When it comes to the pending NFL Draft this April, the mind begins to swirl...
Taking the long and short view for the St. Louis Rams isn't an easy thing to do. Why? Well, you only have to examine the Rams' current youth filled roster for a second or so, then wonder which of the many players are solid hits or misses. Are we looking at the beginning or end of the NFL learning curve for players like Janoris Jenkins, Tavon Austin, etc...?
If taken as a whole, the roster is - ironically - both strong and weak. It's the unknowns, isn't it? So to that end, I'm going to hit on the 10 players in the coming draft who I think could make an impact for the Rams based on the belief the best is yet to come from the young players already on the roster. I'm also going to ask NFL Draft guru Joe McAtee to give this list a hard look, and evaluate it... I can feel the pain headed my way...
My needs list is simple, and widely agreed upon, though how I rate them is solely my own opinion: OG, OLB, C, WR, QB, Right side - OT, TE, ILB, DT, DE, CB. I'll be addressing the need for both potential starting players - and quality back ups - who could move into first team roles in the future:
#10 - (Day 3 draft choice) - Paul Dawson, ILB/OLB, TCU: Remember Vontaze Burfict? Well, Dawson is his off-field issues doppelganger. I doubt he lasts until Day 3, because his talent set is extremely high. But those pesky character issues may cause a hard fall for Dawson, and Jeff Fisher is the guy who can harness his talents at the next level. Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis needs a quality back up, and Dawson fits the bill...
#9 - (Day 2 or 3 choice) - Jeremiah Poutasi, OT/OG, Utah: At 6' 6", and 330 lbs, I guarantee this talented lineman is quietly on at least half the NFL teams' big boards. He'd be a draft day windfall if he lasts until the Rams' 5th round pick, but he won't. Poutasi isn't really a gamble to take Day 2, but he's still raw.
#8 - (Day 3 choice) - Andy Gallik, C, Boston College: This is a younger version of who Scott Wells used to be. Tough, with just the right amount of mean-streak, Gallik is a solid late round choice. His downside is his knees. While he'll pass medical review at the coming NFL Combine, his 40 time is going to be wicked slow. Don't be surprised if New England snags this Bellichick-type player.
#7 - (Day 2 choice) Marcus Peters, CB, Washington: This young man is a huge gamble. He's kind of a head-case, and the biggest warning flag about him isn't that he had off-field scrapes. What will worry everyone is how he's earned the "hard to coach" label. But the talent is there, and if all the personal issues dross were erased he'd be mentioned in the top two or three at his position. Here's where comparisons to Janoris Jenkins will come smashing into Rams fans' minds. So it comes down to whether Jenkins is considered a solid hit or miss in the long run? You decide... Regardless, someone is going to snag him in the first to third round and take the gamble he'll grow up in the NFL.
#6 - (Day 2 or 3 Choice) Josue Matias, OG, FSU: Let's face it: Matias is a coin-flip when it comes to his ceiling as a player in the NFL. But I have a fondness for players who can think, and Matias leans toward that end. He's a technique guy right now, and I think the Rams Paul Boudreau can unlock the potential Matias has at the next level.
#5 - (Day 2 choice) Hau'oli Kikaha, OLB/DE, Washington: Don't tell anyone, but I think Kikaha could be this draft's sleeper star. Pro comparisons for me swing between OLB/DE Clay Matthews and safety Troy Polomalu, with a touch of LB Navarro Bowman thrown in. Wide range there, right? Well, this kid is all over the field, and he's only going to get better. He can handle pass coverage, and he'll snag a pass interception in the blink of an eye. His field awareness reminds me of Bobby Wagner, and his nose for the ball is unrelenting. Have a look at his quarterback sack video:
Kikaha is the guy I want playing outside linebacker to the right of Robert Quinn. If Jeff Fisher and Les Snead land this guy, they'll have found that missing piece of the Rams defense. The problem here is how many other teams are drooling over Kikaha. He's gone into the quiet mode among NFL scouts as they all hope he'll drop low enough to stay out of the first round. I don't see him getting past Pittsburgh in the second round, and Dallas will be on the move to grab him too. What I think may be his most undervalued asset, is how he'll make others around him play better.
I'm a huge Vic Beasley fan in this draft, but - believe it or not - I rank Kikaha #2 on my OLB board.
#4 - (Day 3 choice) - Jeff Heuerman, TE, Ohio State: There's this guy named Heath Miller... Yup! Heuerman reminds me a bit of the star Pittsburgh Steelers tight end. He's on a learning curve that could well place him among the NFL elite at his position one day. Don't be fooled by his drop in production at OSU in 2014. They went through three quarterbacks on the way to a National Championship. What I see in Heuerman is unlocked potential, and stellar character.
