Even though their week 17 flop left a bad taste in our mouths, there was no denying just how improved the St. Louis Rams were in 2010. That was most obvious in their record, but there were very substantial, real gains on both offense and defense. The biggest reason for the turnaround: better drafts.
With so much talk about the 2011 NFL Draft lately, it seemed like as good a time as any to revisit the Rams recent drafts, the drafts that have added sorely needed talent to the roster.
Last week, I came across this piece from Rick Gosselin in the Dallas Morning News re-grading the 2010 draft. He moved the Rams from a C to a B...wha? When the Rams made QB Sam Bradford the first overall pick in the draft we said that the entire 2010 draft would forever be judged on that pick alone. So far, the returns look pretty good, but Bradford is getting paid an awful lot of money for the awfully big job of turning a moribund franchise in a winner, complete with sold out games and the whole enchilada. Giving the Rams a B for their 2010 draft seems to me like he's putting too much weight on the later round picks.
Let's put our own spin on the Rams 2010 draft.
We've dealt with the Bradford pick already. Bradford set a new rookie record for passes completed, and became the third all-time for passing yards by a rookie. Not bad considering the incomplete group of wide receivers he had to work with. Bradford's rookie success is also very real, the product of genuine talent and a nose for the game. Expectations will rise next year, as they should, based on what he showed us this season along with some key additions to the offense. This pick carries a big weight for the Rams draft grade.
For the second year in a row, the Rams second round pick emerged into a instant starter and making the team better than they were the year before. Last year it was MLB James Laurinaitis; this year is was OT Rodger Saffold. Sure, the rookie from Indiana had his ups and downs, but playing one of the most difficult, most important positions on the field as a rookie, allowing just three sacks, speaks for itself.
The Rams got bone fide starters at QB and LT, two of the most important positions on the field, with their first two picks in the draft. It's hard not to give them an A for that reason alone.
Lightening didn't exactly strike twice for the Rams and a third round cornerback pick. Bradley Fletcher, a third round pick in 2009, emerged as a starter in his rookie year, before an injury shut him down for the season. Jerome Murphy didn't have quite the same impact as a rookie. However, he was a contributor on special teams and saw the field enough in replacement duty and nickel/dime packages to gain valuable experience. Murphy has talent, and another year of refinement in the system should make him an important part of the Rams secondary. We'll get a better idea about his ultimate ceiling in 2011.
Fourth round pick WR Mardy Gilyard was easily the biggest disappointment. He got a late start because of the NFL's bogus rule that does not allow players to practice with their team until their school has its spring graduation. Injuries then made his season an up and down affair, from training camp until late in the year when he wound up on the inactive list during most games down the stretch. This offseason will be a big one for Gilyard.
TE Michael Hoomanawanui likely would have made for another big rookie contributor had ankle injuries not cost him so much of his season. He'll be a big part of the offense in 2011. DE Hall Davis was traded to the Redskins, who ultimately let him go too. Davis is the only 2010 draft pick that wasn't on the roster.
Two sixth round picks gave the Rams a couple of projects, raw players with enough athletic talent to spend some time developing. TE Fendi Onobun, a converted NCAA DI hoops player who spent a year playing football with the University of Houston, was so highly regarded that the Rams kept him on the 53-man roster, knowing that he'd get plucked away on the practice squad. He did see a little time before succumbing to injuries that landed him on IR. Eugene Sims, the second of three DEs picked by the Rams, saw a few snaps and made a few plays with the defense. He has the speed, and hopefully the Rams can turn him into more of a contributor on the rush next year.
George Selvie was a great seventh round pick. Though in need of some refinement, he contributed regularly this season, picking up a sack and a half. If he can start to be a more consistent player next year, he'll see more time.
LB Josh Hull might have been the one player the Rams missed most this year given their struggles to find linebacking help on the outside. A Penn State product, that's Linebacker U to the uninitiated, Hull came from a program known for developing NFL-ready players. Based on how well he played in the preseason, I'll be anxious to see what he looks like in the offseason practices.
Let's review. The Rams picked two players who became year one starters. Three players (Hoomanawanui, Selvie and Murphy) had important roles as rookies and saw a decent amount of playing time. You could throw Sims into the mix there, but he fits better with Gilyard and Onobun as players who did see some playing time but, still raw, need to emerge as contributors this year. One player is not on the roster, and another was placed on IR before the season began.
Immediately following the draft, TST gave the Rams a C+ for their overall draft grade. Going back and looking at that analysis, balancing it with the contributions made by the rookies this year and the instant impact of both a rookie QB and LT, I'm going to give the Rams an A-. Yes, I realize that maybe I'm too easy of a grader, but the success of Bradford and Saffold alone make it hard to overstate the importance of this draft in the rebound of the franchise.