I don't believe the Rams have ever had a GM as fun to try and read as Les Snead. He speaks in circles in interviews, and his analogies (which he use almost every time he speaks) rarely make sense. He always starts talking about one thing, and gets side tracked in the middle of a sentence and starts rambling about something else, but ultimately finishes it off with an analogy from left field. Yet, he always says those few things that are very loud and clear and makes all the sense in his world as an NFL General Manager.
There are a few things Snead and Fisher have both been adamant about; one being Sam Bradford is their starting quarterback. Another is Johnny Hekker and Greg Zuerlein are their punter and kicker for the foreseeable future. That's a relief, so now there are only 12 other positions the general public have to figure out instead of 15 - Thanks guys! Good news though, the month of March is always the telling season. This is how it works, right?
I always do my best to avoid draft predictions before the start of free agency, since it's really kind of a waste of time. So many teams use free agency to fill so many holes. But that's the beauty of it, because then you have a small idea of what they are targeting in the draft.
The Rams been fairly consistent with showing their interest in players they intend to target come draft season. Last year, Snead talked up impact players and how "they come in all shapes and sizes", then the team targeted - and later drafted - Tavon Austin. He mentioned how linemen can be just as much of a difference maker as receivers and running backs. The team didn't draft a lineman before the fourth round. But it later leaked out post draft, that one of their backup plans if Alec Ogletree had not been available with the 30th pick, they were going to draft Larry Warford (who by the way was amazing for the Lions). The Rams also sent a special crew to see certain players pro days and to schedule workouts. I know, I know, all the teams do this stuff. But with the Rams, the players they have shown the most interest in publicly, they've targeted in the draft.
Over the past two NFL Drafts, the Rams have been fairly open about players they highly regard. The plan for St. Louis seems to be molded around finding a certain type of player; who fits a skill set and talent vision Snead and Fisher have going forward. Whether talking about linemen, wide receivers, or running backs, Snead is open to small and explosive players, or linemen like Larry Warford - who was the back up choice at #30 overall in 2013 if outside linebacker Alec Ogletree wasn't available. If we can glean anything about Snead and Fisher in this pre-draft process - based on the past two years - it's if they show interest in a player, they do their best to land him.
The Rams have been focusing on the interior defensive linemen in free agency. To be specific, the 3-tech has garnered much of their attention.There has been a little interest shown in the guard position as well, but nothing as hard as the defensive tackle position. So far the Rams have been showing a lot of interest in the linemen in this year's draft. As far as free agency, they haven't attacked sure fire starters. This tells me that the team could possibly be eyeing lineman early and often. They are also looking at defensive backs and d-line depth, as well as MORE linebacker depth.
Barrett Jones is one name I have avoided this off-season all because of right now. This is the time to go into detail about this kid. Fisher has continuously said the focus with Barrett is for him to get stronger. Barrett basically took a red-shirt. In college 99.9% of freshman that red-shirt, do so because they aren't ready to impact the team or carve out a specific role for themselves. Usually, they need time to grow and get stronger. This is what happened with Barrett. It was also the biggest knock on him coming out of college. He didn't move defenders off of the ball. Rather, he simply shielded them from disrupting the play. But he has drawn nothing but praise for his technique and fundamentals. Coach Fisher has said he's been working at the facility since arriving with strength coach Rock Gullickson. The plan appears to be to get him bigger and stronger, then let him compete for a starting spot. His best fit may be center because of his well documented high football IQ. The center position kind of falls in line with kickers and punters when comes to most under-appreciated positions, but they are required to have one of the higher football IQ's to succeed; especially pre-snap. Their communication with the other offensive lineman, the tight end and running back has to be very good. But the tightest line of communication will always be center to quarterback.
While it has been duly noted that the Rams are lacking depth - as well as a starting five - on the offensive line, the guys calling the shots over at Rams Park believe they have a few keepers in guys like Brandon Washington, Mike Person, Sean Hooey, and Tim Barnes. The player with the most experience in this group is without question Tim Barnes. In some spot starts in 2013, Barnes showed well enough to be brought back and put into what figures to be an open competition at the center position. He did not look like the worlds greatest hidden gem, but he was solid. Next in the experience department would be Brandon Washington. He doesn't have the same amount of game experience as Barnes, but he has been lucky enough to see a drive here and there do to injuries. The Rams really like his run blocking and feel as though there's potential. Then there is Sean Hooey and Mike Person... We don't know much about them because they have not seen any game experience. We do know that Hooey is big. I mean really BIG!!! But he might not be as thick as Fisher likes his lineman to be. It's hard to believe it is a coincidence that all of the interior defensive linemen and all of the offensive linemen have gained weight since Fisher has come into town. And if they were brought in after Fisher and were not up to par they suddenly got up to par, i.e. Barrett Jones. Hooey is just under 300lbs., but he's 6'9", which makes him a little more lean than the average 300 pound human being. Person isn't as tall, but he doesn't quite break the 300 lbs. barrier either, at 6'4" 299 lbs.
