Nearly a week removed from the opening bell of the 2015 NFL Draft, the "excitement" dust has begun to settle with all eyes turning towards wrapping up free agency and the start of organized team activities. But despite the blandness of this year's class, the reaction to the St. Louis Rams overall draft was pretty polarizing.
Obviously, that started with the selection at the No.10 overall pick: Todd Gurley. In one corner, you have many praising the selection of a true game-changer who "fits" the Jeff Fisher offensive philosophy and that has drawn comparisons to both Marshawn Lynch and Adrian Peterson with rare speed, power, and the ability to block and catch out of the backfield. In the other corner, you have those damning the Rams for using a Top 10 selection on a running back. Period. That is without mentioning that they already had two (arguably three) capable running backs on the depth chart,
The Todd Gurley Debate
The Todd Gurley Debate
or that Gurley is coming off a significant knee injury, where a "100% healthy" return to form has seemingly been 50/50 at the NFL level.
The "split" in opinion wouldn't stop there.
With three of their next four selections, the St. Louis Rams chose to bolster the offensive line. Unfortunately, most of those offensive linemen were similarly polarizing, with reputable analysts holding vastly varying opinions on their projected value and overall skill sets.
After trading back to start Day 2, the Rams took Rob Havenstein, the bruising offensive tackle out of Wisconsin. Many praised Havenstein for his "mauler" mentality, extensive starting experience at a high-caliber college program, and his NFL-ready size and length. However, most projected him a late-3rd round, early-4th round prospect, and questioned whether he had the athleticism and lateral quickness to play one of the bookend positions at the next level.
Ditto most of those sentiments for Jamon Brown, the massive Louisville offensive tackle, selected by the Rams in the following round. Unlike Havenstein, Brown was originally pegged as an interior defensive linemen, but was forced to move to the offensive side of the football early in this college career. But, like Havenstein, Brown has outstanding size and length and a reasonable understanding of how to use those attributes to his advantage. Unfortunately, due to some positional immaturity, trouble with weight fluctuation, and lack of lateral quickness, most analysts believed Brown wouldn't hear his name called until Day 3 of the NFL Draft... if at all.
The Rams did nothing that was particularly noteworthy on Day 3. However, they did manage to snag a developmental quarterback, Sean Mannion, in the 3rd and another offensive tackle, Andrew Donnal, in the 4th before taking the "grab bag," best player available approach in the final two rounds of the Draft. Aside from a handful of notable exceptions, like E.J. Gaines, Jeff Fisher has typically favored his undrafted free agency (UDFA) class over his 6th and 7th round picks. So, no sense in getting worked up over those selections.
Considering the myriad of opinions on the Rams individual picks in the 2015 NFL Draft, it is not surprising that the "grades" for the overall class were quite varied as well. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr., SB Nation's Dan Kadar, and CBS Sports' Pete Prisco all handed St. Louis a barely-passing "C" grade, suggesting the Rams had taken a number of players too early in the Draft. Meanwhile, Sports Illustrated's Chris Burke and NFL.com's Bryan Fischer both tossed the Rams an "A" grade, mainly riding on Todd Gurley to be "the man" in St. Louis for years to come.
While opinions may differ on how to "grade" the 2015 rookie class, there is little doubt that Jeff Fisher and Les Snead went into the NFL Draft with the mindset of solidifying the offensive side of the football. The real question is: Did they accomplish that goal?
Considering there were no centers taken in the Draft, the Rams will likely have two "open" positions on the offensive line for the incoming rookies. Greg Robinson figures to get the nod at left tackle, Rodger Saffold will play one of the guard spots, and Barrett Jones and Tim Barnes will battle for the signal caller spot in the middle of the line. So, who will fill the other vacancies?
Les Snead, in a post-Day 3 interview, mentioned that the coaches projected Havenstein would vie for the right tackle spot, while Brown would be moved to the interior. With Joe Barksdale not currently in the mix, it would be hard to imagine Havenstein not getting the early nod for snaps at right tackle.
As for guard, there could be a number of opinions heading into the post-Draft offseason. If Tim Barnes gets the start at center, Barrett Jones could move to guard, with some experience at the position and a superior understanding of the offense, at least in comparison to the incoming rookies. Jamon Brown is likely the "lead rookie" for starting snap on the interior. If he can keep his weight in check and can adjust quickly to a relatively new position on the line, he get certainly get the nod to start the regular season. Cody Wichmann, the Rams second 6th round selection, could also compete for reps in camp, having the most experience at guard of any of the previously mentioned players (42 games at Fresno State) and being, arguably, the most "athletic" of the three candidates.
If we go with "chalk" to start the season, most would predict that the St. Louis Rams starting offensive line would project something like:
|Position||Player 1||Player 2||Player 3|
|LT||Greg Robinson||Garrett Reynolds|
|LG||Rodger Saffold||Cody Wichmann|
|C||Tim Barnes||Barrett Jones||Demetrius Rhaney|
|RG||Jamon Brown||[Barrett Jones]||Andrew Donnal|
|RT||Robby Havenstein||[Garrett Reynolds]|
Assuming this depth chart is relatively close to the final roster to start the year, there are some obvious questions that need to be asked: Is the 2015 lineup an improvement over last season? Is it enough to keep Nick Foles upright? Is it enough to open holes for Tre Mason, Benny Cunningham, and, eventually, Todd Gurley?
More importantly, is begs the question of whether or not the Rams need to add more veteran players into the offensive line mix, via free agency. With a seeming lack of interest in Joe Barksdale from around the league, should the Rams bring him back for one more year to anchor down the right side? Should the Rams continue their pursuit of a veteran interior lineman; someone like Justin Blalock?
These are all questions that Jeff Fisher and Co. will need to address in the next couple of months. With an investment like Todd Gurley, the St. Louis Rams can no longer afford to just "get by" with a sub-par offensive line.
Let us know your thoughts, concerns, and answers to these questions!