If you were to ask me for one word to describe the Rams 2013 season thus far, the first word to jump out every time is "weird." Remarkable lows (Sam Bradford's knee, the Rams forgetting they had to play a game in Dallas), remarkable highs (handing two consecutive possible playoff teams their asses on a platter without our star QB, Tavon Austin in the month of November, Robert Quinn all year), inexplicable occurrences both good and bad (Cortland Finnegan's lost season, Joe Barksdale suddenly becoming a viable option at RT), and tons of potential all over the field.
All that being said, it's not an easy task to say who the Rams need to draft next spring. It all seemed pretty obvious before, but some positions may no longer be necessary...and some may be necessary that weren't before. Despite the fact that things aren't super clear about the team's future plans, I'll give the speculation my best shot.
The Rams will *sniffle* use the last of their Robert Griffin picks in the spring. Since Washington stinks this year, it should be pretty good. I expect it to be 6th or 7th. It's hard to project the Rams' natural pick because this year, you just never know what the hell is going to happen next. I'm just going to say somewhere from 10-16. Let's be honest though, both of those picks are probably going to get traded somehow. That's how the Rams FO likes to strategize in the draft. The rest of the draft is routine, one per round, until we get to the 7th, where the Rams have an undisclosed extra 7th rounder they got from the Colts in exchange for Josh Gordy (remember him?). As previously stated though, it's inevitable that Snead will want to move around some. Since that's impossible to predict right now, I'll just go by what picks we would have if the draft was today and we stood pat, with a few different options per round.
Mike Evans/WR (Texas A&M)
This one will take some explaining. Unless a safety flies up the rankings late a la Mark Barron a couple years ago, there aren't many options with the Washington pick that make sense, especially since I think Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan will both be off the board. Evans would be a luxury pick to consider. I'll admit that as a guy whose favorite position to evaluate is receiver, I have a bit of a man-crush on Mike Evans. The guy is an absolute monster. At 6'5" 225, he may be the strongest receiver in the draft, and with excellent hands, body control, and surprising speed for his size, he looks like the real deal. It looks like the Rams may let Austin Pettis walk away in free agency with limited cap space, so I think it would be resonable to look into a receiver at some point in the draft. If the FO really thinks that nobody makes sense at the Washington pick, they'll trade down, but if they do take a luxury player Evans would be great for the team. With Quick, Givens, Evans, Austin, and Bailey, the Rams receiving corps could be a force to be reckoned with.
Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix/S (Alabama)
Ha'Sean "HaHa" Clinton-Dix has remained steadfast at the top of my safety rankings for 2014 ever since I first looked into them, and has if anything boosted his stock to the point where he now makes a great deal of sense in the 10-16 range. The Rams' most glaring need remains another safety across from T.J. McDonald. The classic rangy, center-field, type, Clinton-Dix can also play physical and make big hits when necessary. All in all, he would be a good compliment to McDonald, and would make obvious sense with the second first-round pick.
Cyrus Kouandjio/OT (Alabama)
Joe Barksdale has been a pleasant surprise at RT for the Rams. Suffice it to say, I really don't know how his progression changes the FO's plans at the position. With Rodger Saffold probably moving on since someone out there will surely offer him tackle money instead of guard money, the FO may still look into an OT early if they aren't confident with Barksdale as the future RT. Since Taylor Lewan and Jake Matthews will probably go in the top 5, Kounadjio would be a sensible 3rd option who should fit the mid-1st round range. He hasn't reached his peak potential even yet, but his ceiling is enormous, and he could possibly be the eventual heir to Jake Long as well. At 6'5", 310 with athleticism, he's like watching a ground sloth in pads. I'm not sure the FO still wants to go OT early, but if they do, Kouandjio seems like a good fit.
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu/CB (Oregon)
Sergey won't be happy about me projecting Ducks to the Rams, but cornerback has suddenly become an area of need with Cortland Finnegan not looking the same (his eye injury explains some of it, but he wasn't playing up to his usual level before the injury either). With Finnegan counting a lot against the cap, it's conceivable that the Rams could look into moving on. Tru Johnson is still a big part of the future for the Rams and could take over as permanent starter, but needing depth at the very least, the FO could like the option of getting another lockdown corner outside and using Tru in a versatile role as a nickel back who can move outside when necessary against stronger receivers. Ekpre-Olomu is a smaller, super quick corner who also plays with a tough and tenacious style. He reminds me of Janoris Jenkins in this way, but comes with none of the off-the-field concerns. I'm not sure he'd be worthy to take 10-12 if we're picking there, but if the Rams are picking in the 13-16 range or they trade back to 17-22 with either pick he'd make a lot of sense.
