It came sooner than expected, but as I predicted, the Redskins paid the asking price and more on Friday when they traded the 6th and 39th pick in the 2012 draft, along with their 2013 and 2014 1st round picks for the Rams 2nd overall pick. The question now is what the Rams will do with the 6th pick. What we know for sure is the Colts are taking Andrew Luck and the Redskins are taking RGIII, and I think it's safe to assume that the Vikings have their sights set on Matt Kalil. Blind-side book-ends are pivotal to the success of any team and the Vikings don't have one. Most of the NFL draft community believes that the remaining elite talent in this draft consists of Morris Claiborne, Justin Blackmon, and Trent Richardson-in that order.
In my perfect world, Claiborne falls to the Rams at six. A lot of people say that Claiborne is no Patrick Peterson-former LSU CB and 2011 5th overall pick by Arizona. I agree with this assertion, he's not Patrick Peterson, he's better, at least as a CB. Morris does not have the freak-show athleticism that Peterson used to shred the Rams and the rest of the league in the punt-return game last season. However, his ability as a lock-down corner is elite. Combine that with the fact that he's a ball-hawk (11 interceptions in the past two seasons) and only 22 years-old, and it's obvious why he's ranked 4th on most prospect boards.
The Rams have some pseudo-depth at CB, but there are more questions than answers at the position. Ron Bartell is 30 years-old, coming back from a career-threatening neck injury, and hits the cap for an irrational $6.2 million (a figure that will probably get him cut regardless of whom the Rams acquire at the position). Bradley Fletcher, when healthy, is an excellent corner, but has now had two torn ACL's in as many seasons. Jerome Murphy is returning from a broken ankle, and is better suited as a nickel-corner than he is on the outside.
I'm finding it hard to convince myself that this scenario is possible, but if the Browns decide that Richardson is their man, and the Bucs decide that their non-existent receiving core is more of a priority than their unreliable defensive backfield, the Rams will ignore their offensive needs and take this game-changing defensive back.
Blackmon is the heart-throb of most Rams fans, but I think that has more to do with the embarrassing list of recent Ram receivers than it does Blackmon himself. Most analyst believe that Justin is the best receiver in the draft, but they also believe that this draft class offers more in the way of depth-Blackmon, Floyd, Wright, Randle, Hill, Jeffery, Givens-than it does in top-end talent. Having said that, he's still a very good prospect, and the Rams are in desperate need of offensive playmakers; if he's still on the board at six, he'll be the pick.
Whether or not he is still on the board at six probably depends on what the Browns think of Trent Richardson and Ryan Tannehill. Morris Claiborne will be the best player available, but the Browns have their number-one corner-2010 1st rounder Joe Haden-and they have even fewer offensive playmakers than the Rams. Their trade offer makes it obvious that they're not beholden to current QB Colt McCoy and with the uncertainty surrounding Peyton Hillis, they may have an opening at RB. If the Browns value Richardson or Ryan Tannehill over Blackmon, I fully expect the Buc's to pounce on Claiborne and allow the Rams to start building their offensive arsenal.
My worst nightmare is one that is all too likely-the Browns sign Peyton Hillis to an affordable, incentive-based contract and choose the value-need combo of Justin Blackmon, and the Bucs make the most logical choice of Morris Claiborne. I have nothing against Trent Richardson, he's a tremendously talented football player. Additionally, Steven Jackson's days are numbered, especially if we're honest with ourselves, and admit that a full front-office/coaching change, along with a plethora of draft picks, means that Sam Bradford is the only player on the roster with immunity.
My problem with this scenario is that I hate the idea of drafting any RB in the first round, especially in the top-ten. Running backs have shorter NFL lives than any other position and they're the most susceptible to game-to-game injuries. From a value standpoint, I'd rather find two or three role players at the running back position, than use the 6th overall pick on a work-horse. However, the possibility of drafting Richardson can't be ignored. Fisher has typically utilized a primary work-horse in his offensive schemes, and has twice spent first round picks on running backs-Eddie George in 1996 and Chris Johnson in 2008-though both were drafted outside of the top-ten.
I assume that the Rams are quietly putting out feelers for the trade-value of Steven Jackson. If they can find a partner willing to give up a 2nd round pick, and if Blackmon and Claiborne are both off of the board, Richardson may be manning the Rams backfield in 2012.
Why stop now? If Richardson is the only elite talent left when the Rams are on the clock, and they agree with me that 6th overall is no place to draft a RB, why not explore trading down again? Remember, a new coaching staff and a new GM are embarking on an effort to rebuild a team that went 10-38 over the past three seasons-what these guys want is to turn over 90% of this roster as fast as possible; the best way to do that is with a boat-load of draft picks.
The Seahawks, Broncos, Cardinals, and Dolphins are all looking for a QB-Manning and Flynn can't play for all four. Tannehill projects as a mid-round pick, but QB's have a way jumping up draft boards on draft day. As far as Richardson's value, it's not unreasonable to suspect that the Jets, Lions, or Packers may identify him as a player that puts them over the top.
The Rams biggest needs are WR, OL, and DT; they can move down to the mid, or even late first, and still get an impact player at one of those positions.
The Vikings are fielding offers for the 3rd overall pick and some crazies are suggesting that the Rams should trade up to secure Justin Blackmon. I hope, for the sake of diligence, that Les Snead at least inquires about the price, but let's be honest, if the Rams trade with the Vikings, they're doing it take a franchise LT, not an above average WR.
Sit and "Reach"
Let's consider the possibility that the Rams' draft board might look quite a bit different than that of the so called "experts." Maybe they think Michael Floyd is the best receiver in the draft; maybe they think David Decastro is animalistic enough to warrant drafting an OG 6th overall; maybe they think Quinton Coples is the kind of natural killer that doesn't need the motivation of a bounty system. It's not unreasonable to think that the Rams may have a higher grade on someone outside of the anointed "elitte-six."
The return on this deal is unprecedented-blowing the Eli Manning standard out of the water-and I feel pretty good about the likelihood of those future 1st round picks being in the top half of the draft. What matters right now, is that they made the deal. It's nice that the trade was done early, giving the team time to properly vet all of their options. We still have over a month to ponder all of the possibilities, but if recent actions are any indication, we can count on the new regime making a sound and professional decision with the 6th overall pick, whatever it may be.