Now that the free agency and the the draft have come and gone, the off-season as well has basically come and gone. That was like the first semester. It's back to football starting June 3rd for OTAs. The Rams started the off-season off very quiet, but without question, ended it with the biggest boom any team has had in years. From the Manziel chatter, to trading Sam Bradford, than they dropped the hammer, with drafting Michael Sam. The Rams officially became the most talked about team in the NFL, and maybe sports.
But at the end of the day it is not about popularity. It is about getting better, to compete and be the best. How did the Rams fair this off-season? Did they manage to upgrade enough to get over the hump and back to the playoffs? Or will the grades reflect a team that is most likely headed for another season of mediocrity? Let's have a look...
-Retaining Saffold was HUGE. Especially when you consider the contract that he signed. It was the same offer the Rams offered before he announced he would be taking his talents to west beach. Though the total may seem like a large guarantee, most of those guarantees have stipulations, meaning only about $11 million is actually guaranteed. They did a good job of protecting themselves. Basically if he stays healthy and stays with the team he will make more, if not, we can move on with less of an impact.
-The signing of Kenny Britt was a sneaky good one. The reasons for concern regarding this signing are understandable. But when you look at it closer you realize that this is indeed a low risk high reward signing. There is no denying Britt's talent and ability to change a game. But all of his red flags cannot be overlooked. The Rams signed Britt for dirt cheap, and can let him go before the season starts without any major financial setbacks. Even if they cut him after the season starts the cap hit would be minimal.
-The Rams wanted interior defensive line depth and they got just that. Carrington is sort of an under the radar player. His stats is not what defines him. If he comes back this year 100% healthy he will be more than a nice rotational player. He will be the piece that officially makes the Rams interior defensive line he deepest in the NFL.
-Resigning Jo-Lonn Dunbar was a smart move. A lot has been mad of his stat sheet from the 2013 NFL season. But the key fact that people are forgetting is that he did not play nearly as much as he did in 2012. In the previous year Dunbar played nearly every single defensive snap over the course of 16 games. Whereas last year he was suspended for 4 games and came back as a 2 down linebacker, in a system that only used it's third LB about 45% of the time. Basically he was not getting enough clock to match or even come close to his 2012 production. But the fact remains that no one on this team knows Gregg Williams defense as well as him, and he is still the most physical of our linebackers.
-Greg Reid was another sneaky pickup. The reason I like this signing so much is because if he is indeed 100% healthy his talent and style of play is off the charts. But what made me like it even more is the drafting of his good friend Lamarcus Joyner. Joyner is one of those players that has his head on correctly and works his butt off. A familiar face to help him adjust and stay out of trouble is what he needs. He is another low risk high reward signing.
IF YOU HAVE 11 MIN TO SPARE CHECK OUT THIS LITTLE SPECIAL DOCUMENTARY ON GREG REID PRETTY GOOD****
FREE AGENCY OVERALL GRADE- B+
-Robinson needs more experience to become a better pass blocker. His effort, strength, motor, and athletic ability suggest that in due time he will become just that. Besides, Robinson might already be the best run blocker on the team. He has the talent to become something really special. Athletically he is on par with Jadeveon Clowney if not better. At 6'5"332lbs and being clocked as fast as 4.84, it would be hard to argue. Robinson is a special player with special abilities. Giving Paul Beaudreu a talent like this probably has him salivating.
-Donald has made the Rams defense one of the scariest defenses in the NFL. You just gave a defense that was already jacked, steroids and protein shakes. The addition of Donald takes a really, really, good unit, and makes them great. Look at it this way, Chris Long might be our worst starting defensive lineman. Plus Robert Quinn's ascension to stardom last year is good news for everyone
- He will demand a lot of extra attention, freeing up his teammates, Donald included.
- The extra pass rush will force some ugly passes, basically gift wrapping them for the secondary.
- Quinn couldn't be blocked by two defenders last year, why would that change now?
-Joyner, in my opinion, might be the best pick the Rams made. Let's just forget about his physical talent for a moment. Now think about his style of play, and understanding of both the safety and corner positions. He is the absolute ideal fit for a Gregg Williams defense. When Williams created his playbook, this was the type of player he had in mind. Joyner was one of the best blitzers in the draft. Between high school and college (the last 6 years) Joyner has recorded 13.5 sacks. Just think of what that number would be if he was a full time starter his freshman season at FSU and during those six years he blitzed 50% of the time. Yeah, that's an impressive total for a defensive back. Now lets add his physical talent back into the equation + his effort + his heart = this....
