The 2010 Rams: Unknowns

The draft is over, but we're still a long way from being able to competently assess how it turned out for the St. Louis Rams. I wanted to follow up my post from this morning taking a look at the Rams' draft in terms of the strengths it creates and the weaknesses it exposes within the context of creating a well-balanced team. 

Now, I want to look at some of the unknowns. Not weaknesses, but unknowns. Unknowns are defined as parts of the roster where potential exists given the players and the balance with other player groups. These areas also have the potential to become weakness for the team. Either way, each of these groups was impacted one way or another via the Rams 2010 draft.

UNKNOWNS

Wide Receivers

Adding quote-unquote playmakers to the offensive side of the ball drove much of the debate around the Rams 2010 draft. Picks in rounds two and three caused more head scratching because of the need to provide offensive options around new QB Sam Bradford, but the Rams ended up getting a pretty interesting prospect in WR Mardy Gilyard with their pick atop the fourth round.

To me the receiver class in this draft lacked guys that fit the profile so commonly referred to as "#1 WR" with Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas probably being the two players closest to fitting that bill. The second tier was made up of guys that played a nice game but didn't necessarily have the physical profile or the total package of some of those two players. Gilyard was in that group of receivers. And he makes a lot of sense for the kind of offense the Rams want to employ. Why? Yards after the catch. Gilyard looks more like a running back, possessing balance, moves and the smarts to read defenders with the ball in his hands. Check out the scouting report from Coach Conners. Yards after the catch is what the West Coast offense and today's pass-centric NFL are all about.

The Rams coaches are apparently pretty content with the group of receivers they have now, or at least that's the party line. I'd be surprised if they didn't target a first round WR in next year's draft nonetheless. We know that the Rams current crop of receivers is young and possesses lots of potential. The set up for next year would ideally put Laurent Robinson, another guy with solid YAC ability, in the number one WR spot. Donnie Avery, who has the speed for YAC ability, would work more deep and on the outside. In the slot, you have Gilyard, who also figures to be a nice weapon on screen passes, where he would be a threat to break off some with his YAC ability. Brandon Gibson fits as a solid possession guy and a red-zone threat. It's not out of the realm of possibility for him to earn a starting gig. There are lots of different looks with this group.

This is a well-rounded group of receivers who have their best potential years ahead of them. But don't kid yourself, Sam Bradford holds the key to their success.

Tight Ends

You could hear the groan emanating from the TST faithful when the Rams made Illinois TE Michael Hoomanawanui one of two fifth round picks. I'll admit, I'm still a little flummoxed by that pick, but let's skip that and talk about how he fits into the Rams offense.

"OO," as he's called, isn't built quite like FB Mike Karney, but that's exactly who'll he'll be subbing for if Karney sits out with an injury, like Billy Bajema did last year. However, though it's not his specialty, OO can also catch a pass, at least he can catch a pass better than a true blue blocking FB. Besides his blocking duties at TE, I think the Rams see OO as something of an end zone threat, a guy that they can create mismatches with where they don't have that option with Karney or Bajema. Essentially, the Rams took a similar approach with their tight ends as they did their receivers, rather than one do-it-all guy, they have role players.

We need an endearing nickname for Fendi Onobun, the "project" TE the Rams drafted in the sixth round. I can't tell you how badly I'm going to butcher the names of this year's draft picks when Turf Show Radio returns (soon). I know this pick also divided some fans, but I like it. It's the sixth round, by all means, take a 6'6" 252 lbs tight end who has a 4.4 time in the 40. At the very worst he can be a special teams contributor.

Defensive Line

Consensus about what ails the defensive line remains elusive. For some, it's a run stuffing defensive tackle. Others point to the need for another pass rusher opposite Chris Long. While some see both as a need. By far, this is the toughest unit to get a sense of at this point in time.

For me, the real issue with the defense was the absence of any one unit, up front, the middle or the backfield, that was an actual strength. Each group had a player that stood out; however, the weaknesses in each group beyond those players contributed to the total collapse of the defense. The stats agree. Against the pass, the Rams had a 30.3 percent DVOA (29th) and a 10.8 percent DVOA against the run (32nd). Team chose whatever route they wanted to beat the Rams, in the air, on the ground, or with their defense.

Balance. It's absolutely my favorite thing about the sport of football, and the Rams defense was as much a victim of the lack of balance, in my mind, as anything else. 

One thing that will significantly impact the defensive line and the defense as a whole is improvement on the other side of the ball. Too often last season we saw the defense hold for a quarter or a half only to finally be broken as they were forced to march out on the field with no support for their work on the score board, no margin of error, and hardly any time to rest and make needed adjustments. Not that our defense was capable of winning games for the Rams, but they were usually the more competitive unit. I think a better secondary will help the defensive line, not to mention an offense that can score points.

An improved secondary, in theory, will make life harder for opposing receivers and quarterbacks spending more time in the pocket looking for open men. 

The biggest question for the front four centers on personnel. The Rams added an experienced DT in Fred Robbins who can play situationally against the run and crash the pocket. I'd like to see more from Clifton Ryan, who has bulked up since joining the Rams to 320+ lbs. He can also play the edge some. We all expect Chris Long to take a step forward this season, building on his strong second half in 2009. James Hall is back as well. Darrell Scott has the motor and ideally would build on his growth getting starts as a rookie. The guys added via the draft, Hall Davis, Eugene Sims and George Selvie, each bring a nice set of raw tools to the unit, and it's likely that one may see some time as a situational pass rusher. 

The base unit will be Hall, Robbins, Ryan and Long. However, because this is Spagnuolo's front four, you can expect to see lots of different combinations up front, depending on the matchups. On paper, this looks like it should be a solid, if not flashy unit. Will improvements elsewhere on the field make them more of a threat to opposing QBs and running backs? That remains to be seen. Really, this unit held the line well enough in the early goings of many Rams games last year, they just got ground down and exposed because they had no help from the offense and QBs had no problems finding open men behind them. 

Each of the three units above have the potential to be solid personnel groups for the Rams. Soon enough, we'll know whether or not that translates into results on the field.

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