2014 NFL Mock Draft: St. Louis Rams - 7 Rounds - Version One: Thinking Outside The Box

Kirby Lee USA Today

The NFL Draft begins on May 8. It couldn't come fast enough for most Rams fans. The suspense is becoming unbearable. What will the Rams do with the #2 pick? Trade it down? Stand pat and select one of the "elite" players? Part 10 - the last of a ten-part off-season primer series - examines various options/selections in the upcoming draft, and offers a bit of "outside the box" thinking.

Any football fan with an interest in the NFL draft has read and studied countless mock drafts published in the past three months. Critiquing mock drafts - and creating your own - are fun exercises, and encourage football fans to learn more about college players entering the NFL draft, players that could be selected by your favourite team.

Creating a mock draft for the St. Louis Rams is a particularly fun-filled and challenging exercise. Les Snead and Jeff Fisher have proven to be unpredictable, somewhat unconventional, and full of surprises come draft day. Many of their past selections left fans - and draftniks - scratching their heads at the time. Who could have predicted each of the following picks in the last two drafts: Isaiah Pead, Brian Quick, and T.J. McDonald?

St. Louis Rams Current Roster

C Scott Wells Tim Barnes Graham Pocic
RG Rodger Saffold Brandon Washington
LG Barrett Jones
RT Joe Barksdale Sean Hooey
LT Jake Long Mike Person
TE Jared Cook Lance Kendricks Cory Harkey Justice Cunningham
WR Tavon Austin Austin Pettis Stedman Bailey Justin Veltung
WR Chris Givens Brian Quick Kenny Britt Emory Blake
RB Zac Stacy Benny Cunningham Isaiah Pead Darryl Richardson Chase Reynolds
QB Sam Bradford Shaun Hill Austin Davis
PK Greg Zuerlein
P John Hekker Bobby Cowan
LS Jake McQuaide
DT Kendall Langford Jermelle Cudjo
DT Michael Brockers Alex Carrington Matt Conrath
DE Chris Long Eugene Sims Mason Brodine
DE Robert Quinn William Hayes Sammy Brown
MLB James Laurinaitis Daren Bates
OLB Alec Ogletree Phillip Steward Etienne Sabino
OLB Jo-Lonn Dunbar Ray Ray Armstrong Caleb McSurdy
CB Janoris Jenkins Brandon McGee Greg Reid
CB Trumaine Johnson Darren Woodard
S Rodney McLeod Cody Davis
S T.J. McDonald Matt Daniels

There are 62 players currently on the Rams' roster. There likely won't be any significant additions made before the draft. It's possible the Rams will look to add a veteran safety and offensive guard at some point in the off-season. An examination of the roster - looking at both its present and future composition - highlights and identifies the Rams' positional needs (ranked in tiers):

Tier One: Safety - Offensive Guard - Cornerback

Tier Two: Offensive Tackle - #1 Wide Receiver

Tier Three: Outside Linebacker - Defensive Tackle - Center - Tight End

Tier Four: Running Back - Developmental Quarterback

Tier Five: Inside Linebacker - Defensive End

When looked at as units, the offensive line and secondary clearly have the most needs and depth issues.

Ideally, a teams draft strategy should combine elements of both "need" and "BPA" concepts, closely matching need with value, where possible.

St. Louis Rams Draft-Day Trades

St. Louis Rams Round/Overall Pick Trade Partner Round/Overall Pick
Trade Down 1.02 Atlanta 1.06 - 3.68 - 4.103  2015 1st
Trade Down 1.06 Tennessee 1.11 - 2.42
Trade Up 3.68 - 4.110 - 5.153  2015 3rd Oakland 2.36
Trade Up 6.188 - 7.226 - 7.241 Jacksonville 5.144

In the first two drafts of the Les Snead/Jeff Fisher regime, the Rams consummated six draft-day trades: three trade-downs in 2012, and two trade-ups, plus one trade-down, in 2013. They've exhibited a propensity for moving up and down in the draft order. Given the number of picks the Rams have this year - and the composition of the draft - it's reasonable to suggest the Rams will again be active traders.

Three of the four proposed trades come close to history repeating itself. The pair of trade-downs in 2012 - from #2 to #6, and #6 to #14 - are virtually replicated in this mock draft. The trade-up with Jacksonville is similar in nature to the one the Rams completed last year, when they traded a pair of 6th round picks for a 5th round selection. The trade with Jacksonville does not involve compensation picks, which cannot be traded.

The net effect of the three major trades (when combined): The Rams trade the #2 overall pick, plus a 5th round selection, and a future 3rd round pick, and in return receive the #11 overall selection, a pair of 2nd round picks, and a future 1st round selection.

