Monday, September 5, 2016

Los Angeles Rams All Career-Year Team

By John Turney
At Pro Football Journal we are trying to pick the best individual seasons in the history of each franchise, which we will continue today with the Rams. By "Career-year" we mean the best performances at each position, with the following rule: Only one season per player per position. For example, here, we cannot pick Eric Dickerson’s best two seasons and use both RB slots.

Here is the team, First-teams on left, Second-teams on right:
Elroy Hirsch, 1951, and Isaac Bruce, 1995, get the top slots at receiver. Hirsch's career year is the only quintuple crown for a receiver in NFL history, i.e. he led the NFL in receptions, yards, average gain and touchdowns, his totals were 66 catches for 1495 yards for a 22.7 average and 17 touchdowns and a long of 91, which also led the league that year. Bruce's 1995 wasn't even given a Pro Bowl nod, partly because the Pro Bowl teams that year were voted on prior two the last two games, but also 1995 was a year in which there were many career years for other receivers and competition in the NFC was tough. Nonetheless, Bruce caught 119 balls for 1781 yards and 13 scores.

The Second-team nods go to Jim Benton, 1945 (45 receptions, 1067 yards for a  23.7 yard average and 8 TDs in nine games), and Harold Jackson, 1973 (40-874-21.9-13), both All-Pros and with big numbers for their respective eras. Benton was Bob Watefield's top target in the 1945 championship season and Jackson ran through secondaries all through 1973.

The list of honorable mentions is very long. It begins with Tom Fears, 1950, Torry Holt, 2003Henry Ellard, 1988, Bob Boyd, 1954, Del Shofner, 1958, and Jim Phillips, 1961. All six were First-team All-Pros. We are also adding Jack Snow, 1970, Flipper Anderson, 1989, Bucky Pope, 1964 (25 -786-31.4-10-with the yards per catch and touchdowns leading the NFL), and flankers Tommy McDonald, 1966, and Bernie Casey, 1968.

The list of third/fourth wide receivers for Rams is as long as it is for the wide-outs. Az-Zahir Hakim, 1999, is First-team and Danny Amendola, 2010, is the Second-team choice. The excellent honorables are Ricky Proehl, 2001, Kevin Curtis, 2006, Todd Kinchen, 1995, Shaun McDonald, 2004, and finally Tavon Austin, 2013.

Tight end is not a very strong position for the storied Rams franchise, in fact, only one tight end has been to a Pro Bowl and that is Leon Clarke in 1956. He also is second on franchise history with receiving yards by a tight end with 650 that same season. You will see Clarke listed as a halfback in some places, but he wasn't. He was an end playing next to the tackle and would sometimes split out as tight ends do today. That increased as time went by but in 1956 he was almost always a tight end.

The Second-team honors go to Mike Barber, 1983 (he was Second-team All-NFC) followed by honorable mention Ernie Conwell, 2001 (Second-team All-Pro). Other honorable mentions are Bob Carey, 1952, Pete Holohan, 1988, (best hands by Rams TE), Bob Klein, 1974 (one of two best blockers along with David Hill) and Billy Truax, 1967.

Rich Saul, 1980, and Doug Smith, 1988, and the top two centers. Honorables are Ken Iman, 1972 (Rams MVP that season) and Pro Bowler Leon McLaughlin, 1954. Paul Zimmerman wrote that Saul's 1980 season was better than usual All-Pro Mike Webster. Smith was always solid and was a six-time Pro Bowler but in 1988 he had a very high grade from PSI.

Tom Mack, 1969, and Tom Newberry, 1988, are the First-team guards. The Second-teamers are Kent Hill, 1980, and Duane Putnam, 1958, both terrific pulling guards. Dennis Harrah, 1986, Joe Scibelli, 1973, both All-Pro in their respective seasons as was Riley Matheson, 1946. Adam Timmerman, 2001, was the most-honored guard of the Greatest Show on Turf era. Mack was tremendously consistent and several years would be worthy of mention in this exercise. Newberry was dominant fron 1987 through 1989, then tailed off. Hill could pass protect and could pull, but was not as good a drive blockers as some and Putnam, one of the NFL's hidden greats has escaped Hall of Fame mention.