Kyle Fuller/CB (Virginia Tech)
There are quite a few good corners at the top of this year's class, many of whom will be off the board by the time the Rams pick in the 2nd. If the Rams pass on a corner in the first but still feel like drafting one early, Kyle Fuller seems like a good option. Fuller sometimes gets overlooked by his Hokie corner counterpart Antone Exum, but I think Fuller is the superior prospect. Fuller plays corner like a ball-hawking safety, which sounds odd, but if you watched his tape you'd understand. He has excellent closing speed, as evidenced by his strong 2013 debut against Alabama speedster Amari Cooper, which was a great game for his draft stock. His timing is fantastic, which is why he breaks up a lot of passes. He looks like he'll be a productive pro and would fit well in the Rams secondary.
Anthony Johnson/DT (LSU)
Anthony Johnson is a prospect I like quite a bit and honestly I'm skeptical that he'll stick around in the 2nd round range. In the middle of the 2nd, Johnson, the successor to current Ram Michael Brockers, would be a major bargain with a big ceiling. Kendall Langford has played a lot better this year, but is still the weakest point in the Rams front four, which is loaded with talent. Langford has probably played well enough to stick around, but Johnson, who is still a bit raw but has a high ceiling, would make sense as the future next to Brockers inside. A bit undersized but strong and physical enough to make up for it, Johnson's style at defensive tackle is pretty similar to Langford, but his talent would pose an eventual upgrade, if not one immediately.
Cyril Richardson/G/OT (Baylor)
As I mentioned before, the Rams' draft plans for the offensive line aren't very clear at the moment. At the least, they'll want to upgrade one of the guard spots, but they might also be iffy on Joe Barksdale as the future right tackle. Taking Cyril Richardson would be a smart way to cover both. Richardson's floor, the way I see it, is a solid starting guard, but he could also become a dependable right tackle. For this reason, I think he would be a very smart pick for the Rams, since he would be an immediate step up from Chris Williams at guard and would also serve as insurance in case Barksdale doesn't work out. At 335 pounds, Richardson has a lot of weight to carry, but moves well for his size, demonstrated by the fact that he's played left tackle at Baylor. With Richardson and Barrett Jones being part of the Ram's future on offensive line, there would be opportunities for a lot of different combinations going forward.
Tre Boston/S (North Carolina)
If the Rams don't go with a safety in the first round, I think they should wait until the 3rd since there aren't a lot of safeties in the 2nd round range. While I personally would rather they grab a top safety like Clinton-Dix, I'll admit that I would also love having Tre Boston in a Rams uniform. Boston stands 6'1", can play both corner or safety and has spent time at both in college, has excellent ball skills, is super athletic, but needs some refinement in how he sometimes can be over-aggressive and take chances covering receivers. Sound familiar? Sprinkle in a little bit of character concern and that's Trumaine Johnson. Boston, unlike Tru, projects best as a safety, but could technically be a nifty insurance policy if something went wrong with the Rams' group of corners. Like I said, the best plan is to get a safety in the 1st and that's probably what they'll end up doing, but if not Boston should be in strong consideration.
Bradley Roby/CB (Ohio State)
At the beginning of the year Roby was my top corner and I never would have guessed he could last until the 3rd, but he's has a putrid 2013 season which looks worse since the rest of the Buckeyes have been excellent. In spite of all that, Roby is still a fantastic talent at corner and could be well worth the gamble in the 3rd. Off-the-field issues caused a one-game suspension and on the field his attitude isn't always much better, case in point his mind-bogglingly obvious targeting penalty against Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz. Roby would help himself greatly by showing up to play in the Big 10 Championsip and whatever bowl Ohio State will play in. The combine will also be big for him, as he could run a sub- 4.40. Size is also a concern, but his tenacity makes him play "bigger" than his frame would suggest. Roby isn't somebody I'd recommend taking early right now, but if he's there in the 3rd and the Rams are looking for a corner to work in with Tru and Jenkins, Roby could be worth taking a flyer on.
Xavier Su'a-Filo/G (UCLA)
It's hard to say what round the Rams will try to address guard in, because guard talent runs pretty deep into the draft. Su'a-Filo is one with some nice upside who would fit the range in round 3 if he decides to enter the draft early. He may be compelled to do so because he's already spent 2 years on a Mormon mission, and experience isn't a concern since he's started over 40 games for the Bruins. Su'a-Filo's best skill is as a classical, mauling guard, but his athleticism could allow him to fit into any blocking scheme and be productive pulling to the outside. Su'a-Filo, simply put, just seems like a natural talent at guard and would fill the gap at guard that the Rams need to fix to solidify the offensive line.
