 and ran his list by a scout to come up with five names on offense and five names on defense that he expects to break through in the next incarnation of the rankings.
One Ram, a player who probably wouldn’t come as a surprise to those who paid attention in his rookie season, made the cut: defensive tackle Michael Brockers.
Sando had this to say about the Rams’ huge second-year tackle:
Brockers, the No. 14 pick in 2012, was a slow starter after suffering a high-ankle sprain while absorbing an illegal block in preseason. But he picked up momentum quickly and combined with Chris Long for dominant moments in a Week 10 tie against San Francisco in particular. Our NFL scout, Matt Williamson, is on record saying he thinks Brockers will become a Pro Bowl-caliber player this season and the best defender on the Rams. That is saying something after St. Louis finished Jeff Fisher's first season as coach there tied for the NFL lead in sacks.
It’s hard to disagree with Sando’s assessment of Brockers. Not only is he now completely past the high ankle sprain that slowed him most of last season, but he also had a cleanup surgery on his other ankle in the offseason that should help him with burst.
When the Rams drafted Brockers, he was seen as a raw prospect with plenty of upside but he performed well as a rookie. He’s come back to the Rams a little bigger and stronger after gaining some muscle in the offseason and appears to have improved pass-rush moves based on his performance in one-on-one pass-rush drills.
Brockers was an instant help to a porous Rams run defense in 2012, but if he can elevate his pass-rush skills, he could not only become a mainstay on the list but also check in near the top of it.