Jackie Slater, 1986, Orlando Pace, 2003 and the top two tackles. Slater's 1980 was close, he was dominant in the run game that year, but in 1986 he was the NFLPA NFC Offensive lineman of the Year and allowed only 1½ sacks and was called for only one holding penalty. Pace was the NFL's top-ranked tackle by Proscout, Inc (PSI) and allowed only 4 sacks, his career-low, and was not called for a holding penalty all season.

Bob Brown, 1969, and Doug France, 1978, were not far behind the top two. Brown was the NFLPA NFC Offensive Lineman of the year in 1969 and 1970, France was voted that award in 1979, but we are going with 1978 when he was the top tackle in NFL according to PSI.

Irv Pankey, 1988, and Charlie Cowan, 1973, are next in line as the top two honorable mentions. Pankey, after several years of playing second fiddle to Jackie Slater was an All-pro and rated higher by scouts in 1988. Cowan, whose career is something akin to Ernie McMillian and Winston Hill in that they were never First-team All-pros and also switched sides of the line in their careers, had a great season in 1973. The Rams were the top running team in the NFL and allowed only 17 sacks all season and Cowan was one major reason why.

Bill Bain, 1984, and Chet Adams, 1942, were All-Pros. Bain, one of the unlikliest Second-team All-Pros ever was a great run blocker in 1984 and was a First-team All-Pro by NFL Films that season. Also, in 2003 Kyle Turley was rated "blue" by PSI and was an All-Pro right tackle according to the Dallas Morning News and allowed only 3.5 sacks and was called for holding just twice. All get honorable mentions as well.

Two non-All-Pro HMs are Gerald Perry, 1992, and Wayne Gandy, 1996. Perry was rated the top tackle in NFL by the Raiders and they signed him to a big-money deal in 1993. Gandy was a tough competitor and in 1996 allowed just 5 sacks and was called for only one hold that season.

The modern blocking fullback was almost pioneered by Mike Guman, who was called a U-back, because he'd move prior to snap, would line up as an extra tight end, a wing, an up-back and fullback then they'd use the "I". He was key in Dickerson's great seasons in 1983 and 1984 with his point of attack blocking and as such he gets the First-team spot. Buford McGee, 1989, gets the Second-team nod. The very solid honorable mentions are James Hodgins, 2001 (blocked for Marshall Faulk), Tim Lester, 1993 (blocked for Jerome Bettis's top Ram season), and Madison Hedgecock, 2006 (blocked for Steven Jackson's career year).

The third-down back is Amp Lee, 1997, when he had over 800 receiving yards, first, then Robert Delpino, 1988 and honorable mention Marshall Faulk, 2005.

The starting running backs are as deep as the receivers. We were going to go with 1983 for Eric Dickerson due to his contributions to the short passing game that year, but in 1984 he was a one-man offense as the Rams lost starting quarterback Vince Ferregamo. Backup Jeff Kemp could throw deep, but was poor in the short and intermediate passing game and in those conditions Dickerson ran for 2105 yards and a 5.6 yards per carry average. So, 1984 gets the nod.

Marshall Faulk's 1999 and 2001 season were great, but in 2000, with Warner down, Faulk had to do a bit more and was the NFL MVP so that season gets the other spot.

All-Pros Dan Towler, 1952, and Johnny Drake, 1940, get the Second-team positions. The honorable mentions are Lawrence McCutcheon, 1974 (his top receiving season), Jerome Bettis, 1993, Steven Jackson, 2006 (1528 yards rushing, 90 receptions and 16 total touchdowns), Dick Bass, 1962, Todd Gurley, 2015, and Tank Younger, 1954. All except Steven Jackson and Todd Gurley were First-team All-pros, they were, rather, Second-team All-Pros.

The top quarterback is Kurt Warner's 1999. The Second-team is MVP and World Champ Bob Watefield's 1945. Warner was and easy pick, championship, wins, honors (MVP) stats, the whole package. Waterfield gets the nod over the rest of the honorable mentions due to the Championship he brought Cleveland.

NFL MVP Roman Gabriel was right behind Waterfield and is an honorable mention. Gabriel's 1967 season was also considered. NFC Player of the Year John Hadl, 1973, Pro Bowler Jim Everett, 1989, Vince Ferregamo, 1980, Norm Van Brocklin, 1953, and NFL MVP Parker Hall, 1939 are the honorable mentions with Gabriel.

