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NFC West preview: Rams get better on defense, still a question mark on offense

The have been "that sleeper team" for a long, long time. Are they still?

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The regular season is here, as of Thursday, though our San Francisco 49ers don't play until Monday when they take on the Minnesota Vikings under the bright lights of Monday Night Football. Throughout the offseason, we've covered the dumpster fire of misery that is the 49ers, but we've also followed their NFC West rivals -- the Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams. The division has been one of the strongest in the NFL in recent years and it could be again this coming season ... but will the 49ers be a part of that? Who knows! Before Sunday's NFL games, I'm going to quickly take you through all three of the 49ers' rivals and what happened in their offseasons.

St. Louis Rams

2014 Record: 6-10 (4th in NFC West)

Draft Picks: RB Todd Gurley, OT Rob Haventstein, OL Jamon Brown, QB Sean Mannion, OL Andrew Donnal, WR Bud Sasser, OG Cody Wichman, LB Bryce Hager, DE Martin Ifedi

Additions: QB Nick Foles (trade), QB Case Keenum, LB Akeem Ayers, DT Nick Fairley, OL Garrett Reynolds

Departures: QB Sam Bradford (trade), DT Kendall Langford, QB Shaun Hill, T Mike Person, RB Zac Stacy

Obviously, the biggest thing that happened for the Rams was the trade with the Philadelphia Eagles for quarterback Nick Foles. This was such a weird trade, because if you told me that the Rams traded Sam Bradford for Foles straight-up, I'd believe you and still think it was kind of ... weird. Not bad, but weird.

But then you go ahead and add the second- and fourth-round pick and I think the Rams absolutely fleeced the Eagles. Bradford has missed more games than he's played in recently and Foles at least has some upside. Maybe Bradford finds success in Philadelphia, maybe he doesn't -- all that matters here is that he was going nowhere with the Rams and taking them with him.

They also traded for Case Keenum, which was a totally pointless, nothing move. Still, the Rams did do well in the draft, grabbing extra third- and sixth-round draft picks in the draft, and moving running back Zac Stacy, who was a lot more trouble than he was worth, having panicked at the first sign of competition. The Rams did very well on the trade market overall, I'd say.

In free agency, I thought the Rams overpaid for wide receiver Kenny Britt, but they managed to retain him and tight end Lance Kendricks, and that's good. As far as new guys, the Rams added two big impact players in Akeem Ayers and Nick Fairley. Both players will make their impact felt from the onset, and both should be graded out as excellent signings. Their losses were minimal.

Then we get to the NFL Draft and boy ... that sure was a thing. The Rams took roughly 30 or 40 offensive linemen in the draft, at last count. The team gave "draft for need" all new meaning with Rob Havenstein, Jamon Brown, Andrew Donnal and Cody Wichman. The Rams have now constructed an offensive line out of some of those guys and a bunch of other guys, and whether or not it will work out is the biggest unknown on the team, from where I'm sitting.

Foles being protected is obviously the main goal, but the team also drafted Todd Gurley in the first round, and that's not looking great for them as he might not play until Week 4 comes around. Gurley, combined with a rebuilt offensive line and a rejuvenated Foles might actually make the Rams dangerous on offense for the first time in a long time. That said, Gurley needs to get healthy, and until he is, I'm not seeing a whole lot to be worried about on that side of the ball.

That said, the Rams have been building an effective, scary defense over the last few years and they kept that tradition up this offseason. That's a defensive front that will absolutely annihilate San Francisco's offensive line.

All in all, the Rams had a productive offseason and I'd say they're a better team now than they were at the end of 2014. Of course, "the Rams are the sleeper team this year!" has been the offseason rhetoric for what ... six years now? I'm not going to call them a sleeper, but they're looking a lot better than they did previously.