With the news on Monday that the Los Angeles Rams weren’t going to pick up C John Sullivan’s option for 2019 effectively releasing him and that they were doing just that with ILB Mark Barron, we didn’t get a chance to look at a ton of Monday mock drafts that looked at a ton of potential pickups for the Rams in the 2019 NFL Draft.
But leading the way was a new mock from ESPN’s Todd McShay (ESPN+ subscription required).
McShay’s newest mock leads with the growing momentum behind the Arizona Cardinals taking Oklahoma Sooners QB Kyler Murray with the #1 overall pick. While Ohio State Buckeyes EDGE Nick Bosa has been the consensus top pick for quite some time now, Murray’s decision to commit to football over baseball has changed the early mock landscape. As recently as this weekend, reports surfaced that “people are beginning to believe almost universally” that Murray will go #1 overall.
There’s nothing terribly unusual in his top 30, so we can skip right to the Los Angeles Rams at #31:
#31.) Iowa Hawkeyes TE Noah Fant
The Rams scored 32.9 points per game in 2018, second to only the Chiefs. And adding a tight end with 4.51 speed could help keep the offense at that pace. Fant is essentially a big slot receiver, which would create exploitable matchups for Jared Goff and coach Sean McVay on offense. Getting the second Iowa tight end here would be a steal.
We’ve seen some mocks this year toss a tight end to the Rams at 31, but I don’t think we’ve seen one where the Rams take the second tight of the first round; McShay has Fant’s college teammate T.J. Hockenson going 12th overall to the Green Bay Packers. Maybe more surprising is that McShay squeezes in a third tight end to end the first with the New England Patriots taking Alabama Crimson Tide TE Irv Smith, Jr.
Personally, I’m not all that jazzed on a tight end at 31. You can make the case just based on “best player available” (BPA), but the alternative of going with something based on a bigger need isn’t all that restrictive. The Rams have much clearer roster gaps on the offensive line, defensive line, inside linebacker, edge, cornerback and safety spots. And all of those, save for inside linebacker, have stronger position value than tight end. McShay’s mock is only one round, so we don’t have another round to point out who might satisfy those other needs without sacrificing much on a BPA front. The math comes down to the difference gained from the quality of a BPA pick, in this case Fant, over a roster gap pick. I’m not sure given how wide the Rams’ roster gaps are position-wise that the difference would be (a) substantial or (b) justifiable.
On to another mock from NFL Media’s Daniel Jeremiah. One thing worth pointing out? Jeremiah and McShay have the exact same picks through the first nine. #conventionalwisdom
No similarity for the Rams though as DJ has both Iowa tight ends gone in the first 23 picks. He does have Houston Cougars DT Ed Oliver sliding all the way down to #21 to the Seattle Seahawks. I think that’s the furthest I’ve seen him drop...yeah. Maybe the most interesting pick here is sending Alabama RB Josh Jacobs to the Philadelphia Eagles at #25. And two mock picks of note for Rams fans? The two safeties Jeremiah has at #28 to the Los Angeles Chargers and #29 to the Chiefs: Delaware Blue Hens S Nasir Adderley and Washington Huskies S Taylor Rapp. We’ve seen plenty of safeties mocked our way including Adderley who is currently the most popular pick for the Rams according to the SB Nation mock draft database:
Of course, that’s not saying much with 80% of mocks having neither of the top two candidates in Adderley and Louisiana Tech Bulldogs EDGE Jaylon Ferguson, but yanno.
In any case, those safety picks are relevant because of whom Jeremiah mocks the Rams to take:
#31.) Mississippi St. Bulldogs S Jonathan Abram
Lamarcus Joyner is due to become a free agent, so the Rams might need to address the safety position. Abram plays in the same fast, physical manner as the rest of this Rams defense.
Obviously a roster gap, but the question would be the opposite of the one the McShay mock posed. Is it too gap-heavy? That’s probably going to be the question for any pick that fills a gap since we’re not likely to get a top player at his position at 31; Abram, for example, is the third safety taken. Just depends on prospect preference I suppose. I’ve got no issue with Abram.
On to a four-rounder. Luke Easterling at the Draft Wire has a four-round effort that deviates from the other two mocks substantially. Kyler Murray? At #10 via trade to the Washington Quarterback Takers. A pick earlier to the Buffalo Bills? Florida Gators OT Jawaan Taylor. Duke Blue Devils QB Daniel Jones to the Miami Dolphins at #13. A wide receiver-heavy first. Different!
As for Easterling’s mock pick for the Rams, he has us stuck on defense as well:
#31.) Clemson Tigers DL Dexter Lawrence
Free agency could have a huge impact on the NFC champs’ defense, as they could be looking to replace key starters at defensive tackle and safety. In this situation, general manager Les Snead opts to find the successor to Ndamukong Suh, landing the massive but explosive Lawrence to lock down the middle of the defensive line.
No issues here. I will note that moreso than three mocks and three different picks, we’re looking at three mocks and three different positions (more to come on that...). There’s just a ton of ways the Rams can go this year at 31. Of course, they could always trade down in a scenario that I’ve advocated for previously and that TST’s own Sosa Kremenjas investigated in his first Rams-only mock draft yesterday.