Everett's 1988 season was neck-and-neck with 1989, but due to comebacks and other intangibles, we chose 1989 over 1988. Hadl slumped late in 1973 and in 1974 and that led to his trade to the Packers, but for a while in 1973 he was the top QB in football. Ferregamo didn't get many honors in 1980 but he was able to get the ball downfield regularly and the Rams were able to score quickly, something they really hadn't done since 1973. Hall was a tailback in the single wing, but he was the passer for the Cleveland Rams and broke several of Sammy Baugh's passing records in 1939.

The starting defensive ends are the 1968 NFL Defensive MVP Deacon Jones, and 1975 NFL Defensive Lineman of the Year Jack Youngblood. Jones was also the 1967 NFL Defensive MVP and had other significant seasons, 1968 the Rams defense had it's best season overall, stopping the run, hitting quarterbacks and keeping oppoent passers to a low rating.

Youngblood had more sacks and stuffs in 1973 (16½ sacks 13.5 stuffs, 4 ff), 1974 (15 sacks and 9.5 stuffs), 1976 (14½ sacks and 8 stuffs) and 1979 (18 sacks and 5 stuffs, 5 FF), but we went with 1975. He was a consensus All-Pro and called by Sports Illustrated  the "NFL's best pass rusher" and he was a consensus NFC Defensive Player of the Year along with the NFL Defensive Lineman of the Year award. He did everything well drew praise from the best NFL right tackles (Yary, Dierdorf, Wright) as well. But he was so consistent in those years any of them would do.

Backing the First-team up are Robert Quinn, 2013, and Kevin Carter, 1999. Quinn had 19 sacks, 7 forced fumbles and was the PFWA NFL Defensive Player of the Year and Carter played on the NFL's top run defense, led the NFL with 17 sacks and 4 FF, was All-Pro and Dallas Morning News's Defensive Player of the Year. Not bad for Second-teamers.

A deep group of honorable mentions starts with a pair of All-Pros  Fred Dryer, 1974, and Leonard Little, 2003. Dryer was All-Pro and one of the top sackers in the NFL (15) and Little was also All-Pro and was the best player on the Rams in 2003. He sacked the passer 12.5 times, made stops in the backfield, had six forced fumbles even scored on an interception return.

NFL Alumni Defensive Lineman of the Year Chris Long, 2011, who had 13 sacks and gutted it out on a bum ankle late in the season and was also a Pro Bowl first alternate and led the NFL DEs in hits/hurries according to both Pro Football Focus and Football Outsiders. All-Pro Andy Robustelli, 1955, is next on the list with Long and in 1955 his pass rush wasn't quite as successful as in past years, but he scored two defensive touchdowns and his rush was still plenty strong.

Long and Robustelli are followed by Coy Bacon, 1971 (Second-team All-Pro, 58 tackles, 11½ sacks plus 13.5 stuffs, 4 deflected passes, and an interception) and All-Pro Larry Brink, 1951. We are leaving off several excellent seasons, both here at defensive end and at defensive tackle, which shows how deep the Rams defensive linemen have been over the years.

Merlin Olsen, 1969, and Aaron Donald, 2015 grab the top DT spots. Olsen was so steady in his career that it was very hard to pick a "career year" but 1969 seemed to fit the bill with 92 tackles, 10 for losses and 11 sacks. For Olsen 1968, 1970, 1972-75 also were worthy of selection. Donald edged out Larry Brooks, in that he was the NFC Defensive Player of the Year, a consensus All-Pro and had 11 sacks and 13.5 stuffs, 27 hits on the quarterback to match with his 69 tackles and did so while being double-teamed 40% of the time.
The Second-teamers are Larry Brooks, 1976 (Pro Bowl, 74 tackles, 14½ sacks, 11.5 stuffs and 3 forced fumbles), and D'Marco Farr, 1995. Brooks was a Second-team All-Pro in 1974 and 1978 and a First-team All-Pro in 1977 and 1979 but 1976 seemed special after coming back from the severe knee injury he sustained in 1975.