St. Louis Rams 7 Round Mock Draft

Round Position Player School
1.11 Offensive Tackle Taylor Lewan Michigan
1.13 Cornerback Justin Gilbert Oklahoma St.
2.36 Tight End Austin Seferian-Jenkins Washington
2.42 Offensive Guard Gabe Jackson Mississippi St.
2.44 Safety Deone Bucannon Washington St.
3.75 Defensive Tackle Anthony Johnson LSU
4.103 Outside Linebacker Christian Jones Florida St.
5.144 Quarterback Brett Smith Wyoming
6.214 Defensive Back Dontae Johnson North Carolina St.
7.249 Defensive End Larry Webster Bloomsburg
7.250 Offensive Guard Kadeem Edwards Tennessee St.

The accompanying chart lists the first 13 picks in the draft, including the Rams' two 1st round selections:

Pick # Team Position Player School
1 Houston QB Blake Bortles UCF
2 Atlanta DE Jadeveon Clowney South Carolina
3 Jacksonville OT Greg Robinson Auburn
4 Cleveland QB Johnny Manziel Texas A&M
5 Oakland WR Sammy Watkins Clemson
6 Tennessee QB Derek Carr Fresno St.
7 Tampa Bay OT Jake Matthews Texas A&M
8 Minnesota LB Khalil Mack Buffalo
9 Buffalo WR Mike Evans Texas A&M
10 Detroit S Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix Alabama
11 St. Louis OT Taylor Lewan Michigan
12 NY Giants DT Aaron Donald Pittsburgh
13 St. Louis CB Justin Gilbert Oklahoma St.

Thinking Outside The Box

  • Trading down the #2 selection twice has been mentioned in various commentaries. The notion of Atlanta as a trading partner is quite common in trade-down scenarios, with Atlanta moving up to select Jadeveon Clowney or Khalil Mack. However, trading down again to Tennessee at #11 is unique in the trade-down conversation. The Titans could be looking to replace Jake Locker, who's in the final year of his rookie contract. The Titans are unlikely to pick up Locker's 5th-year team option (link). Locker has been a disappointment as a top-ten pick. His statistics have been ordinary, and he's been unable to stay on the field, missing 22 games in three seasons. For this scenario to come to fruition, it would require one of the top 3 QB's falling to the #6 selection in the draft.
  • Throughout most of the draft process, OT Taylor Lewan has been rated as a potential top-ten pick. As a result of off-field legal troubles (link), I believe a few teams selecting in the top-12 will downgrade him on their draft boards. The Rams - who've exhibited little fear in selecting players with perceived character issues - will have no such qualms in selecting Lewan with the #11 pick. Lewan's arraignment on assault charges has been delayed until May 19th (link).
  • The Rams trading multiple middle-round picks to add an additional 2nd round selection would come as a surprise to many. In a draft this deep, it's a common perception that many teams will be looking to trade down to accumulate additional draft picks. The Rams, with a plethora of picks - especially after trading down in the first round - opt to balance out quantity with quality, in electing to trade up into the 2nd round.
  • Much attention has been focused on the Rams' receiving corps this off-season, and the perceived lack of a #1 wide receiver. As a result, many are clamouring for the addition of a potential #1 in the draft, namely Sammy Watkins or Mike Evans. Far less attention has been paid to the tight end position. Yet the addition of a tight end - such as Austin Seferian-Jenkins - can have a significant impact on the Rams' passing game (and running game). Lance Kendricks becomes a free agent after this season, and isn't a match up nightmare for opposing defenses. Jared Cook is one-dimensional - primarily a receiving threat - and is a liability as a blocker. Seferian-Jenkins would add a different dimension to the Rams offense; a big (6'5"-262) receiving/red zone target who can also block. His addition would open up all kinds of possibilities for the Rams offense, plus he's a good fit in the type of offensive scheme the Rams currently employ.
  • Many fans - and media types - see the draft solely from a "need" perspective. They look at the holes on a current roster, and want them fixed immediately in the draft. The vast majority of mock drafts reflect that type of rationale. In reality, most teams that win draft with the big picture in mind, not just the next year. Player ages, the salary cap, future contract issues/free agents, and composition of the team are but some of the facets of roster building that factor into a teams future plans (and how they approach the draft). Factoring future concerns into the draft equation holds the same significance as addressing current needs.
  • Although needs are addressed in this mock draft, it's not the primary focus. The words of Super Bowl-winning head coach Brian Billick ring loudly in my ears: "Need is a terrible evaluator. That's typically where mistakes are made."
  • Instead of focusing purely on positions of need, this mock draft paints with much broader strokes. In last years draft, the Rams focused on adding "playmakers". I believe this years draft should focus on two main objectives: creating a dominant defense, and the development of a dominant offensive line.
  • The composition of this draft favours the Rams accumulating picks in the second round. The level of "elite" talent in the top-ten picks is good, but the depth in this draft is quite phenomenal. Perhaps half of the players selected in the second round this year would be considered first round talents in most other years. If the stars align, the Rams could conceivably end up with 5 premium selections in the top 50. If the Rams hit on each of those picks, the impact would be enormous.
  • "Elite" players can be found - in most drafts - outside the top ten in the draft order. In this mock scenario, the Rams end up with the #11 and #13 picks. J.J. Watt (11), Robert Quinn (14), and Earl Thomas (14) are recent examples of players with elite talent, selected in the 10-15 range.
  • Player Profiles

