The Rams are on the rise. The NFC West isn't considered the best division in football right now because the Seahawks just won the Super Bowl. It's the best division in football because top to bottom, these teams are either ready, or very close to being ready, to make a run at the Super Bowl. And I think it'll be a little surprising how this FO uses our immense draft advantage to put us over the top.
Before I get started, this post is aiming to project what the Rams will be doing in the NFL draft. This is not the same as what I want to happen in this NFL draft, but as I write this my opinion continues to change. I'm very interested in going with an offensive overhaul: some combo of WR and OL would be great. However, the reason I'm typing this up is because I have a strong feeling that's not what's in the cards for us.
Now, I'm no guru at predicting draft trades, but I'd say we don't pick at 2 and 13. It'll be highly dependent on who is available at each position, but with the statement's by Snead of his willingness to deal picks, it sounds like the Rams are ready to move back. There are a few more reasons I'm considering this, which I'll get to later.
So, for the sake of establishing a framework for the rest of the post, I'm predicting the Rams will move their #2 pick back twice to somewhere around the 11-14 range, and their #13 pick to somewhere around the 16-19 range.
Let's get down to business:
#1. The Rams do not want to draft a WR in the beginning of this draft.
Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Chris Givens, and Brian Quick have all been added in the past two drafts. That's a lot of young WR's. Here's Les Snead on our WR's (from January 16th on ESPN by Nick Wagoner):
"I think our receivers right now, I truly believe as they progress and the oldest guy just finished his third year, we cannot have another receiver around here and we’re going to be a good football team."
Now that was over a month ago, and a lot has happened since then. He's seen Watkins a bit more, he's thought about our team a bit more. Jeff Fisher had the opportunity to talk some sense into him? (I kid, I kid).
I don't think it'd be smart to take his commitment to this quote lightly. He's a man of conviction, and it's served him well.
#2. The Rams do not want to draft an offensive lineman in the beginning of this draft.
This one is a little harder to swallow. When you look at the offensive line, what do you see? At left tackle you have Jake Long, a player we've invested heavily in. At left guard, I'm not sure what we have. At center, we have a combination of Scott Wells, Tim Branes, and Barrett Jones. At right guard, it's supposed to be Rodger Saffold. At right tackle, there's the resurgent (and cheap) Joe Barksdale.
First, here's Les on Saffold being on the team (2/21/14 by Nick Wagoner on ESPN):
"He's definitely a priority this offseason for us," Snead said. "Those situations, they're gonna run their course, and in time we'll know."
"I’ve learned from people wiser than me that being versatile is something," Snead said. "The ability to be versatile at guard and left tackle and right tackle, usually it’s maybe both guards and center, but that’s a nice piece or asset to have."
And here's Fisher:
"Obviously it’s important for us to get that done," Fisher said. "He’s expressed serious interest in coming back as well. So it does give us flexibility. But I think ultimately he’s going to be an outstanding guard in this league. Now that doesn’t mean you say he could not play either tackle, because this year he stepped in when Jake [Long] went down and stepped in and played some really good football at tackle."
A lot of praise heading Saffold's way. He may be a hard buy, but again, on face value it looks like the FO is making Saffold a priority.
But kinzav, he is only one player on an offensive line with many needs? Well young padawan, this may have little bearing on our early round draft picks. It's probably fair to say RT, C, and RG (assuming Saffold comes to a deal) are locked up. LT has a high salary player on the injury list, which should suggest they're not going to add to the position. That leaves LG, which is a historically low value draft pick - and though I hate to say it, it doesn't seem very Fisher-like.
So what does this mean for our draft prospects?
It means I think we're going defense. The 11-14 range is the perfect spot to pick up either Haha Clinton-Dix or Calvin Pryor. Snead is probably very comfortable moving down that far because of the placement of these two players. Also, the 11-14 range seems like a great position to grab any of the elite prospects who are falling, like Anthony Barr or Justin Gilbert. The 16-19 range brings up names like Ra'Shede Hageman, Jason Verett, and CJ Mosley.
The willingness to let JoLonn Dunbar walk has been baffling to me, as I've seen him as a very solid part of the defense, but it shows the FO's displeasure with what is present at the spot. Defensive end seems off limits with all the money Chris Long's tied up with, William Hayes has a new-ish contract, and Robert Quinn is great. Brockers has been good but at the end of the day, Langford has not been living up to his contract, and a cheap alternative may be weighing on Snead and Fisher's minds.
Is this strategy one we should be concerned about?
It's hard to tell. Is the only thing holding our wide receiver corps back experience? Chris Givens and Brian Quick are entering their magical 3rd seasons, but neither has looked like they're ready to blossom. Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey will need to hit their windows soon, before new contracts come up on a lot of our key players. The offensive line certainly improved towards the last half of the season.
Is the defense even a need right now, considering how inept the offense was? There seems to be consensus that safety is a need, but it's questionable whether another linebacker would be worthwhile in our nickel heavy scheme. Maybe Gregg Williams would like to implement more three linebacker sets? Maybe it's not fair to consider the offense inept given Bradford's absence most of the season? These are important questions that Snead and Fisher need to figure out before the draft comes around.
A closing thought
Cornerback may be the most interesting position to watch in the coming months. Personally, cornerback seems really solid (going four deep). The argument against being comfortable is a good one though. Finnegan is making a lot of money and his stock has not been on an upward swing like the money on his contract. He does have a leader's presence on this team, and probably a lot of Fisher-love in his back pocket, but that only goes so far. Trumaine Johnson has looked like a B to B+ player in Finnegan's absence and Jenkins is just inconsistent enough to make a GM worry about leaning on him as a #1 corner. The draft is loaded with interesting corners in the early rounds too. If Finnegan is let go, it should be a virtual certainty that the Rams take a cornerback with one of their first round picks.
Justice - AUDIO, VIDEO, DISCO. (Official Video) (via Justice)