Jimmy Garoppolo/QB (Eastern Illinois)
The Rams should probably take a quarterback at some point next draft, but when they take one is going to be the interesting decision. Some more cynical than I suggest taking a QB in the first or second round, but I respectfully disagree with than plan. A first or second round pick when you have other needs is a lot to invest when Sam could very well recover to original form. The earliest I'd go would be with an Aaron Murray or Stephen Morris in the 3rd, but even then I'd rather pass and address other positions like safety, guard, cornerback, etc. Jimmy Garoppolo, who is advancing up draft boards in a good QB class, would be a smarter option in the 4th round. As for how he fits with the Rams, not only would he be a step up as a backup to Sam over Clemens, but he could also be an immediate starter in first couple weeks of 2014 if Sam hits bumps in the road of recovery, and if he develops to starter quality but not enough to challenge Sam, we can trade him down the road and reap the bounties. Garoppolo, playing for FCS Eastern Illinois which produced such names as Tony Romo and Sean Payton, is having a monster senior year, amassing 4,489 yards so far with 48 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, and a 65% completion percentage. At 6'2", 222, he isn't a huge frame but big enough to work in the NFL. The Rams have a track record of developing FCS prospects well, so I'm sure playing at Eastern wouldn't be a deterrent. If the Rams do go QB in the middle of the draft like I think is best, Garoppolo might be my favorite candidate.
Jaylen Watkins/CB (Florida)
This would probably be the latest I recommend the Rams taking a corner if they're looking for someone to step in as a top 3 member of the rotation immediately. If Watkins is available in round 4, he'd be a good value pick. Florida's season can best be likened to a coil of dog shit, but their cornerback talent still stands out. Watkins would be a nice choice to take over as the nickel back, because that's precisely what he's used to playing for the Gators. With Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy manning the outside, Watkins, whose brother is Clemson WR and likely early first round pick Sammy Watkins, has been productive covering in the slot. His biggest criticism is that he's quicker than fast, but his fast feet and fluid hips match up well against shifty NFL slot receivers. His transitions and physicality still need improved, but if the Rams want to move Tru outside permanently and seek a different option in the slot, Watkins is a player to consider should he be available in the 4th.
Mike Davis/WR (Texas)
If the Rams don't take a luxury receiver like Mike Evans early on, I do think they'll draft one in the middle rounds to take the place of Austin Pettis. Davis would be a good fit for what sort of role receiver the Rams will be looking for. Tall and long at 6'2", 195, Davis brings good hands and shifty feet to the table. He would probably not step in immediately to start for the Rams, but theoretically we wouldn't need him to. Evans would be productive filling in on the outside when need be and could even play the slot in certain formations, plus he would obviously be an asset in the red zone. With his good speed, he would also be useful on fade routes. What he brings is a little big of Pettis, a little bit of Givens, and a little bit of Quick, which obviously means he would serve as both a solid backup and role receiver in the Rams system. This would be a good place to draft that player.
Cody Hoffman/WR (BYU)
Perhaps an even better approach to filling Austin Pettis' shoes eventually would be taking a player like Cody Hoffman if he falls to the 5th in a strong receiver class. Hoffman isn't as flashy as some of the others, but he is big and dependable, at 6'4" 215. He makes good body adjustments and sees the ball well. His speed is not blazing, but he can use his size and skills to make catches over smaller defensive backs. I'm not sure Hoffman is capable of being a #1 receiver in the NFL, but if we're just looking for someone to play a niche role and back up, Hoffman would be a good value if he drops this far.
Eathyn Manumaleuna/DT (BYU)
There are some really good NFL prospects at BYU right now, a couple of which the Rams could look at in the middle rounds. Eathyn Manumaleuna (I assume no relation to Brandon) has been a riser at defensive tackle this season who would be a good fit on the Rams front 4. He measures 6'2" 295 with some room to grow and has the versatility to play anywhere on the defensive line, making him similar to Kendall Langford. This would be a smart place to take a tackle since Langford likely earned another year, but Manumaleuna could be an eventual successor, or at the very least depth.
Billy Turner/OT (North Dakota State)
As previously mentioned, the Rams FO shows no hesitation in taking FCS players. Besides Jimmy Garoppolo, one of my favorite FCS prospects for 2014 is NDSU Bison tackle Billy Turner. I mean just look at the guy and tell me he doesn't look the part of an NFL offensive tackle. He stands 6'6" and 318 pounds with good feet and balance. His flexibility can stand some improvement, but his run blocking is impressive, showing meanness and tenacity. A round 5 pick on someone like Turner would be smart is the team likes Barksdale at RT for the future, because he would provide some insurance in case Barksdale falters, and in the short term some depth so the Rams don't have to enter 2014 with Mike Person as the #3 offensive tackle.