    Taylor Lewan

    Lewan is a top-ten talent who falls to #11 due to the above-noted off-field issues. At #11, Lewan would doubtless be the BPA. Lewan displays a rare combination of height, size, length, and athleticism (6'7"-309) (4.87-40), and excels as both a run and pass blocker. Greg Robinson is a better run blocker, with Jake Matthews the better blocker in pass pro, but Lewan may have the best combination of skill sets. Lewan best compares to Rams OT Jake Long, although not as developed as Long at similar points in their careers. The selection of Lewan may not fill an immediate need. However, given Jake Long's injury history, and $10.5 million 2015 salary cap hit - and Joe Barksdale's pending free agency - choosing a franchise left tackle with the future in mind is a prudent strategy, one perhaps echoed by Rams GM Les Snead:

    "I think the way to get it right is you make the right decision for the organization, and I like to say you make the best decision long term because the short term is by definition short—it won’t last as long," Snead said. "But because this draft is really good, it’s a good chance for us to take some shots with picks in this draft to improve the team. Not only tomorrow and opening day, but also four and five years down the road."

    The merits and possibility of selecting an offensive lineman in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft were examined in-depth, in an earlier article for Turf Show Times (link). Imagine the results of giving OL coach Paul Boudreau first round talent to work with and develop.

    Highlights (link)Scouting Report (link)Scouting Report (link)

    Mock Draft Alternate Selection - S - Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix

    Justin Gilbert

    In today’s pass-happy NFL, you can never have enough quality cornerbacks. The Rams, with the release of veteran Cortland Finnegan, still have two young, quality starters in Trumaine Johnson and Janoris Jenkins. Finnegan’s release has created the need for a third "starting" corner, as the Rams play a nickel sub-package approximately 60% of the time. New DC Gregg Williams’ defensive schemes place a large amount of responsibility on the cornerbacks. With his combination of size (6'-200) and pure speed (4.37-40), Justin Gilbert is clearly the number one CB in the draft in terms of athleticism. His ceiling is the highest of any corner in the draft. Gilbert is a physical presence in press coverage, and a ball-hawk, who led the Big 12 with 7 interceptions in 2013. His big play prowess extends to kickoff returns – an area of weakness for the Rams - returning six for touchdowns in his collegiate career.

    Highlights (link)Scouting Report (link)

    Mock Draft Alternate Selection - CB - Darqueze Dennard - Michigan St.

    Austin Seferian-Jenkins

    Seferian-Jenkins was once thought of as a top-15 selection. He had a down 2013 season for Washington, mostly due to a scheme change, and the reliance on RB Bishop Sankey. Seferian-Jenkins did not participate in the Combine or Pro Days because of a stress fracture in his foot, which should be healed in time for the regular season. In July, 2013 he plead guilty to a DUI charge. Despite the fall in his draft stock, ASJ remains an enticing prospect.

    From Russ Lande:

    "Seferian-Jenkins will definitely be selected before the second round is over and could sneak his way into the bottom of the first round. For teams that still ask their tight ends to block at a high level, he is the tight end they will likely look toward, as his ability to dominate defenders at the point of attack is rare for a player with his receiving skills."

    Highlights (link)Scouting Report (link)

    Mock Draft Alternate Selection - DT - Ra'Shede Hageman - Minnesota

    Gabe Jackson

    The re-signing of Rodger Saffold - to play exclusively at guard - filled one hole on the Rams' interior line. Jackson is a plug-and-play day one starter, and an upgrade over the released Harvey Dahl. As a powerful drive blocker (6'3"-335), Jackson is a good fit for the Rams' power running game. In addition to his run blocking, Jackson excels at pass protection. Jackson possesses a quality combination of size, quickness, and power. A combination that compares favourably to Larry Warford, who the Rams had considerable interest in last year.

