For the most part, I'm not going to profile the top OTs, because they aren't likely draft targets for the Rams. It is worth looking, however, even just for the sake of completeness, at linemen who might fall within striking distance for the Rams, even if the odds of that happening aren't high. In theory, the Rams could try to trade up if they see someone they want. In 2011, the Saints moved from slot 56 all the way to 28 to take running back Mark Ingram. They gave the Patriots a 1st round pick in the following draft to make that big leap. The Pats took Shane Vereen after trading down, then used the 2012 pick to ultimately land Chandler Jones. The Rams don't have a 1st round pick in 2021, due to the Jalen Ramsey trade, so they couldn't pull off a deal on exactly the same terms. With the Rams holding the 52nd pick in 2020, it at least gives you a rough idea of the compensation it would take to try to jump back into the bottom of the 1st round this year. If they really loved a player, maybe they could put together a package involving both a pick and a player.
Houston left tackle, Josh Jones, is a very easy prospect to describe. He's very gifted athletically, but he's raw in technique. Simple, that's him in a nutshell. Unless you want all the details, you can stop reading now. Since he's more of a projection than a finished product, the details might not really matter very much. If you do want more information, okay, I'll do my best to fill in the rest.
If you like high upside prospects with Pro Bowl potential, you'll love Josh Jones, he definitely flashes like a star at times on the field. If you are emotionally scarred from the Greg Robinson experience and don't like prospects who will require patience and coaching, you probably won't like Josh Jones as much.
Proponents of Jones reasonably could argue that he has more potential as a LT than Tristan Wirfs, which could make him a candidate for a top 10 pick. Detractors also could reasonably say that he could turn out to be a poor man's version of Andrus Peat (who was the 13th overall pick in 2015, 3 picks after Todd Gurley).
Peat has been mediocre and frequently injured for the Saints (49.7 PFF grade last year. To compare, Austin Blythe had a 50.5 grade) In his draft profile, the pro comparison Lance Zierlein used for Peat was Andrew Whitworth. Peat hasn't turned out to be another Whit. Another 1st round tackle in the same draft, Cedric Ogbuehi, was selected for the purpose of replacing Whit with the Bengals. Ogbuehi played so poorly that the only year he was given a shot to be the starting LT, he was the 70th ranked tackle in the NFL. Since there are 32 teams, there should be 64 starting tackles. When you are ranked 70th and you are a former 1st round pick playing in your 3rd NFL season.. that's not good. Ogbuehi is still in the NFL, but as a backup.
Rolling in the deep
I think Josh Jones is a better draft prospect than DJ Humphries, who was the 24th overall pick in the 1st round of the 2015 NFL Draft (3 picks after Cedric Ogbuehi) by the Arizona Cardinals. Humphries recently signed a 3 year $45 million contract ($15 million average salary) to remain the starting LT for Arizona. This is despite an uneven career where he overcame poor play early in his career as well as injuries to eventually become a starting LT. Whether the Cards made the right move paying him remains to be seen. He only had a 64.5 PFF grade last season, which was even lower than Greg Robinson's grade playing for the Browns.
Almost exactly to this date back in 2015, Daniel Jeremiah had Humphries as the 14th overall player in the draft.
Arizona had poor offensive lines in 2013 and 2014. They drafted Jonathan Cooper with the 7th overall pick in 2013. I thought Cooper was going to be great, but he broke his leg in a preseason game his rookie year (remember that when McVay decides not to play his starters in the preseason). Cooper was eventually traded to the Patriots as part of the deal for Chandler Jones (hey, there's that guy again. How ironic.) Cooper was quickly gone and released by NE (see, even Belichick has moves that don't work). Cooper is currently a street FA out of the NFL.
Other moves the Cards made to try to improve their line besides drafting Cooper and Humphries included signing Jared Veldheer in free agency in 2014 and Mike Iupati in free agency in 2015.
In 2014, the starting center for the Cards, Lyle Sendlein graded out as one of the worst centers in the league (sound familiar?) Arizona cut him in the spring of 2015, intending to move on with other players (including AQ Shipley). Bruce Arians, the head coach for the Cards, wasn't happy with how the replacements were performing, so he brought Sendlein back during training camp and started him at center for 2015. In later seasons, Shipley became the starting center for Arizona.
