Ah, to be Les Snead. And no, I don't say that because I'm a bald man jealous over the luscious and lustrous SneadHair(tm).
The fact that the Rams have two number one picks in 2013 and 2014 allows the organisation the type of freedom rarely seen in the previously barren desert wastes of Rams draft world. Add that fact that, if the 2012 draft class is any inhdication, then this front office is actually capable of selecting players who will actually improve this team. An extraordinary concept, I know. And then you look at the the current record of 6-6-1 and you realise that this roster is currently competitive and involved in the fight for a playoff spot. Your mind reels with ambitious imagery of what we could be next season. How just one or two more additions could push us over the top. How April 2013 is all we need...
The wise man with wonderful hair looks long term, however. And I hope Mr Snead, Jess Fisher and co will do so. The fact that the Rams have actually been winning games this season, along with Washington's success, means that we're looking at drafting somewhere like #16 and #20 in the first round next year. The year's absolute blue chip picks won't be available to us - and looking at the '13 draft that seems like a good thing. This year's class seems to lack the absolute team-altering superstar - a RGIII, Andrew Luck, Trent Richardson etc - and appears to be more about quality from the middle of the first round down. I don't think any of us would argue with being able to draft Luke Joeckel were he available to us, but he's looking like a top five pick. And while we absolutely need wide receiver help - with the first half of the Buffalo game again showing how our receiver core struggles to break man coverage - I do wonder if there's a receiver that justifies our drafting them in the first round this year. Cal's Keenan Allen seems the best of this year's class and, aside from his worrying knee injury, he's universally seen to be not in the same class as a Julio Jones or an AJ Green. Plus he's expected to run something like a 4.50 40 at the Combine. Allen will surely be a very good receiver in the NFL but is he the type of player that can transform and seriously elevate this Rams team? I have my suspicions.
Such a receiver is in the college ranks in Marqise Lee of USC, but unfortunately he won't be draft eleigible until 2014 (many would argue Sammy Watkins of Clemson is in the same elite league). Having watched quite a few USC games this year Lee looks like the type of player who can push a team to another level but only IF that team is solid in other key areas. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, yes, but I think Lee looks like a Barry Sanders, Marshall Faulk, Devin Hester type of player - a star in the making who will not only be able to score from anywhere and create excitement around the franchise but also transform the way a defense defends an offense, opening opportunities for others. And even though I think we're all expecting (hoping) that the Rams won't be picking in the top five in 2014, the fact that we have two number one picks next year means that Mr Snead has the ammunition to trade up and get a player who would be a true difference maker. Hell, I'd consider throwing in a number 3 too just to sweeten the deal. You recall how the Falcons traded so much to move up and get Julio Jones in 2012? Snead was on the Falcons' staff at the time, part of the brain trust that made that decision (read Michael Holley's excellent book War Room for some insight into the Julio Jones trade and Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff's logic). That's because they felt that Jones was the type of player who could take the team to the next level. A rare weapon. That's precisely what Lee is. And he's be a serious danger on kickoff and punt returns too. After the moribund/disastrous years we've just suffered through as Rams fans, Lee is the type of player this team hasn't had since the Greatest Show On Turf. And the offense this season isn't exactly scoring touchdowns in bunches (more hair references...).
But, and it's a big but, this draft tactic will only work if other areas are solidified in the 2013 draft. And, once again, the fact that we have two number one picks this year gives us the ammunition to fill many holes. 2012 and the Michael Brockers pick shows that Snead and co are willing to do what Billy Devaney never would and be adventurous with their draft policy. Trade down to pick up extra picks. The Rams still have holes to fill - RT, OG, another TE, maybe RB if Jackson leaves, WR, OLB, safety. I'd advocate going for quantity in 2013. Go for the unflashy picks. Mike Waufle has worked miracles with the offensive line this season but there's still a serious talent shortage there. Before we go for the receiver, make sure that the line will protect Bradford and open running holes. Barry Richardson is grading amongst the worst tackles in the NFL this year. Trade down, maybe pick a DJ Fluker from Alabama. A true monster of a RT rather than a Joeckel (the left tackles will go way higher, and Roger Saffold is playing well and will be in the second year of Brian Schittenheimer's offense next season). I'd be very happy to see us go a 49ers route this year and pick two O-linemen in the first round. Chance Warmack, again from The Tide, at guard maybe. Make that offensive line a serious strength and then give Bradford his premiere target the year after.
Plus we spent a 2nd round pick on Brian Quick this year. Should he develop as we all hope in his second year, along with the exciting Chris Givens, the receiver core will hopefully be better in 2013.
This team is unlikely to contend for a Superbowl in 2013/14. Building it will be a gradual process and all holes cannot be filled at once. Trading down this year and maybe adding a number two pick and a number three would allow us to fill those numerous holes. Then, in 2014, we make the trade that will transform this team into a genuine Superbowl contender.
But knowing the Rams' luck Marqise Lee will return to USC for his senior season and Les Snead's hair will fall out.
Rob Williams, Dec '12