    Highlights (link)Scouting Report (link)

    Mock Draft Alternate Selection - OT - Morgan Moses - Virginia

    Deone Bucannon

    The safety position has been problematic for the Rams over the last few seasons. T.J. McDonald was one piece of the puzzle, selected in the third round of the 2013 NFL draft. Filling the other safety position is perhaps the Rams’ greatest remaining need this off-season. The Rams clearly prefer their safeties to be equally adept at both coverage and run-support. Deone Bucannon is a big, physical safety (6'1"-216 - 4.49-40) who exhibits impressive athleticism. His length, fluid hips, and agility allow him to match up with TE’s, and lock down a #1 WR. Bucannon has very good ball skills, is excellent in run support, and has the range to play the role of centrefielder. A good fit for the Rams, and a fine complement to T.J. McDonald. Bucannon is a difference-maker, a safety who consistently made big plays throughout his collegiate career. In addition to his highlight reel hitting ability, Bucannon intercepted 15 passes and forced 7 fumbles, in four seasons at Washington State. He’s best compared to Eric Reid, a first-round pick last year, who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie.

    Highlights (link)Scouting Report (link)

    Mock Draft Alternate Selection - TE - Troy Niklas - Notre Dame

    Anthony Johnson

    Defensive tackles Alex Carrington, Jermelle Cudjo, and Matt Conrath all become free agents after the 2014 season. The Rams will be looking for rotational depth at DT in this draft. Johnson is ideally suited as a 3-tech in a 4-3 defense. At LSU, Johnson showed his versatility, lining up at 1 and 3-tech in the Tigers' base defense, and at 0-tech in 3-4 alignments. Johnson demonstrates a good combination of athleticism and power, and has a high upside. His technique and fundamentals will need the watchful eye of DL coach Mike Waufle.

    Highlights (link)Scouting Report (link)

    Mock Draft Alternate Selection - C/G - Marcus Martin - USC

    Christian Jones

    Jones is a versatile play maker, lining up at all three 4-3 LB positions, and as a 3-4 OLB rushing the edge, during his career at Florida St. A solid tackler and coverage LB, Jones (6'3"-240) is an athletic, speedy player, who would be a good fit in Gregg Williams' defense. Jones adds needed depth to the Rams' LB corps.

    Highlights (link)Scouting Report (link)

    Mock Draft Alternate Selection - OLB - Jordan Tripp - Montana

    Brett Smith

    Smith is an underrated passer, and an experienced three-year starter for Wyoming. Having played for the Pokes - and snubbed from the NFL Combine - Smith is flying a bit under the radar. An athletic QB with mobility, the 6'2" Smith is a gutsy competitor, and would be a solid developmental option for the Rams.

    Highlights (link)Scouting Report (link)

    Mock Draft Alternate Selection - QB - Aaron Murray - Georgia

    Dontae Johnson

    Johnson possesses an intriguing combination of versatility, size, length, and speed (6'2"-200 4.45-40). With experience all over the secondary, his best position may be free safety at the pro level. A tough, physical player, Johnson loves to lay on the big hits. Johnson would be an immediate, impact contributor on special teams.

    Highlights (link)Scouting Report (link)

    Mock Draft Alternate Selection - OG - Spencer Long - Nebraska

    Larry Webster

    Webster is an intriguing prospect, with measurable's (6'6"-252, 4.58-40) rivalling those of Jadeveon Clowney. He's extremely raw, with only two seasons of collegiate football for Division II Bloomsburg. Webster, a four-year collegiate basketball player, exhibits off-the-charts athletic potential. He projects as an edge rusher, WLB or tight end in the NFL, and will need significant time on the practice squad to develop.

    Highlights (link)Scouting Report (link)

    Mock Draft Alternate Selection - RB - James Wilder Jr. - Florida St.

    Kadeem Edwards

    Edwards is a little-known small-school prospect, who was a 2nd team FCS All-American last season. Edwards possesses an intriguing combination of size (6'4"-313) and athleticism. An explosive player who approach's the game with an attitude, Edwards is a raw prospect with upside, a player coach Paul Boudreau could turn into a starter in the NFL.