Farr might get a few raised eyebrows since players like Rosey Grier and Roger Brown fell behind him, but remember, Grier and Brown's best seasons were in New York and Detroit. When they came to LA they were still very good, but not All-Pros as they once had been. Grier, 1963 (Second-team All-Pro) and Brown, 1967 (Pro Bowl) do deserve honorable mention but truly, Farr's 1995 season is a hidden gem. He was a Dallas Morning News All-Pro and had 11 sacks and 11.5 stuffs and 5 forced fumbles and an interception and a kick block to go with his 50 tackles. 

Dick Huffman, 1949, and Bob Reinhard, 1950, next.  Both were simply dominant in their respective seasons. Huffman was All-Pro and in 1949 he was a "beast" and Reinhard was "unblockable" in 1950.
Bud McFadin, 1955 (Pro Bowl), All-Pro Sean Gilbert, 1993 (81 tackles, 6 stuffs and 10.5 sacks) get special mention as does Diron Talbert who had 61 tackles, 11 sacks and 10.5 stuffs in 1970.
Jack Reynolds, 1975 and a tie between Jim Collins, 1984, and London Fletcher, 2000 get the top slots. Reynolds, like Jones, Olsen, and Youngblood was so consistent that picking one season was not easy, but in 1975 he had 123 tackles and a pick and was a Pro Bowler and according to defensive coordinator Ray Malavasi never missed a signal or call from the sidelines.

Reynolds is another one of those who was so consistent that several years would qualify. In 1979 Reynolds was credited with 144 tackles and one missed one. In 1978 and 1976 he was just as good as 1975 and 1979.  Collins was a Sporting News All-Pro and had 185 tackles, 10 passes deflected, and 2 interceptions and was excellent in coverage from his RILB position. His 1985 season was excellent as well.

London Fletcher did so much in 2000 to try and keep defense together, he'd cover, get after the quarterback, stuff running backs. He kept a cool head in 2000, the season between 1999 and 2001 (both top-notch defenses), and earned the Second-team pick here. For the season he had 133 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and 4 interceptions.

Les Richter, 1956, Mo Pottios, 1968 (109 tackles), Marlin McKeever, 1971 (108 tackles, 4 picks), Will Witherspoon, 2007 (110 tackles, 7 sacks, 7 passes defensed), Carl Ekern, 1986 (98 tackles Second-team All-NFC) was considered but we went with Ekern's 1985 season instead with his 2 picks (one for a touchdown) and 118 tackles.

Other honorables were James Laurinaitis, 2011 (142 tackles, 9 were stuffs, 7 passes defensed, 3 sacks, 2 picks, and was a Pro Bowl alternate and also 'blue' according to one scouting firm). Richter was usually behind Joe Schmidt, Sam Huff, and Bill George in the All-Pro voting, but in 1956 he was a cut above. Witherspoon had a good year on a terrible team and in passing downs, he was often a rusher in a 33 nickel defense.
Isiah Robertson, 1973, and Kevin Greene, 1989, was Second-team All-Pro, a Pro Bowler. Robertson was the de facto NFC Defensive Player of the Year according to AP and Prolog the NFL's official magazine. He also had other qualified seasons, such as 1975 and 1976, for example. In 1973 he had 58 tackles, 3 picks, one for a score and 8 passes defensed on the NFL's #1 defense. Greene had 64 tackles, 16.5 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles. His 1988 season was very similar and could have been picked as well.
Maxie Baughan, 1967, and Jack Pardee, 1963, are the Second-team selections. Pardee, in 1967 was close, he had 6 interceptions and 2 returned for scores, but in 1963 he did a lot with a much less talented unit and was First-team All-Pro. Baughan, always solid was a tough one in that 1966 and 1968 were also great years, 1967 he had more big plays, 4 picks, 10 tackles for loss among his 81 tackles.
Don Paul, 1953,  Jim Youngblood, 1979, Roman Phifer, 1995,  Mike Wilcher, 1985,  Mark Barron, 2015,  Alec Ogletree, 2013, Mel Owens, 1985, Bob Brudzinski, 1979, Mike Jones, 1999, Tank Younger, 1951, and Jo-Lonn Dunbar's 2012 are all honorable mentions. We will throw in the 1973 season of Ken Geddes as well.

Paul was a Pro Bowler, Youngblood was Second-team All-Pro and picked off 5 passes, returning one for a TD, defensed 9 more and had 73 tackles, (his 1978 season was considered, too).

