St. Louis Rams draft: Better late than never

Tim Heitman-US PRESSWIRE

The St. Louis Rams have struggled in recent years to find players of value in the 7th round. That changed in 2012.

Regardless of the amount of selections, the potential player value added during the NFL draft cannot be underestimated. Teams spend countless hours evaluating players and determining the value they can add to their organization. And though one’s college resumé helps develop a player’s draft stock, the harsh reality of the NFL is that nothing is certain. There are college players that enter the draft that can immediately turn around the fortune of a team, and there are those that never realize their full potential and set back the team that selected them. Entering the draft, there are college players who can immediately turn the fortunes of a team around. Conversely, teams can be set back by failed draft picks who never realize their full potential.

Missing out on ‘sure thing’ early round selections can be devastating. No matter the position, the first couple of players drafted by a team are expected to be serviceable, dependable, and with the potential to be dominant for years to come. And though there are no certainties in the NFL, one might surmise that it’s harder to whiff on early round players who have proven over the course of their college careers that they possess the aforementioned qualities, and are prepared to impose their will at the next level.

More difficult - and potentially more important - is a team’s ability to find those characteristics in players in the later rounds. The hill is steep for players drafted in the late rounds, as they’re competing against players hoping to retain their roster spot, other rookies, and NFL free agents. But when a team is able to discover a late round ‘gem’ in the draft, the payoff can be exponentially rewarding. Players like Tom Brady [drafted 6th round: 199 overall] and Arian Foster [Undrafted] are prime examples of NFL players who were underestimated on draft day, yet their teams reap the rewards of their realized potential.

Mr. Irrelevant - for those not familiar - is the last player selected at the end of each years NFL Draft. The Rams came very close to bestowing the honor to running back Daryl Richardson in 2012, when they selected him with the next to last pick [252nd overall].

when a team is able to discover a late round ‘gem’ in the draft, the payoff can be exponentially rewarding

To compare Daryl Richardson to Tom Brady or Arian Foster would be wrong. It’s not my intention, and it’s not a prognostication. Daryl Richardson, though, was both serviceable and dependable for the Rams last season, while allowing veteran Steven Jackson to take a much needed breather. Richardson - drafted five rounds after 2nd round selection Isaiah Pead - won the backup job prior to kickoff of the regular season, and became a regular contributor throughout the course of the regular season. He displayed quickness and agility that complemented Jackson well, and changed the dynamic from Jackson’s power rushing style. The small school product played in all 16 games of the 2012 season, and showed flashes of the big play ability you’d expect to see from college’s top prospects.

Statistically, Daryl Richardson wasn’t a world-beater, and at no time was he ever expected to take over the starting gig. The fact that he was deemed a backup by Jeff Fisher, though, should speak volumes about the value the Rams feel they got with their final draft selection. To many NFL fans, Richardson won’t be a household name. For Rams fans, though, he should be viewed as one of the steals of this past draft.

Just how have the Rams done in selecting a serviceable player with their final pick in each of their past ten drafts?

2012: Daryl Richardson, Abilene Christian, RB. 7 (45) 252
2011: Jonathan Nelson, Oklahoma, DB. 7 (26) 229
2010: Josh Hull, Penn State, LB. 7 (47) 254
2009: Chris Ogbonnaya, Texas, RB. 7 (2) 211
2008: David Vobora, Idaho, LB. 7 (21) 252
2007: Derek Stanley, Wisconsin-Whitewater, WR. 7 (39) 249
2006: Tony Palmer, Missouri, G. 7 (35) 243
2005: Madison Hedgecock, UNC, RB. 7 (37) 251
2004: Larry Turner, Easter Kentucky, C. 7 (37) 238
2003: Richard Angulo, Western New Mexico, TE. 7 (40) 254

For newer Rams fans, recognizing names on this list will be no easy task. For older Rams fans…well…the same applies. Outside of Richardson, there’s only one player on this list who is currently still on the Rams roster. Can you spot him? Regardless, there are a few of the Rams' final draft selections who actively participated in at least one of the three phases of the game, and there are some that never dawned the horns.

