At this point in the year, anyone not completely enthralled by the start of “meaningful” baseball is thinking the same thing; 6 days down, 19 more to go before the 2013 NFL Draft. By now, people have been mocking the first round for nearly six months. With each passing mock, we grow numb to the growing speculation of the pick; or multiple picks, in the case of the Sr. Louis Rams. So, instead of filling your Saturday afternoon with another mock or mock recap, Ramblin’ Fan is going in a different direction. What are the biggest questions facing the team at this point in the offseason.
1. “Who will be playing in the deep secondary?”
As of right now, the St. Louis Rams have four players on the roster that could fill the role or, at least, have been given the title of “safety”: Darian Stewart, Matt Daniels, Rodney McLeod, and Quinton Pointer. The last three were rookies last season, with little to no actual NFL experience in a secondary, and the former, Stewart, is coming off multiple, injury-filled seasons. Jeff Fisher has hinted during this offseason that, if healthy, Stewart would likely be given an opportunity to fill one of the voids in the secondary. There have also been rumblings that the team might look at Quintin Mikell, bringing the veteran back at significantly reduced pay after making him a cap casualty a couple of weeks ago. Still, there is no doubt that the Rams will be eyeing a safety in the draft, likely with either the 16th or 22nd pick. Kenny Vaccaro is the top prospect on most draft boards, but assuming Darian Stewart will be manning one of the starting roles, a hard-hitting, run-stopper like Matt Elam might be a better fit.
2. “Is the Rams’ starting left guard already on the roster?”
This has been a widely debated point since Chance Warmack first started popping up next to the St. Louis Rams in mocks back in November. Even with the hype of Warmack cooling and Jonathan Cooper quick rising up the boards, there are still doubts whether either will be available by the time St. Louis is on the clock.
However, that might not matter. Several signs point to the answer being… yes, the starter is somewhere on the roster. First, Fisher’s draft history should shy anyone away from firmly believing the St. Louis Rams will drop a first rounder on an offensive lineman. Couple that with the fact that Rok Watkins will be returning from injury, and you have one solid reason. Second, the Rams just gave Chris Williams a “sizable” contract on a one year deal. While Williams was originally drafted by the Bear to bolster the blindside, the Rams appear posed to try him on the interior of the line, where his apparent lack of speed will not get exposed by some of the dominating pass rushers in the NFC West. The only thing that might work against Watkins and Williams is if Snead and Co. are high on a player like Kyle Long or Barrett Jones. Both are versatile players that could essentially play anywhere on the offensive line, if necessary. Both will also likely be available at the 46th slot on the second day of the draft…
3. ” Who will replace Brandon Gibson as the other outside wide receiver?”
Unless you are on the goal line, a pro-style offensive formation essentially mandates that there be two wide receivers lined up on the outside. Brandon Gibson, by default, has been that man since Bradford entered the league back in 2010. The St. Louis Rams hit a home-run in the 2012 Draft with Chris Givens, who played well on the outside, showing that he could produce at the NFL level as more than a pure “burner.” However, with Gibson taking his talents to South Beach and Brian Quick showing no indication that he is ready to handle a starting role, who will fill the hole?
At this point, there is no clear answer. Some will suggest the Jared Cook will be used on the outside, which might be true, but only on a handful of plays. Austin Pettis showed significant improvements last season, but did a majority of his damage from the slot. Brian Quick should, at some point, move to the outside, but, as previously mentioned, there is no indication he is ready for the additional responsibility. Another full offseason and extended time with Sam Bradford should help, but at this point, the St. Louis Rams cannot afford to “miss” by plugging a player into the starting offense too quickly. Naturally, that leaves the NFL Draft as a means of solidifying that outside position. However, while this draft class may be filled with talented wide receivers, there is no single player available that would be labeled a “franchise” outside wide receiver (i.e. a Calvin Johnson or A.J. Green).
Recently, Tavon Austin has moved up into the No. 1 prospect slot, but, with his lack of size, would undoubtedly be refined to playing as a utility player, primarily lining up in the slot. After that, Cordarrelle Patterson and Keenan Allen are on the board, but both have some fairly large question marks next to their names; whether it be health concerns or “rawness” as a receiver. Like every season, seemingly for the last half decade, who will be starting at wide receiver will be the St. Louis Rams biggest and likely most important question headed into the 2013 season.