Meanwhile, Humphries had zero impact as a rookie, which was a very disappointing result for a 1st round draft pick. He struggled so badly in OTAs that Arians publicly ridiculed him in the press. He jokingly nicknamed Humphries "Knee Deep" as in how the coach needed to have a knee in his rear end all the time to keep him motivated, because "a foot wasn't going to do it." Considering that Humphries hadn't even played in a game yet, he must have really gotten on BA's nerves. Arians said Humphries needed to show more maturity and be more consistent.
(Perhaps it shows my age that I don't understand why so many fans consider this "bullying" by Arians and out of line. To me, this is just normal football coaching. This is a generational difference between younger athletes today and the old days. Kids today want to be coddled and told how great they are. Mike Singletary yelling at Vernon Davis, that's what coaches do. A player shouldn't get upset when a coach is on their back all the time or calls them out in the press or on TV. That means the coach still believes in you and is trying to make you better. The player should be worried when the coach stops yelling, because that typically means the coach has given up on you and thinks you are a lost cause. It might be a sign you are about to get waived, which is just another name for getting fired. Don't sulk like a baby. This is your job. You are getting paid a ton of money to play football. Go to work and pay attention to what the coach is trying to teach you. The coach's job is on the line too. If the team keeps losing, he's going to get fired. He can't afford to worry about your feelings. End of rant.)
Arians had so little confidence in Humphries that he was inactive the entire season, never appearing in a single game. Even without any contribution from their 1st round pick, the Cards improved their offensive line play, boosted by the arrival of Mike Iupati. Entering 2015, Mike Sando's poll of NFL coaches and front office people had Carson Palmer as a third tier QB. By the end of the year, Palmer had enjoyed the greatest season of his NFL career, was an MVP candidate, had a 13-3 record in the regular season, collected the very first playoff win of his career and put the Cardinals in the NFC Championship game. The 2020 Rams would be fortunate to experience similar success this year, both from their offensive line, from Jared Goff and on the season in general.
Background and Combine results
4 year starter at LT for Houston. Redshirt senior. Turns 23 in June. Played basketball in high school. Kinesiology, fitness and sport major.
Missed games in 2017 with knee injury. Missed games in 2019 with injury. Some reports described it as high ankle sprain, others knee, so not exactly sure the details. Had four different offensive line coaches in college. Very high PFF grade his final season. Per PFF, it is the highest in the draft class and the highest grade ever for a non power conference tackle.
Drafttek 5th OT, 27th overall. Matt Miller 18th overall pick in 1st round in mock. CBSSports 5th OT, 28th overall. Sports Illustrated 5th OT. PFF 16th overall prospect. Kyle Crabbs 50th overall. Walterfootball 8th OT, round 2 to 3.
Daniel Jeremiah 40th ranked prospect on his top 50 list. ESPN 30th overall. Lance Zierlein 29th overall with 6.42 grade. Chad Reuter mock draft 29th overall selection.
The consensus appears to place him in the middle to bottom part of the 1st round, though if you go by DJ's ranking, he might not be too far out of reach of the Rams at 52.
6'5'' tall, 319 pounds, 33 7/8'' arms, 10 1/8'' hands
5.27 sec (40 time), 24 bench reps, 28.5'' vert, 109'' broad.
Very personable in interviews. Level headed, confident, respectful.
Had great practice reports from Senior Bowl, but watching some of the reps, I'd say it was a mixed bag. He had some outstanding reps, especially at RT and RG. When he was playing LT, however, you could see his technique problems getting exposed. Houston plays in a weaker football conference and has an Air Raid system. By holding up well against more talented competition in Mobile, Jones likely boosted his draft stock.
Fluid, natural mover. As athletic as a TE playing the LT position. Quick twitch, great in space. Good speed getting out in front on screens. Good change of direction in open space. Works up to LBs quickly. Adequate lateral movement for zone blocking plays.
Very aggressive and physical blocker. Attacks second level defenders. Fights to sustain blocks downfield.
Quickly switches to LB on combo blocks. Brings power to pull blocks. Solid quickness as puller.
Elite moldable traits. Perhaps as much or more upside as Tristan Wirfs.
Size and strength to anchor.
Well proportioned frame, big and strong.
Good recovery ability.
Showed position versatility at the Senior Bowl. Might be able to play inside at guard or at RT while being developed as a LT.
Technique needs substantial work. Bizarre and sloppy footwork on both run and pass plays that hinder his natural athleticism and power.
