Sudden impact: surprises lurking in the Rams 2008 draft

Whew. Hate to say that I'm glad to see a weekend come to an end, but in this case, I'll make an exception.

Amidst the shuttling between families, oppressive heat and a dog with "food" poisoning, the news that the Rams and Keenan Burton agreed to a deal came as a nice, unexpected surprise, a highlight to the weekend.

I think that Burton could end up being the Rams biggest rookie/2008 draft class surprise this season. Why? Burton's a physical player with a proven ability to operate in congested lanes between the hashmarks or to get himself open in the flat. The rookie from Kentucky gives the Rams a nice option to catch those passes under 25 yards, lots of possession type stuff. With Steven Jackson on the field keeping d-backs honest, especially in 2 back sets, Burton can give all but the league's best corners a rough go of it, even as a rookie.

Mark my words: Burton is this season's Clifton Ryan.

Which isn't to say we don't need all the rookies contributing this season, and, of course, to do that, they need to be signed. Here's a run down of this season's draftees, expected contributions, potential surprises, and signing status.

Round 1 - Chris Long, DE
Long will sign before camp starts. The Rams will make sure that happens for PR reasons alone. His role on the field for the Rams, who have already named him the starter opposite Leonard Little, has been much discussed here, there, and everywhere. If Long were an offensive skill player, you'd be sick of hearing about now. I think Long could really surprise us with his play in coverage. Yes, more than 7 sacks would be a pleasant surprise too, but that won't be as shocking as him picking off a few passes and beating some experienced receivers and TEs.

Round 2 - Donnie Avery, WR
The deep threat. Because of his speed, every play Avery's involved in has highlight reel potential, not to mention scoring potential. We're expecting him to rack up 400 yards and a handful of TDs or so. The surprise potential comes in just how deeply he could be integrated into the offense by season's end. Think about those 3 and 4 receiver sets that force defenders to concentrate on Holt and set up a mismatch of Avery's speed with the opponent's weaker corner. If Avery can get a solid grasp on the playbook and adjust to NFL speed/physicality, his numbers ought to exceed expectations. Wait till he blows by 34-year-old Walt Harris in week 11, then you'll see what I mean. No word on his contract status yet, but it's obvious the Rams are moving to sign their players. Last season, the Rams didn't finalize a deal with second round pick Brian Leonard until July 24 (4 year deal).

Round 3 - John Greco, OT
He signed a three year deal back on June 12. Greco will jockey fro position on the o-line depth chart this summer and answer the question of whether or not he's a better for OT or OG in his rookie season. The team would like for him to push Alex Barron. Greco seems to have the smarts and the toughness to play well in close quarters along the line of scrimmage. The question the Rams have with him heading into the season is: what's the drop off, if any, between what Greco can do in his rookie season at the Pro level versus what Barron or Setterstrom can do, since Greco would likely step in should one of those guys get injured.

Round 4 - Justin King, CB
Prediction: King is the next draft pick signed by the Rams. Probably not a good limb to go out on with two 7th rounders still unsigned, but it's not that high up on the tree. King has the speed, but the rest needs molding. He seems to have the attitude and work ethic to be a mailable project, and should see time as a nickelback and on special teams. Writing for ESPN, the Football Outsiders team pegged King as one of the day two draft picks most likely to succeed, replacing Fakhir Brown by the end of 2009.

Round 4 - Keenan Burton, WR
Signed and discussed above. One more item of note on Burton from Rotoworld:

He may be more polished than second-round pick Donnie Avery, so there is an outside chance he could be the team's third receiver as a rookie.

Round 5 - Roy Schuening, OG
Signed the same week as Greco. Schuening might not surprise anyone if he gets the chance to fill in at guard this season. By all estimates, Schuening has exactly what it takes to succeed as an interior lineman in the NFL. Watch his camp performance.

Round 7 - Chris Chamberlain, LB/SS
Should easily be signed by camp. The Rams have been upfront stating that Chamberlain and Vobora will play on special teams this season, a unit that needs all the help it can get. Because of his size, speed and ability to read plays, he might turn some heads if he gets some reps relieving Corey Chavous at strong safety. 

Round 7 - David Vobora, LB
Should sign before camp too. The Mr. Irrelevant label will dog him all his life, but his ability suggests that those jokes will have a certain irony about them. I believe we'll see him playing LB against the run too.

Don't panic on the signings. A lot of deals won't get done until the midnight hour before camp actually starts. It always happens that way. The real excitement starts when we see these guys in full pads, competing for playing time and working to live up to their potential. Stay tuned.

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