So let’s get to the meat-n-potatoes of the matter. Just how well [because I know the suspense is killing you] does Richardson stack up against a decade of Rams’ final draft picks? Interestingly enough, 7 of the past 10 years the Rams have selected an offensive player with their final pick, though two of them played offensive line. For those that didn’t, and could’ve potentially tallied yardage in the team’s rushing/passing attack, here’s a glance at their contributions over their [very] short tenures with the team:

Player
Tenure
GP
Rush Yds
Rec Yds
TD’s
Daryl Richardson
1
16
475
163
0
Chris Ogbonnaya
1
2
50
19
0
Derek Stanley
3
13
5
119
1
Madison Hedgecock
3
33
2
105
0
Richard Angulo
1
6
0
0
0


Richardson amassed 638 offensive yards in 2012, while the rest of the Rams final draft picks [who played RB/WR] totaled 300 combined yards over the course of eight NFL seasons. No matter the capacity, it’s clear that the coaching staff saw potential in Richardson, who was the only final 7th rounder other than Madison Hedgecock [2005] who played in all 16 games as a rookie.

To be fair, though, striking gold in the 7th round is no easy task. Potentially even more clear is the difficulty to obtain players who will remain on the roster or even play a down for the team. Had the Rams been able to rely on - and realize results similar to - players like Daryl Richardson, they’d be better off for it. They’ve certainly had their fair share of 7th round picks over the past decade.

The Rams have had 91 total picks since the 2003 NFL Draft. 22 of those 91 were 7th round selections. That means that 24.1% of the Rams picks came in the final round of the draft. If you add in 6th round picks - taking the total from 22 to 31 - the Rams have used 34.1% of their picks to supplement their roster in the final two rounds of the draft. NFL teams that do not trade their picks [retaining picks in rounds 1-7] would draft 14.3% of their players in the final round. Here’s a breakdown of 7th round picks by year:

2012: 2 out of 10 total picks (20%)
2011: 3 out of 8 total picks (37.5%)
2010: 3 out of 11 total picks (27.3%)
2009: 1 out of 7 total picks (14.3%)
2008: 2 out of 8 total picks (25%)
2007: 2 out of 8 total picks (25%)
2006: 3 out of 10 total picks (30%)
2005: 2 out of 11 total picks (18.2%)
2004: 2 out of 7 total picks (28.6%)
2003: 2 out of 11 total picks (18.2%)

If the Rams are going to be utilizing [more so averaging] nearly a quarter of their draft picks on 7th round players, they’d better be hitting on their earlier selections or start finding ways to draft more players like Daryl Richardson. They haven’t been. The Rams drafted 34 players between 2008 and 2011; only 8 remain on the roster [Robert Quinn, Lance Kendricks, Austin Pettis, Sam Bradford, Rodger Saffold, Eugene Sims, James Laurinaitis, & Chris Long]. Six of those eight were drafted in the 2nd round or higher. No players originally drafted by the Rams prior to 2008 still play for the team.

The last five Rams’ drafts have been more a lesson in attrition than retention. And the last decade indicates that the Rams’ final draft selection has added little - if any - value to the team. Daryl Richardson may not lead the Rams to five Super Bowls, and he may not rush for 4,200+ yards in three seasons, but the Rams found something in last April’s draft that they hadn’t in at least ten years.

Assuming he progresses, and even in a timeshare situation, 2013 could be a very exciting year for Richardson. That is unless the Rams utilize a first round draft pick on a player like Eddie Lacy, and squander any chance of Richardson impacting the Rams rushing attack. Figuratively speaking, players like Richardson only come around once in a decade. Even if he’s not the feature back, it’d behoove the Rams to include him in their 2013 game plan.

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