I am conflicted. My feels and my brain are fighting each other. The draft philosophy in which I pound the table for has been a slam dunk for the St. Louis Rams. Best Available Player is working! But why am I hating it now for those very same reasons?
The Rams struck gold when they selected DT Aaron Donald with the 13th overall pick in the 2014 draft. Early indications are that the Rams struck even more gold when they selected RB Todd Gurley with the 10th pick in the 2015 draft. Nuggets for days.
In an organization where so many high draft picks have flopped, why would anyone nitpick at two outstanding selections gone right? My answer involves Jeff Fisher and his vice.
Jeff Fisher loves defense. Jeff Fisher loves running the ball. Jeff Fisher loves to be right. Having Donald and Gurley turn into incredible players could not have proved any better for Fisher and his philosophical beliefs that all you need to win in the NFL is to run the ball and beat teams up on defense. Its a sound game plan if you're executing efficiently at a high rate. It also involves little room for error. That philosophy has brought the Rams three losing seasons and (at the moment) a best case fourth season of 8-8.
The Rams need a Quarterback.
Aaron Donald has recorded 20 sacks in 25 starts. That alone is impressive but doesn't begin to tell 1/4 of the story of how great he is. He's a top 3 DT in the NFL not even two full seasons into his career. He may end up being one of the greatest of all time. He is the shiny gold star that the Rams can always point to when it comes to the draft. The team has stated that they desired Cowboys OG Zack Martin with that pick but chose with the talent they deemed too good to pass up instead. Sure the Rams OL is struggling, but few fans actually don't like the Donald pick now. It doesn't matter where the Rams play in 2016 and beyond, Aaron Donald lives in opposing team's backfields and he's probably going to be living there for eternity.
The Rams need a Quarterback.
Todd Gurley has taken the league by storm in his rookie season. The RB has amassed 975 rushing yards in 10 starts just over a year removed from tearing his ACL. He's electric and already a top 4 RB in the NFL. His arrow is still pointing up even as he's stuck in a limited offense, with a limited coaching staff, with a limited supporting cast. He and Tavon Austin are the entire Rams offense. Gurley has proven that going against conventional drafting wisdom (Just ask 3k about it) was a great move for the Rams and has also proven he can be a building block for whatever this offense strives to be.
The Rams need a Quarterback.
"Enough already. We get it., dude! Rams need a QB" you shriek. So why is having the Donald and Gurley picks be slam dunks a bad thing?
In a performance-based league, these two picks will remain great as long as they keep playing at this high level and it should never be forgotten that they truly were the best players available. I'm a strong believer in this method of drafting. But make no mistake, there is such thing as drafting best player available within the ballpark of your needs. In whatever circumstance that you can create where Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott is the BPA when Rams draft in 2016, its a circumstance in which drafting BPA is ridiculously reckless considering the Rams current situation. I am confident the Rams would not do such a thing. As for drafting DL? Buckle up.
Fisher and the Rams coaching staff, to date, have convinced themselves that regardless of the QB position, they can win with a strong running game and great defense. The Rams used four draft picks on RBs before settling(we'll see) on Gurley. In the 2015 off-season alone, they used 5 draft picks on OL, signaling the desperation and desire to be a run first team. The Rams have used two 1st round picks and sizeable FA money(Langford, Fairley) to shore up their DT position. These are just a few examples the ways the Rams have dedicated to bolstering their defense and ground attack.
As we've seen in year four, when the defense isn't so great, exposed to high snap counts, and faced with key injuries, it is not enough to win games with an offense that only has Gurley and Austin that may or may not be able to move the chains when keyed in upon by opposing defenses. It's a philosophy that possesses many limiting factors and derailing elements. It's a philosophy that is great for 3 or 4 games and optimal for 6 win seasons. Surprise!
Those limiting factors for the defense are not uncommon throughout the NFL. They are actually common obstacles that every team faces each year. When the offensive philosophy is as zesty as a banana, the defense must always be great and/or healthy to win. When the passing game has no traction, the Rams must run the ball efficiently and effectively. That's a hard task for even Just Todd Gurley when defenses can load defenders in the box.
To tie this all in, Jeff Fisher is the type of coach to see these roadblocks his running game and defense face and re-enforce those areas rather than spice up his banana flavored offense. It's a problem rooted in the core of his coaching bones. "His way works!" He says. His track record suggests he is not quick to embrace change.
Faced with the opportunity to shape his team in 2012, he chose a familiar, comfortable guy in Brian Schottenheimer over current Bengals OC Hue Jackson. With the same opportunity before the 2015 season, Fisher spent the majority of the off-season deciding between QB's coach Frank Cignetti and TE's coach Rob Boras for his vacant OC position. Two guys in the system. Two guys he could maintain control over. Who really knows if any other outside OC candidate was legitimately considered or if any other candidate gave Fisher the time of day?
Seeing Donald and Gurley pay off tremendous dividends more than likely enables Fisher to continue to build up those two specific areas and ask for average play from his QB yet again, and once again ignore the biggest flaw his team has. That flaw is a tasteless, gimmick fueled, color between the lines, do as your told offense. Only one position can really spark a change and have a profound impact on a team. Just look at the list of Super Bowl Champions. None of them were led by Sam Bradford, Nick Foles, Case Keenum, Shaun Hill, Kellen Clemens or Austin Davis.
Those aspirations might be too hot to handle right now but for them to even get back to a winning record, the Rams need a Quarterback.