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Rams Draft - Who at Two?

Despite it being the week before the SuperBowl, a SuperBowl featuring a former Ram, League MVP and SuperBowl MVP, most Rams fans are not really talking about the game. They are talking about who the new coaching regime will be taking with the second pick of the first round of the NFL Draft…

New Head Coach Steve Spagnuolo brings a defensive-mind to the fray, famed for his blitz-packages that hurried the 18-0 New England Patriots and their MVP-Quarterback into losing last year’s Bowl. The role that will be played by G.M Bill Devaney cannot be over-looked either. Devaney was hired as VP of Player Personnel in Feb 2008 leaving him little time for proper evaluation of the rosters and draft prospects for the 2008 draft, but 2009 will be different. His promotion to be General Manager in December shows a belief from the Senior Management in his ability to turn around the fortunes of the franchise and he will be looked upon to make the right choices come draft day.

The role of a G.M in day-to-day activities is a mystery to even the most hardcore of fans, and is excellently explained at Football Outsiders by Mike Tanier following an interview with former GM of the Redskins and Texans, Charles Casserly. It makes it abundantly clear to me that Devaney will be the man leading the draft room decisions come April, although Spagnuolo’s desires will be considered.

The main discussion among Rams fans is the choice we face at 1.2. Will we address our consensus glaring need at OT? What about the highly-touted linebacker class? Should the Rams take a long hard look at the elite talent of Michael Crabtree?

There are 3 clear-cut OTs that have been linked with the Rams – Andre Smith, Eugene Monroe and Michael Oher. Smith has character concerns but is marginally considered the most talented of the trio. Oher was the only one to appear at the Senior Bowl, where although his stock wasn’t necessarily damaged, it wasn’t elevated either. Scott Wright of Draft Countdown said of his game performance, “Ole Miss OT Michael Oher did a great job of getting to the second level and blocking a linebacker but overall he had a pretty bad night, with South pass rushers consistently able to beat him on the outside. I was very disappointed.” The argument people are making for taking an OT runs along the lines of ‘you don’t get a franchise tackle unless you pick him in the top 6’.

Crabtree would look be an extreme luxury pick. Some compare him to Calvin Johnson, while others describe as the most talented player in the draft pool. This highlight package shows what people see in him. The Rams already have Donny Avery and veteran Tory Holt. You would have to think that they would look to address a more pressing positional need rather than take Crabtree. Saying that, the draft-mantra is “take the best player available to you” and it is tough to pass up such an elite, game-changing talent… Of the remaining WR prospects it is hard to see why the Rams would be interested, but Jeremy Maclin and Florida’s duel-threat Percy Harvin (highlight package) are the best of the rest. It is also highly unlikely that will be available come pick 2.2, so unless the Rams move down, or trade back up, they are probably not on the radar.

Of the ’09 linebacker class the top players are said to be Aaron Curry, Ray Maualuga and James Laurinaitis, with possibly Clint Sintim and Brian Cushing just behind them. Laurinaitis elected to miss the Senior Bowl after a lacklustre final year in college, while Maualauga’s performance at the game wasn’t as high-impact as some had predicted. Curry has been a late bloomer and hype prospect this year at Wake Forest, noted as being a superb all-round OLB. Sintim might be popular with others taking into account his tendency to make a play in the backfield in his college career (39 Tackle for a Loss and 27 sacks), but it would surely be a reach to take him at 1.2. If we really valued him you would have to assume we’d look to trade down several places.

Other players touted to be top 10-15 picks include the nation’s unanimous top corner, Malcolm Jenkins from Ohio State. A player with outstanding change of direction and closing speed, many people see him as a top-5 pick. The Rams do have needs at CB, but cornerback is not considered a ‘safe-pick’, and for a team in transition, I’m not sure he’s a player they’d target.

Boston College Defensive Tackle B.J. Raji was arguably the most impressive performer at last week’s Senior Bowl, showing a consistency through-out practice and game-day which was sure to have impressed scouts. Like Jenkins, it would be hard to see the Rams being interested in him. The round-one pick of Adam Carriker two years ago means you had to think they’d look elsewhere.