Easterling doesn’t have any trades involving the Rams getting into the second round, so it’s on to his third round with a pair of mock picks:
#94.) Miami Hurricanes S Jaquan Johnson
#99.) Vanderbilt Commodores CB Joejuan Williams
No issue there for me with either, but a DL-S-CB trio perhaps offers a bit of concern toward the defensive heaviness...but we are where we are. Perhaps then that’s the issue in the fourth:
#99.) TCU Horned Frogs EDGE Ben Banogu
I’ve got no problem with Banogu as a fourth-round prospect, but we’re at Day 3 here. This is supposed to be more motivated by BPA and less by roster gaps. At this point, you’re just looking for guys who can make the roster through their rookie contracts. WR Josh Reynolds and EDGE Samson Ebukam look the part through two seasons. 2016 NFL Draft fourth-rounders TE Tyler Higbee and WR/KR/PR Pharoh Cooper diverged at a fork in the road. 2015 fourth-rounder OL Andrew Donnal spent two years with the Rams before stops with the Baltimore Ravens and Detroit Lions. S Maurice Alexander didn’t quite make it through four seasons but provided the Rams with some decent football until his departure.
So ultimately, I don’t know that a DL-S-CB-EDGE group sits right with me. Individually, I’ve got nothing against the prospects. As a class, it feels a bit gap-heavy and too defensive. And by this point, we’re drafting less to fit top roster gaps and more to fill out the middle of the roster. Depending on what happens with our role players and the group of OLB/EDGE/DE Rams headed toward free agency in EDGE Dante Fowler, Jr., EDGE Matt Longacre, EDGE Dominique Easley, DE Ethan Westbrooks, DE Morgan Fox and OLB Garrett Sickels, I could see this being a much more useful pick addressing the middle depth issues on the O-line, at quarterback or running back ESPECIALLY if the first three picks are on the defensive side.
On to more mock! Monday’s mock from Mocking the Draft’s Dan Kadar added to the pile. More than anything, his mock of LSU Tigers ILB Devin White to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at #5 just reinforces that I need to move on from my dream scenario of him falling to us at #31. I was locked in on White to us back in August, but that was a bit too (a) easy and (b) unrealistic. He’s just too good at a position that, especially now that we’ve moved on from Barron, we have a clear roster gap at. Sigh.
Two mock picks of note? Florida DB Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and Boston College Eagles OL Chris Lindstrom at #28 and #29 to the Chargers and Chiefs. Keep those names in mind.
For the Rams, though, Kadar mocks the rare offensive prospect:
#31.) Kansas State Wildcats OL Dalton Risner
Offseason needs: Safety, edge defender, guard, offensive tackle
It looks like the Rams won’t be using the franchise tag, leaving them with several possibilities in the first round. Risner is being viewed by most teams as a right tackle, but he could just as easily work on the inside. If Rodger Saffold departs in free agency, Risner is a capable replacement.
This one almost entirely comes down to the Rams’ coaching staff’s evaluation of OL Joseph Noteboom. Do they see him as a left tackle who they can groom to replace LT Andrew Whitworth who is back for one last hurrah? Or is he a more suitable replacement for Saffold as a bit of an offensive line jack-of-all-trades who can play multiple positions and begin by slotting in at left guard?
A new mock from Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller sidesteps that question entirely with a familiar defensive pick:
#31.) Delaware Blue Hens S Nasir Adderley
Lamarcus Joyner goes out, Nasir Adderley comes in.
The Rams will likely lose one of their best coverage players in free agency, but they can replace him at No. 31 with a prospect who has more potential as a playmaker in the safety or nickel role. Adderley’s experience as a safety and cornerback makes him intriguing to a team expected to flip over much of its defense.
The Rams are hard to predict because of the uncertainty surrounding Dante Fowler Jr. and Ndamukong Suh, but the smart money is on the front office focusing on the secondary due to the expected lack of edge-rushers available at the end of Round 1.
This is the third safety we’ve been mocked to just in this article and the second safety at #31. Clearly, the position is in play.
One final mock to consider? Doug Farrar’s effort at the Touchdown Wire from Monday. His first-round effort has a name that picked up some steam at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine for obvious reason...
#31.) Florida Gators EDGE Jachai Polite
Apparently, the Rams presented Polite with the most favorable combine impression during meetings, because they were the only team that didn’t bash his tape. While other teams would be in the right to have questions about Polite’s ability to face up against offensive tackles and not dissolve in strength situations, Polite would be a very interesting fit in Wade Phillips’ 5-2 fronts. The Rams are in need of a speed edge rusher, and Polite certainly fits the description there.
Polite didn’t mince words saying the Rams were his best meeting. This one certainly makes merit on the reporting from Indy. We’ll have to see if it holds out.
On the whole, the picture being painted is obvious. The Rams are headed toward a significant defensive makeover. With Suh, Fowler and Joyner possibly (likely?) (certainly?) out to join Barron, you’ve got up to four starting positions that need to be filled. Some could be filled from depth chart promotion the way EDGE Samson Ebukam, EDGE Matt Longacre and RG Austin Blythe stepped up in 2018. But, certainly, the early picks from the Rams’ 2019 NFL Draft haul are going to be pointed toward starting positions while the Day 3 picks look to help replace the outgoing role players.
The combine is done. Pro days are upon us. Free agency starts in a week.
Buckle the hell up.