Keith Price/QB (Washington)
Part of the reason I think round 4 is a good place for the Rams to go quarterback is because there aren't many QBs next year who make sense in the 5th. However, a player like Keith Price could provide good value in the 6th if the Rams seek out the backup of the future. Price's stock has fallen some, but his natural talent and intangibles remain undeniable. His height is not ideal at 6'1", but shorter quarterbacks have found success in the NFL. His arm strength and accuracy don't jump off the page, but both are balanced, and he is athletic enough to extend plays. He also has a beautiful throwing motion and possesses clear football smarts and leadership skills. I doubt Price will ever catch on anywhere as a full-time starter, but looks to be more than capable of being a solid backup worthy of taking a shot on in round 6.
Isaiah Crowell/RB (Alabama State)
The 6th round is a time where a team can start taking chances, because there isn't much cost if you swing and miss. Following the Janoris Jenkins life plan, Crowell was a major recruit who originally joined the Georgia Bulldogs (you may remember him as the guy who held up the puppy on signing day in the cutest signing announcement ever) before getting dismissed from the program for weapons charges. He's kept his nose clean and been productive at his new school, Alabama State, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. I've always really liked Crowell, and if he can stay out of trouble his potential alone will get him drafted. Running back may not be a pressing need, but taking someone late may be advisable. Zac Stacy is clearly "the guy," but as hard as he runs, nagging injuries may always be something that follows him around. Benny Cunningham, while impressive aas of late, is still not necessarily a proven commodity. Meanwhile, the team treats Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead like ex-girlfriends who still own some of their stuff, so it's hard to say what the future holds for them. It's not a need they should waste too many resources on, but a late round flyer on someone like Crowell could be a worthy investment.
Max Bullough/LB (Michigan State)
Michigan State has some very nice defensive prospects, one of whom is Bullough. He may not be as glamorous as teammates Denicos Allen or Darqueze Dennard, but Bullough is a tough, throwback linebacker worthy of being a part of an NFL roster. His bulk and strength are not issues, but his speed and pass coverage abilities will be scrutinized. For that reason, he could fall as far as the 6th round. That being said, in the 6th, he'd be a nice pickup for the Rams. The starters at linebacker seem set with Laurinaitis, Dunbar, and Ogletree, but depth is still a big problem. The progression of Ray Ray Armstrong is still in the works, and Will Witherspoon is past his prime, while Daren Bates is more of a special teamer that someone you could count on to step in should there be an injury. A linebacker like Bullough, who could probably play all 3 linebacker spots, could be valuable to the Rams if taken in a place where he offers solid value.
Kevin Graf/OT (USC)
The idea of taking Graf would merely be for depth, which often is all you can hope to get out of the seventh round. Graf has been a 3 year starter at USC and has manned his post well when healthy. That being said, he is somewhat limited physically. His feet are not as quick as many of the others in his class, and he tends to bend at the waist. However, he has had experience against plenty of solid competition and beat out other good players at USC, so the talent is there. Graf seems to me like the classic example of a good college player who will probably go out and earn a spot on an NFL roster, but is too limited to be a star. Still, in the 7th round, he'd provide good value as offensive line depth for the Rams.
Caraun Reid/DT (Princeton)
As many of you know, I'm always on the lookout for prospects from the less obvious conferences and divisions that have a chance to be risers in the draft. Some of those guys on this list have already been discussed by other pundits (Jimmy Garoppolo, Billy Turner) but one that the talking heads need to put on their radar is Princeton defensive tackle Caraun Reid. The man is a force, particularly as a pass rusher. In 2011, he had 16 tackles for loss. In 2012 he had 9. This season he has 11 so far. Granted, Ivy League offensive lines aren't exactly up to snuff with those of the SEC, but as far as pure ability is concerned, the numbers don't lie. Honestly I think he could go higher than this, especially since he just accepted a Senior Bowl invite. However, if the Rams could grab him in the later rounds, he would provide guaranteed depth with the possible upside to develop into a starter.
James Morris/LB (Iowa)
As previously mentioned, the Rams should spend a late-round pick on linebacker depth, since behind the starters the depth is limited. James Morris is a classic late-round depth linebacker pick. He's started about 500000 straight games for Iowa and received national awards for his scholastic abilities. He's physically limited compared to a lot of the other linebackers in his class, but he plays tough and smart. Like Max Bullough, he's much better against the run than the pass, although he can be effective on blitzes. If you need depth at linebacker and a guy like Morris is there in the 7th, he's a very sensible pick. I doubt he'll ever be a superstar, but he'd be solid as a depth guy and special teamer. Think of him as very similar to Josh Hull, only a bit better.
So there's my (again) long-winded article on who the Rams should target next spring. Inevitably, many things will change and some of these ideas will become irrelevant. Still, it's never too early to speculate. Hopefully you all are enjoying your thanksgiving holiday, or if you don't celebrate thanksgiving, you're just enjoying your week. And as always, go Rams.
Feel free to comment with what your favorite combination of these players would be, who I left off, who doesn't belong, how stuffed you still are, etc. I love feedback.