Offensive tackles have been all the rage lately. Yesterday, we looked at some positive numbers about the St. Louis Rams starting bookends in pass protection, courtesy of Pro Football Focus. ESPN then had some tackle talk, which continued today on Twitter with Matt Williamson of ESPN and Scouts, Inc. After seeing Williamson putting Russell Okung among the top five left tackles, I asked him about the Rams tackles. Here's what he said:
@WilliamsonNFL: Rams' OTs have a ton of potential. Doubt Smith ever lives up to high draft slot, but could be vastly improved next season
Needless to say, it got me thinking. Admittedly, I'm biased, but I think the Rams have a pretty good pair of tackles at the foundation of their offensive line. They also have Sam Bradford, who looks like he's going to be an elite quarterback, and elite quarterbacks have a way of making their offensive lines look even better, just ask Tom Brady.
It's hard to argue with the Rams decision to pick Saffold in the second round last year, though many fans and pundits complained about it at the time. Alex Barron fans, I guess. Looking back at the Jason Smith pick, and reading comments like this, you do wonder a bit, enough to put on the old armchair GM hat and stroll back down memory lane.
It's worth noting that Williamson also put Lions OT Jeff Backus on his top ten left tackle list, so take it with a grain of salt.
First of all, Smith has plenty of time to live up to his draft status. This season, his third, will be a big one for him after missing most of his rookie year in 2009 with an injury. He's one of several Rams players we'll be expecting to take a big leap in 2011.
With that out of the way, I started thinking about the other directions the Rams might have gone in the draft that year, 2009, and I'm not so sure that they didn't make the best decision they could, given the circumstances.
Smith was one of several candidates available, legitimately, with the second overall pick. What about a trade you ask? Unlikely to have happened with the second overall pick.
The most popular pick at the time was LB Aaron Curry, who has serious failed to live up to his draft status in Seattle.
Another name that got some play was QB Mark Sanchez. Looking back, that pick did make some sense given that Marc Bulger's career was obviously over at that point in time. But investing in a QB with the offensive line the Rams had at that time was risky, very risky. Sanchez came into the league playing behind one its best offensive lines; I can't imagine his rookie season would have been quite the same in St. Louis. I do wonder if the Rams had shown more interest in Sanchez, they might have fielded some trade offers. Obviously, the team got a much better deal by waiting a year for Sam Bradford.
Michael Crabtree was another option, another players with the talent worthy of the second overall pick. It should be fairly obvious now that character concerns were a red flag. Also, drafting a receiver given the state of the team at that time would conjured memories of a past era in Detroit.
Andre Smith, another offensive tackle, was the another prominent option for the Rams. I suspect the picture of him, shirtless, doing the truffle shuffle at the Combine explains a little bit about his draft stock that year. He's had less luck staying healthy than Jason Smith. The Rams picked the best available offensive tackle.
Clay Matthews and Brian Orakpo, neither considered a top two pick at the time, have turned into, probably, the best players from the first round of that draft. Both are 3-4 OLBs, not exactly a fit for Spagnuolo's defense. Probably should put Brian Cushing in that conversation too.
My point, the Rams made the best pick they could have at the time. I think the only one you can really argue for is Sanchez, if you eliminate subsequent drafts from the conversation, i.e. Bradford.
Looking back with hindsight, would you have done things differently?