The Rams have shown Jake Matthews, Greg Robinson, and Brandon Thomas a ton of interest. That's not to say these are the only players who they have their eye on, or a guarantee they have their eye on them at all. But once more, it is worth mentioning that this regime has shown a tendency to go after the players they show the most pre-draft interest in. Of this bunch, the best fit might be the player many believe to have arguably the highest ceiling in the draft: Greg Robinson. Robinson has the ability to kick inside to guard and later move to the outside. Fisher has even acknowledged as much, saying he can move in to "play guard or the other tackle (right tackle) as well". Fisher believes he has "tremendous upside". Fisher has big time ties to Jake Matthews (via his father, who Fisher coached while with the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans). Who knows, he might have a soft spot in his heart for the newest Matthews to reach the highest level of the game we love so much. For what it's worth, Mike Mayock has said he believes Jake Matthews can play "anywhere" on the line. Not sure if I would agree with that, but hey, that's why this time of year is so fun, and you get so many different opinions.
The Rams have shown zero interest in any safeties in free agency, aside from Jairus Byrd. But they have been spotted around the drafts top safety prospects often - Calvin Pryor and Hasean Clinton-Dix - which many believe to be the top two safety prospects in the draft. The Rams have also been spotted at the Northern Illinois pro day to meet with Jimmie Ward, and spent some time with Deone Bucannon at the Sr. Bowl. Of course, with this quartet of players it's really hard to say if there's a right or wrong decision. All of these players would be an upgrade to the entire defense, and not just the secondary.
The Rams have been doing plenty of due diligence on some of the draft's best corners since the end of the college season, being linked multiple times to both Justin Gilbert and Jason Verrett. While I am not sold on the notion that the Rams are "comfortable" with what they have at the wide receiver position - especially after the signing of Kenny Britt - I believe them when they say that they are "pleased" with their starting tandem at the corner position of Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson. It is no secret Jeff Fisher has been smitten with Jenkins since day one of the scouting process during the 2012 off-season. I have been saying - on multiple occasions - that when the dust settles "Tru may turn out to be the better corner", but what I think matters not. What does matter is the subtle praise Tru has received consistently since the day he showed up to Rams Park; the steady performances, as well as improvement he has thus far delivered.
With that being said, the corner back position is still not a finished product. Ultimately, of the corners the Rams have shown the most interest in, the one who would seem the most logical fit would be Jason Verrett. He could be the ideal nickel corner, which is what the team lacks. The signing of Greg Reid has "steal" written all over it. He was a highly recruited player coming out of high school (Rated the No. 1 player in the state of Georgia, by Rivals.com). While at Florida State, he shown why all of the praise he received was warranted. But he can't seem to stay out of trouble, and just got arrested 6 days after signing with the team? He also has not played in over two years. The team drafted Brandon McGee last year, but he did not show as well in his limited action as one would hope. The team is looking to add depth and create competition for the nickel spot. Verrett makes the most sense because he fits the mold of the type player that Fisher likes. In my scouting report, I compared him to Cortland Finnegan; a Finnegan at his peak of course, with his size, quick feet, speed, and chippy style of play. But he may have better footwork than Finnegan at this stage. He fits what Fisher likes the most, and can slide right into the nickel slot.
The team is looking to build depth all over. This has never been more evident than the way they approached free agency. They did not go in looking for a bunch of starters like in year's past. Instead, they have been bringing in guys to fill out the bottom of the depth chart, as well as create a rotation. The team will more than likely draft any starters that are needed, and continue the youth movement they have had the last two seasons. The only starting positions with holes right now appear to be left guard, safety, and a nickel corner. That is only three positions of dire need, for a team with 12 picks. This will be the year the Rams begin to make luxury picks. And in such a luxurious draft, there isn't a better time than now...