There's a special place in hell for the St. Louis Rams' efforts in the 2006 NFL Draft. It was easily one of the worst draft classes for a team with no shortage of bad drafts in its past. The next year's draft, in 2007, proved to be a pivotal one in the team's history. Had it not been completely bungled, the last few years of Rams history might have looked a little different.
The 2006 season was the last time the team played reasonable well, and by reasonably well I mean not total garbage. They finished with an 8-8 record under rookie head coach Scott Linehan. But the season exposed many, many flaws in the team.
On offense, mileage was running high on the leftover parts of the GSOT era. Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce were both in their 30s. Orlando Pace started in just eight games. Depth was shaky along the offensive line, and the team had no viable backup behind Marc Bulger.
Things were worse on defense. Leonard Little was the only blue chip player, but they had some solid youngsters in Atogwe and Ron Bartell. The defensive tackles and linebackers were exposed on almost every down as opposing runners ran right past them, unmolested.
Hindsight is always 20-20 when you go back and look at draft picks a team should have made. I'm in my mid-30s, so "should have" is a concept I understand very well. Nevertheless, the answers were there in the 2007 draft, and had the Rams actually hit on a few of their picks, things might have been much different over the ensuing years.
Let's also get one other thing out of the way: bad drafts were a symptom of deeper structural problems at Rams Park. The John Shaw and Jay Zygmunt era was still in place, replete with power struggles and profit-taking valued over winning football games. Had the team made better draft picks, there would have still been big problems.
That said, let's re-imagine how things might have looked with the right moves in April 2007, the very first draft that TST covered.
The pick was: DT/DE Adam Carriker, Nebraska
Re-draft pick: CB Darrelle Revis, PIttsburgh
This is a good example of how one bad draft begets another. The Rams used their first-round pick the year before on Tye Hill, a Clemson corner with speed and little else. The duo of Bartell and Revis would have given the Rams a foundational duo for years to come, making it almost impossible to pass against them. Carriker was miscast in the four-man front.
Other options included Dwayne Bowe, because the Rams had no legitimate younger players behind Holt and Bruce. Another player available when the Rams picked was OT Joe Staley, now a mainstay on the left side in San Francisco. At the time, the Rams had two seasons of Alex Barron, a first-rounded in 2005, which is yet another example of how bad drafts cost teams long after the picks have been made.
The pick: RB Brian Leonard, Rutgers
Re-draft pick: C Ryan Kalil, USC
Andy McCollum, the Rams long-time center, played one game in 2006, at age 36. The team had Brett Romberg who showed some promise in 2006, but they still could have used something with more certainty. Had they drafted Kalil, the team never would have dumped a ton of money on Jason Brown, and the offensive line might have been a much better unit. The Leonard pick was too smart by half. Funny enough, I remember being kind of optimistic about it, such is the unfortunate exuberance of April.
Wide receiver James Jones would have been another viable option here; he ended up going in the third round.
The pick: CB Jonathan Wade, Tennessee
Re-draft: DT Brandon Mebane, Cal
Remember how long the Rams searched to find a defensive tackle? This is one of those positions where good teams find useful players in the later rounds. Mebane has been a beast against the run in his career, and would have given the Rams what they'd needed for so long.
The pick: C Dustin Fry, Clemson
Re-draft: WR Steve Breaston, Michigan
Ugh, the Rams tried and tried to get players from Clemson, but they never hit on it. Breaston would have been the quality depth the Rams needed at the position.
The pick: DT Clifton Ryan, Michigan State
Re-draft: TE Brent Celek, Cincinnati
Come on, even by 2007 it was clear that Joe Klopfenstein was a bust. Drafting Celek would have beefed up the offensive talent.
The pick: T Ken Shackleford, Georiga
Re-draft: LB Desmond Bishop, Cal
The Rams did such a bad job of finding linemen in the later rounds, leaving them dependent on rusty veterans for depth. You know how that turned out. But there wasn't much to choose from in the later rounds of this draft, so Bishop would have been a good addition to thin group of linebackers.
The pick: DT Keith Jackson, Arkansas & WR Derek Stanley, WIsconsin-Whitewater
Re-draft: RB Ahmad Bradshaw, Marshall
There were fewer than 10 players picked following the Rams' back-to-back selections. Stanley, though he didn't work out, was a legit pick as they took a chance on a small school speedster who could have helped in the return game. Kind of amazing to think that for all the searching they did for a backup to Steven Jackson, they could have had Bradshaw, who was the first player taken after the Rams' seventh-round picks.