Phifer likely should have been All-Pro in 1995 (125 tackles, 11 stuffs, 3 picks, 3 sacks and 12 passes defensed). Wilcher had 97 tackles and 12.5 sacks in 1985. Mark Barron led the NFL in run/pass stuffs in 2015 with 18.5. Ogletree set Ram record for FF by a linebacker with six (was also scouting firm's 'blue' as a rookie) and Owens covered tight ends with abandon in 1985 and had 9 sacks as well.

Brudzinski had 127 tackles, plus 5 sacks, 14 passes defensed and a pick, and in Joel Buchsbaum's Pro Football Weekly reporting was a "9+ versus the run and a 6 versus the pass" with 9 being the highest score on the scale. 

Tank Younger was a Pro Bowler in 1951, and played both fullback and left linebacker, and he deserves a spot as well. He was also excellent as a linebacker in 1949 and 1950 as well. Mike Jones scored three defensive touchdowns in 1999 and saved the Super Bowl win with "The Tackle". He totaled four interceptions two fumbles recovered and two forced fumbles plus a sack. 

Jo-Lonn Dunbar's 2012 season was special, too. That year he had 112 tackles, 15 run/pass stuffs (third in NFL in that department) 4.5 sacks, forced 2 fumbles and intercepted 2 passes. Last, but not least, is Mike Jones who scored 3 defensive touchdowns in 1999 and saved the Super Bowl for the Rams.

In 1973 Ken Geddes got a special mention from the New York Post and was an "Allmost All-Pro" from The Bergen Record. He played great totally 66 tackles, 6 stuffs, 14 passes defended and a lot of hard hits. 

Night Train Lane, 1952, and Monte Jackson, 1976, both with monster seasons grab the top spots and behind them are Aeneas Williams, 2001, and Woodly Lewis, 1950.
Lane still holds the record for interceptions in a season with 14. Jackson was the NFL's top defensive back in 1976, had 10 interceptions, returning 3 to the house. Williams was an All-Pro and a major cog in the 2001 rebuilt Rams defense after the disaster in 2000 and Lewis had 12 picks.
Pat Thomas, 1980, and Rod Perry, 1978, Jerry Gray, 1989, Todd Lyght, 1999, and LeRoy Irvin, 1986 were all First-team All-Pros except for Rod Perry who was All-NFC and all are honorable mentions here. All of the above were very consistent. All were good in coverage and Thomas, especially could force running plays. All would hit and tackle. Two non-All-Pro types have to be recognized, Gene Howard, 1971, and Clancy Williams, 1968. Howard picked off 6 passes and only allowed one touchdown pass all season and even had 3 stuffs among his 54 tackles and also deflected 13 passes. Williams intercepted 7 passes and was a major part of the Rams leading the NFL in defensive passer rating  with (47.0-Chiefs led AFL with 46.9) and got very high grades from George Allen.
Dave Elmendrof, 1974, and Johnnie Johnson, 1981, are the top seasons for strong safeties. Elmendorf was Second-team All-Pro and returned two picks for TDs among his 7 interceptions and had 74 tackles, Johnson didn't have a pick but was the second rated SS in NFL by PSI and had 99 tackles, 5 for losses, 4 sacks, 13 passes deflected, recovered 5 fumbles, forced 3 and blocked two kicks. He played a great in-the-box safety and was a good slot cover man in dime packages.

Jerry Williams, 1950 (was a left safety and sometimes single safety as Rams transitioned from a 5-3-3 to a 5-2-4 defense) and Toby Wright, 1995, along with Adam Archuleta, 2003, Ritchie Petitbon, 1970, and Don Burroughs, 1955 (3 INTS in his first-NFL game) get special mention.
Nolan Cromwell, 1980, the NFC Defensive Player of the year with All-Pro Eddie Meador, 1967, take the top two free safety spot. Cromwell was a prototype free safety from 1979-82. In 1983 he had a Pro Bowl season as a strong safety, but in 1980 he was the kind of safety who could hit and tackle, cover in the slot, had tremendous range and good hands. Cromwell was the complete safety and in 1980 he had 8 picks, returning for a score and 101 tackles and 23 passes defensed.