    Highlights (link)Scouting Report (link)

    Mock Draft Alternate Selection - OLB - Jonathan Brown - Illinois

    St. Louis Rams 140 Player NFL Draft Big Board

    Position 1 2 3 4 5, 6, 7
    Center Marcus Martin Travis Swanson Bryan Stork Gabe Ikard
    Weston Richburg
    Offensive Guard Xavier Su'a-Filo Gabe Jackson Trai Turner Anthony Steen Zach Fulton
    David Yankey Dakota Dozier Jon Halapio Spencer Long
    Cyril Richardson Ryan Groy Kadeem Edwards
    Offensive Tackle Jake Matthews Morgan Moses Joel Bitonio Billy Turner Cornelius Lucas
    Greg Robinson Cyrus Kouandjio Ja'Wuan James Seantrel Henderson Kevin Graf
    Taylor Lewan Antonio Richardson James Hurst
    Zach Martin Jack Mewhort
    Tight End Eric Ebron Austin Seferian-Jenkins Troy Niklas Xavier Grimble
    Jace Amaro
    Wide Receiver Sammy Watkins Jordan Matthews Donte Moncrief L'Damian Washington Kevin Norwood
    Mike Evans Kelvin Benjamin Jarvis Landry Bruce Ellington Cody Hoffman
    Marqise Lee Allen Robinson Martavis Bryant Brandon Coleman Shaquelle Evans
    Jared Abbrederis
    Running Back Jeremy Hill Terrance West James Wilder Jr.
    Lache Seastrunk Tyler Gaffney Jerick McKinnon
    Andre Williams George Atkinson III
    Isaiah Crowell
    Alfred Blue
    Fullback Trey Millard
    Quarterback Derek Carr A.J. McCarron Brett Smith Connor Shaw
    Jimmy Garoppolo Tom Savage Aaron Murray Logan Thomas
    Zach Mettenberger David Fales Keith Wenning
    Garrett Gilbert
    Defensive Tackle Aaron Donald Stephon Tuitt Ego Ferguson Caraun Reid Bruce Gaston
    Louis Nix III DaQuan Jones Calvin Barnett
    Ra'Shede Hageman Anthony Johnson
    Tim Jernigan Kelcy Quarles
    Defensive End Jadeveon Clowney Aaron Lynch Cassius Marsh
    Kony Ealy Larry Webster
    Linebacker Khalil Mack Ryan Shazier Christian Jones Christian Kirksey Jonathan Brown
    C.J. Mosley Kyle Van Noy Chris Borland Adrian Hubbard Denicos Allen
    Anthony Barr Jeremiah Attaochu Jordan Tripp Max Bullough Devon Kennard
    Carl Bradford Andrew Jackson
    James Morris
    Cornerback Justin Gilbert Jason Verrett Pierre Desir Keith McGill Walt Aikens
    Darqueze Dennard Lamarcus Joyner E.J. Gaines Aaron Colvin Andre Hal
    Kyle Fuller Marcus Roberson Stanley Jean-Baptiste Antone Exum
    Bradley Roby Loucheiz Purifoy
    Safety Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix Deone Bucannon Ed Reynolds Kenny Ladler Dontae Johnson
    Calvin Pryor Jimmie Ward Dion Bailey Jonathan Dowling
    Terrence Brooks Ahmad Dixon Isaiah Lewis
    Craig Loston
    Total (140) 24 24 34 25 33

    There are many different types of draft boards, the number and configuration limited only by the imagination of the individuals who create them. The 140 player draft board included herein is team specific and created every year in March. In terms of numbers, 140 is equivalent to the number of players who will be selected in the first four rounds of the 2014 NFL Draft. The board lists the various team positions, then places players into rounds 1-7 at each position. The board consists of players I believe should be of interest to the Rams at various points in the draft, and an estimation of the round each player will be selected in. If one your favourites didn't make the board, it's likely because of the self-imposed 140 player limit. The players highlighted in red were selected in the mock draft. Five players - Justin Gilbert, Deone Bucannon, Gabe Jackson, Christian Jones, and Brett Smith - have held places in this mock draft since January.

    SB Nation's Danny Kelly wrote a fine article in March examining how players land on a teams draft board (link). Greg Gabriel, a retired scout with 29 years in the NFL, outlined how NFL teams put together a Big Board for the draft, in an article published earlier this year (link).

    2014-nfl-draft_medium

    Mock drafts generally fall into one of two categories: those predicting which players will be selected by a particular team, and those with a personal vision/preference regarding who the team should select. This mock draft falls into the latter category; an attempt at playing the role of "Armchair GM". It's sure to leave some fans scratching their heads. Then again, Les Snead and Jeff Fisher will likely leave some fans scratching their heads at one or more selections come draft day. At least in that one respect, my mock draft and their actual selections will bear a resemblance to each other!!

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