Notice he never left the field after that play***
Joyner is similar to Tyrann Mathieu, not because of their size, but their style of play. There is nothing they won't do, and they will do it well. Although I give a slight edge to Joyner because he is slightly more athletic and his effort - as seen above - is probably second to none.
-Mason is a helluva back. And it seems the Rams are starting a 5'10" or less trend in their backfield. But with the exception of Isaiah Pead, they have all shown some really good value. There is little to no doubt Tre Mason will follow that trend. He is a back with great vision, patience, and balance. He runs with the mentality that he is not going to be taken down, using a constant leg drive to help achieve that goal the best he can. He was a good pickup.
-Alexander was an interesting pick. I never scouted him pre-draft, but I was familiar with him. I immediately threw my scout hat back on after the pick and went to work. I came away impressed. To be his size, he is a very smooth and fluid athlete. He has the tools to be a very effective free safety, but he is a natural strong safety. After playing linebacker for most of his life he does have a violent streak, which you like. He is a bit of a project, but his upside is immense. Just watch how fluid he is and his footwork....
-Without question this may have been the best value - aka steal - pick of the draft. It certainly has the potential to be viewed as one of the better ones. Gaines is a player that many thought would be a third round pick. At one point during the season when his name was hot, some listed him as a second round pick. But when the dust settled and the draft started most thought he would be about a 4th round pick. Gaines was a very solid addition. He brings versatility and can line up left, right, or in the slot. He has good ball skills and is a very good tackler. He does something that has become a lost art for the corner back position and that is play the run well. Gaines is a well rounded player with the potential to be a solid starting corner in the NFL.
-Gilbert was the first pick of the Rams draft that I did not start grinning from ear to ear. I actually came away with mixed feelings. One part says he played horrible as Texas' full time starter. The other part says man he played really well against Alabama in the National championship, against what might have been the best Alabama team in recent memory. If the goal was to get insurance for Bradford I am not sure they did that with Gilbert. He is a project and was one of the quarterbacks that needed a lot of time before being ready to contribute. On the other hand, he did fill a need, as depth was a must at the quarterback position. He at the very least will push Austin Davis.
Mitchell Van Dyk
-Van Dyk has the frame that Fisher has shown a certain fondness of since arriving to St. Louis. Van Dyk is a good depth draft pick in an area that you can never have enough depth, the offensive line. He is also an above average athlete for his position, which is good news for his chances to develop into a solid pass blocker.
-Bryant was a good pickup, and brings much needed depth. He was a solid safety for Ohio State, but not spectacular. He has some range - and its quite possible if not for an injury plagued senior season - he may have been a 4th round pick. This makes him a good value pick. Picking up depth and value is always a plus. He should be a quality special teams player if he makes the roster. If he does not he will more than likely be stashed on the practice squad.
-I love the Sam pick. And I want to go on record now saying I think he has a better chance than most believe to make this team. One thing about the 249th pick in the draft is he is a better pass rusher than the number 1 pick. He may not be the most athletic pick in the draft but he shows an understanding of how to get to the quarterback. I actually wonder if he went to the combine and at least put up average numbers across the board would that have been enough to be picked up before the 5th? Gregg Williams wants to get to the QB early and often. This kid can do that. Not to mention he has a relentless motor. It seems very likely that the Rams will enter the season with about 9 defensive lineman.
-Rhaney is another depth signing. He will more than likely be introduced to the practice squad, but again the Rams are fixing the problem. Bring in lineman and get deeper. No more easy pressure and constant sacks. The focus is to open running lanes and protect the QB. It starts with a good starting five and some good depth. Rhaney is good depth. But he will be spending this year getting bigger and stronger.
NFL DRAFT OVERALL GRADE- A-
Overall, the Rams off-season was very good. I would give the entire off-season an A. They did what they needed to do and built depth. You knew the Rams were focused on depth when they chose to select Tre Mason. Two years ago, there is no way the team selects a player that plays a position that is not a major need. The Rams are a different team. And all of a sudden they are ready to contend. The one way to verify this, is to look at the undrafted rookie free agents. The last 5-7 years, it has been almost a guarantee that at least 4-6 UDFA's would make the team. I am not sold even one will accomplish that this year. The Rams finally have a roster that is full of talent and depth. Class is officially in session....