The Rams, whether in Los Angeles or in St. Louis, have had some great running backs to hang their hat on over the years of the franchise. Eric Dickerson, Marshall Faulk, Steven Jackson and Wendell Tyler. Teams game planned for them like their lives depended on it.
But nothing in the team's history screamed bust more than 1996's first round selection, Lawrence Philips of Nebraska.
When Philips was at Nebraska, he was rated as a "can't miss" prospect, a great runner and the second coming of Dickerson in the eyes of Rams' brass and management. What media and football experts saw in explosive running was only half the picture of this complicated and troubled thoroughbred.
Philips also had a penchant for getting into trouble with the law, most notably for domestic disputes, which was one of the reasons many teams stated well before the draft that they would not select Philips to play for their teams.
In Philips' junior year at Nebraska, he was arrested "for assaulting his ex-girlfriend, Kate McEwen, a basketball player for the Nebraska women's team. Phillips was subsequently suspended from the Husker football team by head coach Tom Osborne."
According to the reports, "The case became a source of great controversy and media attention, with perceptions arising that Osborne was coddling a star player by not kicking Phillips off the team permanently."
Philips also played in the Cornhuskers Orange Bowl win over Florida where he ran for 165 yards and scored three touchdowns in the team's 62-24 win. The fact he played also caused controversy.
St. Louis overlooked those issues, and took a chance on him with the sixth overall selection. Remember too, this was the same draft the Rams could have had Eddie George at that pick. The Houston Oilers moved up to the 14th selection to take the Heisman Trophy winner. The Rams could also have had Pro Bowl players like Marvin Harrison, chosen by the Colts, and Ray Lewis by the Ravens.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, isn't it? The team also released beloved running back Jerome Bettis to make room for the troubled player
Phillips signed a three-year $5.625 million contract. He received no signing bonus but his salaries were $1.5 million in 1996, $1.875 million in 1997 and $2.25 million in 1998.
In 1996 Phillips played 15 games with 11 starts. He carried the ball 193 times for 632 yards for 4 touchdowns. In 1997, Phillips showed improvement in only 10 games and nine starts, and rushed for 634 yards.
When the team grew tired of his off-field antics, they released him. The coach Dick Vermeil said Philips may have been the most talented runner he ever coached.
Philips had brief stints with the Miami Dolphins and San Francisco 49ers, but never reached his potential.He also had troubles with the Montreal Alouettes. He ran for 1,022 yards, 13 touchdowns and a spot on the CFL Eastern All-Star Team, but his troubles forced him out off the team.