Of the Quarterback class this year only Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez look like being 1st-round worthy picks. Stafford has the strongest arm of the class and has been touted all year, playing to a good standard, while Sanchez is a one-year starter, which might scare off teams that abide by the Lewin-Projection which places emphasis on college career starts for NFL success. Although there are talks among the fan-base that Bulger is past it I’d be majorly surprised if the Rams took either Stafford or Sanchez. Bulger not long ago signed a hefty contract making him one of the best paid signal callers in the game and although the Rams might look to renegotiate, it is hard to see them dumping Bulger so quickly. Personally I’d like to think that he has become rattled due the excessive number of hits he has taken the past two years and that with some O-Line stability he can regain his noted accuracy and composure.

Of the eligible RBs in 2009 there are two standouts. Ohio State’s Chris “Beanie” Wells and Georgia’s Knowshon Moreno. Both have 30 rushing TDs in their college careers, although Moreno did it in only 2 years, while Wells had carries in 3 (2 as the starter). Moreno also managed to surpass 1,300 in both seasons, adding 2 receiving TDs this year too, while Wells hit the heights of 1,600+ yards (and 15 TDs) in 2007 and just under 1,200 yards (8 TDs) from 10 games in 2008. Wells is the bigger of the two and described as “the most powerful runner in college”. Moreno is more elusive with break-away speed and great on the edge. Despite their obvious talents it’s hard to see why the Rams would take either at 1.2 considering we have S-Jax and expended a 2nd-round pick on Brian Leonard in 2007, who has been an acceptable stand-in when called upon. Although the league trend has been to move towards a 1-2 RB punch (or RB by committee if you will), and for this purpose Moreno’s speed might be a great foil for our own ‘Action Jackson’, again, it would seem a real luxury pick for a franchise that is rebuilding, as well as a reach at 1.2.

One area where Spagnuolo might be tempted is the Defensive-Ends. Again there are two that stand-out from the crowd as elite talents. Brian Orakpo (Texas) was a two year starter that could possibly play OLB in a 3-4 scheme. In 2008 he had 19 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks (38 TKL & 22 S in 47 games). Everette Brown (Florida State) is slightly quicker and had a phenomenal 2008, recording 21.5 TKL and 13.5 sacks (46.5 TKL & 23 sacks in 39 games). Draftniks are split on which of the two is superior, but they all agree that they are clear first round talent. Whether there are elite enough to warrant a selection at 1.2 is debateable and I’d have to contend that unless the Rams fell in love with one of them, and traded down, I’d be very surprised to see one taken at 1.2.

My own take on what the Rams should do is a combination of filling our most pressing needs with our talent evaluation (big board). I see the OT and LB positions as where we need help the most. If we are not trading out of 1.2 and looking to take the 2nd or 3rd OT selected, and then grabbing a LB like Sintim or Cushing later in the round, we need to seriously evaluate the depth of the draft class at varying positions. If the drop-off in talent is particularly large between the top 2 or 3 players for one position, and when our pick at 2.2 comes we will be faced with less than stellar options if we did not take said position at 1.2, then that helps make our decision. Also, if one candidate stands out as an unmissable candidate who could reignite the franchise (a la Patrick Willis), that again, is a reason to pick said player. When rebuilding it is always easy to say we should trade down, stockpile picks, and bring in a lot of new talent, but these days teams really don’t like paying the high price of a top-5 pick which makes trading down tough. My gut feeling is that we will take Andre Smith at 1.2. The success of Joe Thomas, Jake Long & Ryan Clady makes a case in itself. You also can’t argue with Patrick Willis, Jon Beason, Jared Mayo and DeMarco Ryans. I really think that we will take an OT at 1.2, either Smith or Monroe, and then look to take a LB at 2.2, possibly trading back-up to the bottom of round 1 to grab someone we like. It looks the safest option and we would be targeting players that would hopefully form the basis or the team’s turnaround.

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