EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams have six games to go in the 2013 season and though reaching the postseason is likely a long shot at best, there is still much to be learned in these final weeks.
With that in mind, here's a look at five players who need to continue to make strides so the Rams can have a better handle on what direction to spend their draft capital and cap dollars for 2014.
OT Joe Barksdale: Barksdale has made the most of the opportunity that came his way after an injury to Rodger Saffold, staking his claim to the starting right tackle job after Saffold went down. Much has been made of the idea that the Rams will need to add an offensive tackle in the offseason but Barksdale has done well in his time in the spot and has a chance to at least make the Rams consider using their resources elsewhere. A strong finish would give Barksdale a track record of 15 games and allow the Rams to have a much better opportunity to decide if he's their guy moving forward.
CB Trumaine Johnson: There's no doubt Johnson has a place among the Rams' top three corners moving forward, but the way he finishes the season could go a long way in determining just how much of a need the Rams will have at corner in the offseason. Cortland Finnegan has battled injuries and struggled for most of the season and Johnson is getting his chance to line up as the outside corner opposite Janoris Jenkins. The Rams are likely going to need to add a corner in some fashion in 2014, but Johnson has clearly progressed and more of that improvement in the final six games could lessen the need to take one early in the draft or spend on one in free agency.
OL Rodger Saffold: It's no secret Saffold's future with the Rams is tenuous and may depend as much on what he wants as what the Rams want. Now that he's moved to right guard, Saffold has a chance to become a more appealing option for the Rams moving forward. He got off to a strong start in his first appearance on the interior against Indianapolis and more of that down the stretch could increase the chances of the Rams working to keep him. It remains to be seen what happens when Harvey Dahl returns from a knee injury, but if Saffold gets more opportunities at guard, the Rams would have an obvious in-house option who could help them avoid having to do a massive overhaul on the interior of the line.
WR Stedman Bailey: There was plenty of discussion about Bailey getting more work against the Colts but it didn't pan out that way after the team got a big lead and didn't throw the ball much. Still, it seems Bailey is going to get more chances during the final six weeks. Chris Givens and Tavon Austin are clearly the team's best big-play threats on the perimeter, but the Rams could still use a consistent, reliable pass catcher who can move the chains and occasionally make a big play. It's a profile Bailey would seem to fit and if he can make strides in the final half-dozen, the Rams may not need to address the position once again this offseason.
RB Benny Cunningham: Zac Stacy has staked a strong claim to the starting running back job, not only for the rest of the season but likely moving ahead into 2014. But the Rams need someone to emerge as his complement, a role that's been up for grabs since Stacy took over as the starter in Week 5. Daryl Richardson will probably continue to battle a toe injury for most of the season and Isaiah Pead is just now getting a chance to contribute on special teams. In the meantime, it's Cunningham who looks most likely to get a shot to spell Stacy. He had a strong performance with a couple of big plays against the Colts and has a chance to help solidify the position looking ahead.