There has been much debate over who the Rams should pick with the number six overall draft choice on April 26th. Morris Claiborne, Justin Blackmon and Trent Richardson have been the main players talked about. Another late entry into this discussion is Stanford guard David DeCastro. Guards historically aren't chosen high in the draft. The position is not valued as highly as others, but that is changing.
Today there are many great guards in the NFL, maybe more than at any other point in NFL history. Alan Faneca, who retired after 2010, and Steve Hutchinson are both future Hall of Famers. Logan Mankins, Carl Nicks, Jahri Evans, and Josh Sitton are just a few of the guards who have great impacts on their teams.
The real question comes down to this: Is an elite guard worth a top ten pick? Is the impact of his position that great? Would it be better to take a prospect who isn't as talented, but plays a more important position?
I'll explore these questions after the jump.
In case you haven't been paying attention to the NFL lately, interior linemen are becoming more and more valuable. Here are three main reasons why:
First, defenses are now focusing on bringing pressure up the middle. Nothing is worse for a QB than having the pocket collapse in front of him. Defensive coordinators aren't stupid. They know this and have now started to acquire players for the sole purpose of getting pressure up the middle. In the 2010 draft, the Lions choose Ndamukong Suh 2nd overall, the Buccaneers selected Gerald McCoy 3rd overall and in the 2011 draft the Bills selected Marcell Dareus 3rd overall. With more pass rushing DTs, interior linemen now are needed to keep the QB on his feet.
The second reason guards have become more valued is simple: Teams realize that having great guards leads to a great running game. Offensive coordinators are starting to realize that a great running game can be built cheaper and more effectively if they build up the offensive line versus bringing in a star running back. Guards are the most important piece of a great run blocking line. On inside runs, they are responsible for mauling the guy in front of them to open up holes. On outside runs, their job is to swing out and lead the way for the RBs. Look at how much better the Jets were at running the ball with Alan Faneca instead of Matt Slauson.
And the third reason is THE ROOKIE WAGE SCALE...
This in itself is the main reason why I'm predicting that guards will start to be drafted higher. In the past, if you selected a guard in the top ten, he would have been the highest paid guard in the league. The out of control rookie salaries were forcing teams to chooses players at "premium" positions at the top of the draft, purely because of money. No team wanted to make a rookie the highest paid player at his position ever, so many positions, just like guard, were almost never considered for a top ten pick. Now with the rookie wage scale, that problem doesn't exist. With rookie salaries now at a reasonable level, if a player that isn't at a "premium" position is on top of a team's board, they have no reason not to take him.
BUT, guards can still be found in later rounds
It is true that guards are becoming more valued, but the same is true that good guards can routinely be found in the mid to late rounds of the draft. Of the 4 best guards in the NFL (Sitton, Nicks, Evans and Mankins) only one, Mankins was drafted in the first round (32nd). The rest were drafted in the 4th (Evans and Sitton) and 5th rounds (Nicks).
This is where the real question comes into play with David DeCastro. Every draft expert seems to be in agreement that DeCastro is the best guard prospect since the future Hall of Famer Steve Hutchinson. Many think that he will be the best guard in football after a few seasons, maybe sooner. He is truly an elite prospect, but how much more value is there in having a elite guard vs. a good guard? Is an elite guard worth more to the Rams than a good WR like Justin Blackmon or Michael Floyd? What about Trent Richardson and Morris Claiborne?
Also, would a player like Kevin Zietler or Kelechi Osemele provide more bang for the Rams' buck in the 2nd round? What about Amini Silatolu, Tony Bergstrom or Brandon Washington in the 3rd? Basically what I'm asking is...