The ink has barely dried on Les Snead's first NFL Draft, and already the results look promising. But it was only a start. Jeff Fisher and Snead, partners on a long road trip to return a franchise to greatness, are just getting started. Years of negligence, dating back to the 198os when it was institutionalized, left a Rams team lurching from season to season, cheap fix to cheap fix. The watch word is patience.
Snead and Fisher did not get everything they need in one offseason. No sensible free agent spending spree and no single draft will turn the Rams from a 2-win team to a 12-win team in one season. Realistically, it could be tough to compete for the NFC West this season with San Francisco so well positioned.
Patience. The 2012 NFL Draft, and the March trade that doubled the Rams up on 1st-round picks through 2014, are the first steps toward getting there.
I wanted to take a look at the Rams' 2012 Draft class with a more long-term perspective, rather than just the visceral reaction to the players selected.
Think about this draft from a holistic perspective, the big picture.
Chris Long is the elder statesman of the defensive line; he's 27. Long is a free agent after this season. I doubt the Rams let him get away. He anchors a line that added a very talented Michael Brockers to the middle, alongside Kendall Langford and Robert Quinn on the outside. Three 1st-round picks on the Rams defensive line, one established, one who looked promising as a rookie and one with the future ahead of him.
It's a similar thing in the secondary. Cortland Finnegan is the grand old man of a unit that now includes Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson. Both are capable of being very good starters. Behind them, the Rams have Bradley Fletcher and Jerome Murphy. Remember when the team was scrambling to find street free agents to play corner?
The Brian Quick and Chris Givens picks are similar to what the team did at cornerback, though the two corners have a much higher ceiling. Quick is the big man, a big man who plays like a big man, that the Rams have lacked. He should help in the red zone right away. Givens is the speed that's been so absent since the Donnie Avery experiment failed. Both improve the scope and depth of the team's receivers, even if they are still looking for a bona fide No. 1.
Some turned their nose up at the Isaiah Pead pick. Ironically, some of the fans disappointed with the Pead pick were the most vocal opponents of drafting Trent Richardson in the first round. Greg Cosell pointed out to me at the NFLPA Debut event last Wednesday that Pead can be another version of LeSean McCoy. He's explosive and makes plays in space. Steven Jackson can still do most of the power work, pushing between the tackles, while Pead can go around. Look for Pead to have a real impact in the passing game too, where he can turn on the jets in space. Think about him on wheel routes and screens, where he can breakaway.
I also love their 7th-round pick of Daryl Richardson. He's fast, and I'll be anxious to see what he can do as a return man.
For months, hell, years, I've said that the Rams need to find offensive linemen in the middle and later rounds. Good teams find their next wave of starters from the depth chart. Rokevious Watkins, the Rams 5th-round pick, fits the bill. Is he starter right away, probably not. He has tenacity, which is the basis for turning mid-round linemen into contributors. He can play inside or outside.
Greg Zeurlein ... it's okay if you don't get excited about a kicker. This was all about replacing Josh Brown, an expensive veteran whose effectiveness seems to be sliding.
I know nothing about Aaron Brown, the Hawaii linebacker drafted in the 7th round. He should be able to contribute on special teams right away. Can he grow into a viable depth player on the defense?
As for what's left, the Rams need to get better in the middle of their defense. Outside linebackers were not on the agenda this year, and the team cannot address every need in one offseason, at least not the Rams. Fisher is high on Jo-Lonn Dunbar, so hopefully he can at least hold steady behind an improved defensive line and in front of a much better secondary.
The last regime tried to address receivers by getting at the sum of its parts rather than finding blue chip contributors. Fisher and Snead are taking a similar approach this year. Hopefully, the parts are a little better than the last group. Having speedy options at running back like Pead will help, as will a healthy Danny Amendola. The offense needs Lance Kendricks to take a step forward this year.
I know my credibility is compromised when it comes to grading the Rams draft. I'm giving it an A anyway. The improvements to the defensive line and secondary, even at the expense of filling other needs, will have a huge impact in making the Rams competitive this season as the rebuilding project continues.