If you are going to run block and the defender is more or less lined up over you, wouldn't it make sense to step forward? Or if the run is away from you, step to the side to get the proper blocking angle to stay in front of the defender? Just common sense, right? How about instead we step backwards with the left foot, step forward with the right foot, then bring the left foot forward. Meanwhile, the defender crosses our face to the inside and because we're in the middle of being late getting in position we can't slide to the right to cut him off. Jones is not slow. But, when he wastes steps with poor footwork, he's made to play slow. You can't step to the right if your left foot is in mid air.
Even on a straight ahead run play where all he's supposed to do is drive forward into the defender, sometimes he steps backwards with his left foot. Or he takes a false step with his right foot. I don't understand. Jones doesn't load potential energy and get a good hip snap. Instead, he tends to lean into run blocks with his pads too high and less power. The problem isn't a lack of physical strength, he buries defenders when he is blocking in space. The issue is technique. He doesn't block as well in short yardage or power run situations where he has to be more detail oriented and precise. Gets stood up instead of generating movement. Not an effective drive blocker.
Same with an inside zone run. He should step in a way to get the proper angle to seal the defender. Instead, his first step is backwards. On a wide zone run he has plenty of athleticism to move, but he lets his feet get narrow, robbing him of play strength on the block. One time climbing to the 2nd level, he tries to change direction, but because his footwork was sloppy, he lost his balance and nearly tripped himself. Another play he's supposed to fan out, but instead of stepping laterally, his first movement is just to pop up in place on the balls of his feet. This forces him to have to recover. Not a strong understanding or feel for good blocking angles, losing what should be very simple seal blocks.
On many pass blocks, his first step backwards is with his right foot. When he does this, sometimes he either takes a false step with his left foot or he actually steps forward with his left foot. If this is how the coaches taught him to do it, I don't understand the philosophy. Seems like a bad idea. From there it doesn't get better, his heels get too close and nearly hit each other, he doesn't establish a solid base to absorb contact, he leans hunched over with his head too far forward. His body at times becomes a "flying K" shape at the point of impact with his right foot on the ground, his left foot caught in the air and his upper body too forward. Instead of smoothly taking smaller steps and maintaining proper width in his stance, he'll try to take too long a stride.
Having a weak position likes that causes him at times to get "sat down" by the defender, opening himself up to inside counter moves after getting driven backwards. Instead of having a stout anchor, he has to struggle and scramble to maintain balance.
If he's the help defender and has to slide over to help the LG on a DT, he doesn't move his feet properly to get into position. Very similar to his bad run blocks, he weakly leans into the DT, allowing there to be a gap that a better defender potentially could exploit to squeeze through between the G and OT. I consider this laziness that comes from playing against weaker opponents. In the NFL, however, if you don't close the door properly, guys like Aaron Donald are going to smash it open.
Below average awareness. Sometimes caught looking in the wrong direction and not aware to a blitz or twist. Aimlessly wandering at 2nd level, instead of locating defender to block. Got caught way past LOS just standing there watching QB scrambling around, and when QB attempts a pass never occurs to him that maybe he shouldn't be past the LOS and could have at least walked back a yard or two instead of just standing there doing nothing. On a run block, he's blocking the DE, then for no apparent reason he decides to let the DE go and work up to the LB as if it is a combo. But, it is a solo block and the DE goes into the backfield, because no one is blocking him anymore.
2nd round grade. Jones has exciting potential. He's very aggressive and strong. Rare combination of size and athleticism. Even on his "bad" blocks, his ability to recover shows his tremendous potential. Not only does he have traits that could make him a good pass blocker, but he could also be a very good run blocker. Unless there is some medical flag on him, the main risk I see with Jones is that he never improves his technique and ends up being an inconsistent player.
This time of year, many athletic tackle prospects get compared to Duane Brown. In this case, I think that comparison is warranted. Brown was the 26th overall pick in 2008. There were 7 offensive tackles selected before Brown, including Jake Long as the first overall selection, so it was a strong draft class for OTs. Brown outperformed several of the tackles taken ahead of him and has been a very good NFL left tackle.
Some of the pros and cons about Jones mirror those of Wirfs and it is possible that both of those players will turn out to be good linemen, just not at LT. They might be right tackles or get moved to guard.
I would be surprised if Jones wasn't taken in the 1st round. He might go very early. Should he fall far enough, either to the bottom of the 1st or into the 2nd, should the Rams attempt to make a bold move to draft a player like Jones? Or, should they preserve their draft capital and pick at 52 (or even trade down)?