Meador didn't have the size and speed of Cromwell, but many of the other traits were similar and from 1964-69 he was great, and played at a HOF level. In 1967 he had 100 tackle,s 8 picks, 2 were for touchdowns and 6 passes deflected.
Johnnie Johnson, 1983 (moved from SS to FS) and Will Sherman, 1955, Bill Simpson, 1978 (All-NFC, 94 tackles, 5 interceptions and 13 passes defensed), Keith Lyle, 1997 (led NFL with 9 interceptions), and O.J. Atogwe, 2008 (83 tackles, 5 picks, 3 fumbles recovered, on was a scoop and score and 8 forced fumbles) all had excellent seasons and are honorable mentions. Again, we are leaving off some good secondary years but had to draw the line at some point.

The nickel backs are Dre Bly, 2001, and Vince Newsome, 1985 (All-Pro by Dr. Z as nickel) are the top honorees as First- and Second-team. The honorable mentions are Willie Daniel, 1967 and Nolan Cromwell, 1978.

The designated rushers are in order: Gary Jeter, 1985 (11 sacks), though 1988 would fit as well Leonard Little, 2001 (13.5 sacks in 38% of the snaps) backs him up. William Hayes, 2012, was excellent inside in the Rams sub packages (7.0 sacks and 9.0 run stuffs as well in 34% of the snaps) as was Tyoka Jackson, 2003. James Hall, 2008, and Robert Quinn, 2011 also deserve mention.

Jeff Wilkins, 2003, is the top kicker as he had his best year in placekicks and was also very good in kickoffs and in onside kick attempts. Mike Lansford, 1989, was All-Pro in 1989. Lansford was always clutch, but in 1989 had his best season.
Greg Zuerlein, 2013 (only 2 missed FGs and strongest leg in Rams history, including Tom Dempsey, and was excellent on kickoffs as well and was 1 for 1 in onside kicks), David Ray, 1973 (PFW Golden Toe Award), Bruce Gossett, 1964 (Sporting News All-Conference) and All-Pro Frank Corral, 1978 (3 game-winning kicks) are the honorable mentions as well as Paige Cothren who led the NFL in field goals and in field goal percentage and likely would have been the All-Pro kicker if specialists were chosen in those days. The same is likely true of Bob Waterfield's 1952 season as well.

Johnny Hekker, 2013, narrowly beat out  Dave Chapple, 1972. Hekker holds the NFL record for net punting, but few knew that Chapple's 1972 was equally impressive at 42.1 net. The honorables are All-Pro Dale Hatcher, 1985 (38.4 net),  Donnie Jones, 2009, (41.7  net) and Van Brocklin, 1957, a 39 net average.

Leroy Irvin, 1981 (All-Pro, 3 TDs) and Henry Ellard, 1984 (All-Pro, 2 TDs), get the punt return spots. They are followed by Az-Zahir Hakim, 2000, Woodley Lewis, 1952 and  Eddie Kennison, 1996.

Ron Brown, 1985, (All-Pro and three touchdowns) is First-team, then Verda Smith, 1950 is the Second-team. Next in line are Tony Horne, 1999, Alvin Haymond, 1970, Travis Williams, 1971, and 1976 All-NFC choice Cullen Bryant.

Ivory Sully, 1984, and Rich Saul, 1972 are two special, special teams players. Sully's 1979-93 seasons fit as well. He is the best special teams player in Rams history, year-in and year-out.

Saul was credited with 51 tackles in 1970 by Marv Levy, the Rams special teams coach that year, but those numbers seem high and must include blocks as well. Regardless, the 1972 special teams unit of the Rams was the best in the NFL and Saul was the leader and the dominant player of those units and we pick that season for Saul.

Honorable mentions are Alvin Haymond, 1971 (leader of Haymond's Headhunters), Jim Youngblood, 1973 (15 tackles), Norwood Vann, 1984 (nearly as good as Sully and just as good in 1985 as he was in 1984), Nolan Cromwell, 1979 (coverage, blocked kicks and a holder who could run for a first down or touchdown), Tony Guillory, 1967 (three blocked punts—technically one was a tackled punter— including the one that allowed for the late-season win over Green Bay), Jim Jodat, 1978 (20 tackles) and Carl Ekern, 1976 (26 tackles).

Agree or disagree? Let us know in the comments section below.


  1. Very well done.

    Impressed with the research and hard to find statistics.

  2. A great trip down memory lane.

  3. Very well researched. I tried but couldn't find fault with any of the picks.