Predicting an NFL Draft scenario is about as practiced of an impossible science as there is in sports. Hundreds of mock drafts pop up around the internet in the months leading into the draft, often fueled by hot takes of the moment, rumored rumblings or aligned by logic that is independent from the teams themselves. And while there is no doubt that such efforts are fantastic conversation fuel and helps to make the draft the spectacle that it is, it is utterly impossible to know what is really going to happen until the teams hop on the phones the day of and the Commissioner starts calling names.
In St. Louis, the Draft itself offers a much needed reprieve from over saturation of the business of the franchise’s future that hovers over the Rams like a crown of thrones. Regardless of what is uncertain over the horizon beyond 2015, what is definite is that the team will come into this weekend’s collegiate selection spectacular with a uniquely blend of both specific and ideal needs that can be addressed.
The first round specifically offers a precise intrigue about what Les Snead, Jeff Fisher and Kevin Demoff will settle on to better their fortunes, which on the field have more potential than arguably ever before during this regime’s time over the club. The NFC West is in transition and the Rams have affirmed themselves as an in-division contender, and what they do over the weekend will play a major part in whether that opportunity is seized or not.
But it all starts with getting the first round right, which is something the team has done with more regularity over the past few years than it has in over a decade. The selections of Robert Quinn, Michael Brockers, Tavon Austin, Alec Ogletree, Greg Robinson and Aaron Donald over the past four years in the first round have firmly rebuilt the core of the team’s talent pool and eliminated the rash of specific needs which overwhelmed the team’s offseason senses just a few years ago.
But what direction is the best path to take that 10th overall selection in? The defense has entrenched itself as one of the league’s most dynamic units, but still has some finishing touches it could stand to take on. The offense –while improving— still has much room for improvement, but is the right fit there to do that with?
Also, is staying at 10 the right fit at all? As shown in the past few years, Snead has no qualms about keeping it in neutral until the draft gets underway and then putting his spot in motion.
All of these options carry viable outcomes. Here are a few of the best possible ways to address each scenario.
Rodger Saffold stands to be the lone member of the 2015 offensive line who was a starter in week one of 2014.
Reaffirming the Offensive Line
It has been the most consistently reassessed, revisited and rebuilt portion of the team for over a decade now: the offensive line. The ever-present problem continues to loom large over the team yet again, as there are three starters gone from last year’s line (which was still in need of more help as is). In addition, Robinson will make the move from guard over to left tackle permanently, so acclimation time should be expected there as well.
Replacing both starting tackles from a year ago, as well as upgrading at center and right guard all at once is a daunting task. And while it would likely elicit groans from the portion of the fan base that wants a more jersey-sellable selection in the first round, it would make it a prime year for the team to make another foray into the Draft’s offensive line pool – if the right caliber of player was there.
That does not seem to clearly be the case, as most of the top tackles in the draft are seen as more of the career right tackle mold. Iowa’s Brandon Schreff could be the exception however, as he could be the type of impact tackle that has the versatility to play either side of the line, should things not work out with Robinson on the left side. Likewise, it is too early to take the top guard/center prospects at 10. This complicates things some, but opens up a possibility we will explore later.
Stepping Up the Secondary
In a similar type of situation as just discussed, it is not a year where a top 10 player is a defensive back. However, there are a few players that would not be total reaches at the spot either. The trio of Janoris Jenkins, E.J. Gaines and Trumaine Johnson was solid last year and is a young group capable of growing more in the coming years.
Regardless of this, it was the position where the team was most susceptible to being beat, surrendering a borderline worrisome 19th most yards in the NFL last year and an average of 241 per game. While there are no first round safeties on the board at all this year, opting to go with a bigger corner such as Wake Forest’s Kevin Johnson or Michigan State’s Trae Waynes could be a smart decision. Also, Marcus Peters has been called the top talent at the position available, but has seen his stock dip some due to character concerns, similar to what Jenkins faced before landing in St. Louis. He could be worth the risk as well.
For many, Alabama’s Amari Cooper represents a potential instant #1 caliber receiver. He caught 228 passes for over 3,400 yards and 30 touchdowns in college in three years as a member of the Crimson Tide.
Getting a Big Play Threat at Receiver
It would not be a Rams draft if there was not a conversation about taking a wide receiver. And once again, it is not the worst idea in the world. The current group at the position is solid but not spectacular, and adding a potential breakout talent to the mix could upgrade the potential of the entire offering for new quarterback Nick Foles.
There are a plethora of players that fit the bill of potentially being the elusive #1 receiver that the team still could use. West Virginia’s Kevin White and Alabama’s Amari Cooper are the top players available, but there are no shortage of teams that could use them within the top 10 as well. But behind that duo, there are still some worthwhile prospects as well, including Central Florida’s Breshad Perriman and Louisville’s DeVonte Parker, both of whom fit the big, fast mold that the team needs a combo of.
Going receiver doesn’t upgrade their biggest need, but it certainly doesn’t hurt them either.
Go Into “BPA” Mode?
Then there’s the “easy” route (if there is such a thing in the draft) and going with the “best available player”. Take a look at the big board and take the top talent available period. The Rams are in position to do that as well if they choose, and it could yield some interesting results. It could net one of the previously mentioned receivers or cornerbacks, but it could also mean that another pass rusher could come into the fold, such as Mizzou’s Shane Ray, who could likely fall after his marijuana associated arrest last week. This could also mean one of the top running backs in the draft, Todd Gurley or Melvin Gordon, both of whom would bring an intriguing new element to a running back group that is still establishing itself.
And it could also mean that the team really mixes it up and takes Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota, whose stock seems to be anywhere from #1 to #40 right now. Although it appears that there is movement to get him much earlier than the Rams pick right now, at some point this weekend, the team needs to add to its quarterback stash. And with a potential as intriguing as Mariota potentially being there, he may be too alluring to pass on.
Trading Back Altogether
But what if the water just is not right at all for what they are looking for at #10? Or what if another hungier club is looking to either move into the place to land a desirable target for themselves? It should shock nobody if the Rams move out of this spot altogether to assess the first round from a different vantage point.
With so many variable in play around matching their roster with what is available for the picking this year, this could be the best option for them. Having sacrificed some late round picks to acquire safety Marc Barron last fall, moving back and stockpiling early on could be the best benefit for them. Especially with the fact that so many of the right fits for them stand to still be available later in the first round as well.