#3 - (Day 1 or 2 choice) - Jaelen Strong, WR, ASU: This is an extremely deep draft at wide receiver. So much so, that Strong could very well slip out of the first round into the waiting arms of the Rams in round #2. While St. Louis has - on paper - a talented receiver unit, I'm just not buying into Tavon Austin being anything more than a poor man's Devin Hester in the long run. That means the #8 overall pick was kind of wasted taking the UWV star, so get over it and move on. It will be a huge mistake if the Rams let Chris Givens slip away, but if they do this unit suddenly looks like one in need of fixing. Strong gives St. Louis a big-body receiver who isn't afraid to make big time catches in traffic. The Carolina Panthers will be staring hard at their draft board as Strong's name drops on Draft Day.
I'm officially on the Strong bandwagon, especially if he last until the Rams pick at #9 in the second round. He's #2 on my WR draft board, ahead of DaVante Parker, and just a snoog behind UWV's Kevin White.
#2 - (Day 2 choice) - Jordan Phillips, DT, Oklahoma: Defensive line hungry teams will be gobbling up linemen on Day 1 of the draft, so Phillips may not be around long. Still, the Rams need run stopping depth, and this is the guy. If Kendall Langford is released due to salary cap issues, they'll need a solid, affordable replacement. Phillips could very well push Michael Brockers out of the starting line up too, which bends this pick toward the "quality problem" category. In the NFC West, you can't have too many quality guys to plug into your front seven.
#1 - (Day 1 choice) Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson: Yes, yes... You've read how much I want this young man in St. Louis, and invariably many of you scoff. Some call him a pass rush specialist, while other doubt his worth to be taken at #10 overall. You'll all change your mind after the NFL Combine, where Beasley will absolutely blow your minds. He'll run in the high 4.4 to low 4.5 range in the 40, jump to the moon, and slaughter the three cone. He'll nail every interview, and his game tape will add weight. Quite simply, there will be teams trying to move up if he lasts until pick #10.
The St. Louis Rams need a special talent at outside linebacker. Beasley offers high character, and a ceiling that won't end until he hits All-Pro.
With quarterbacks like Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick in the NFC West, the need to have an outside linebacker who can both rush and contain them is paramount. Beasley will need to add some bulk in the NFL, but not much. He, and Kikaha, are the perfect fit for the Rams' defense. They both offer big play potential, and pass coverage ability. The NFL is about "sideline to sideline" speed, and in this Beasley blows away the 2014 NFL Draft competition. Add in Beasley's football I.Q., and this is my guy.
I like Doug's approach to the board. It's certainly rational and it's independent. Too often, we get too much of the same thinking across every platform. Consider the tackle position where we see Brandon Scherff and La'El Collins consistently among the top 10 and in Rams-related mocks. Then you get a sprinkling of Andrus Peat, Ereck Flowers and T.J. Clemmings. Now consider this from former NFL scout and current NFL Media member Daniel Jeremiah:
DJ Humphries was very impressive vs SC, UGA & LSU. However, Shane Ray got after him in the Missouri game. Still think DJ is a 1st rd guy— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) February 6, 2015
We should know, since the draft happens roughly once per year, that you have to have an open mind throughout the process. Nothing's written in stone. Perhaps the most annoying aspect of managing TST as we get into combine season is the people who are 100% certain of anything.
"There's absolutely no way Mariota falls to the Rams."
"The Rams will not take a wide receiver with the 10th overall pick."
Got it. Since you've got such a great grip on the future, I could use your help rounding off the first million with some stock tips, Nostradamus.
So when I come across stuff like Doug's board above, it's refreshing for its honesty.
Criticisms? Not many. Perhaps it's a bit heavy on defense (especially the front seven) for me for 2015. The Rams' offense has been in the bottom half of the league since the 2006 season. I just don't see how promoting Frank Cignetti to fill in for Brian Schottenheimer is going to be the panacea for the Rams' O. Expecting Tavon Austin to suddenly blossom into the promise he held coming out of West Virginia or hoping Stedman Bailey or Brian Quick explode into something special is just unfounded. The Rams have one hobbled QB on the roster, they need an offensive line overhaul and the wide receivers don't worry anyone. All that being said, I like who Doug is targeting on the offensive line. Poutasi, Gallik and Matias would all be solid options for me. The elephant in the room is Joe Barksdale. The Rams might be stuck having to re-sign him above his value only because it would be near impossible to get three quality starters in a single off-season.
But if this is the bar we're setting for how to approach the draft? I'm just glad it's being set this high at TST.