This is the last draft in which the St. Louis Rams have an extra 1st round draft pick as a direct result of the RGIII trade. Those additional picks have already helped expedite the Rams re-build under Head Coach Jeff Fisher and General Manager Les Snead. With the Rams having finished the 2012 and 2013 seasons (with the NFL’s youngest roster) at 7-8-1 and 7-9, respectively, they’re now looking to make that final push toward becoming a perennial playoff contender. That final push begins with free agency and the 2014 NFL Draft.
Let’s first take a look back at what the Rams did in the first three rounds of the 2012 and 2013 drafts, respectively:
Thanks to some crafty maneuvering by Snead and Fisher AFTER trading the second overall pick in the 2012 draft to the Washington Redskins, the Rams ended up with three 2nd round picks (including their own). They ended up selecting WR Brian Quick, CB Janoris Jenkins, and RB Isaiah Pead. They selected another cornerback—Trumaine Johnson—with their 3rd round pick. In 2013, the Rams traded their 2nd round pick to Buffalo in order to move up in the 1st round and select Tavon Austin. They ended up with two 3rd round picks and selected S T.J. McDonald and WR Stedman Bailey.
Thus far, ALL of the Rams’ 2nd and 3rd round picks (other than Isaiah Pead) from those two drafts have either produced consistently (Jenkins, Johnson) or shown at least some flashes of ability when given an opportunity to play (Bailey, McDonald, Quick). At this point, Jenkins, Johnson, and McDonald are likely to open the 2014 season as three of the Rams’ four starting defensive backs. Bailey showed some nifty route-running and reliable hands towards the end of last season and might have a shot at being one of the Rams’ top three or four wide receivers. Quick has been more of a long-term project for the Rams, but did show some improvement in his hands and route-running to at least give the Rams hope that he may ultimately prove to be a useful offensive weapon. Of course, he’s entering that magical third season for a wide receiver, so it’s just a bit too early to declare him a bust.
Taking a glance at the Rams’ depth chart, the biggest areas of need would appear to be the offensive line, the secondary, and at wide receiver. That being said, adding an elite defensive end prospect like Jadeveon Clowney (South Carolina) or an elite hybrid linebacker/defensive end prospect like Anthony Barr (UCLA) can’t be entirely ruled out. One thing IS for sure—Jeff Fisher has never drafted an offensive lineman in 18 combined years as head coach of the Tennessee Titans, and now the Rams. So while top offensive tackle prospect Jake Matthews (Texas A&M) is the son of Hall of Fame offensive tackle Bruce Matthews—who was named to the Pro Bowl seven times while playing for Fisher, it is still highly unlikely that the Rams would pick an offensive lineman in the 1st round. This isn’t a superstition of sorts—Fisher has always had success developing offensive linemen drafted in later rounds, or who weren’t even drafted. Depending on how Jake Long’s off-season recovery and rehabilitation are progressing, whether the Rams can re-sign Rodger Saffold, and whether or not Harvey Dahl and Scott Wells end up being cap casualties, the Rams may or may not be desperate to land a rock-solid offensive tackle through the draft.
As Snead pointed out a couple of weeks ago, the Rams have also continued to maintain that they don’t need a No. 1 wide receiver and that they are perfectly content to enter next season with their current crop of receivers. Nevertheless, if the Rams were to truly believe, for example, that wide receiver Sammy Watkins (Clemson) is the next A.J. Green or a bigger, stronger Percy Harvin, then there’s no doubt that they would use the 2nd overall pick, or perhaps a top-10 pick, in the event they trade down, to select him.
While the Rams have invested heavily in their secondary since Fisher took over as head coach—signing Cortland Finnegan to a huge contract, and drafting Jenkins, Johnson, and McDonald—there doesn’t appear to be one particular defensive back worthy of a top-10 pick. However, new Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams (re-signed by the Rams just recently after his indefinite suspension by the NFL prevented him from serving as defensive coordinator during the 2012-13 season) has had an established history of encouraging teams for which he was serving as defensive coordinator to draft defensive backs in the 1st or 2nd round. Between 2004-2007 with the Redskins and 2009-2011 with the Saints, his teams picked a DB in the 1st or 2nd round in six of those seven drafts. Safe to say that the Rams will use ONE of their 1st round picks to select S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Alabama) or possibly CB Darqueze Dennard (Michigan State).
So the two most likely scenarios are: 1) Rams keep the 2nd overall pick and select Clowney or Watkins, then select Clinton-Dix with the 13th overall pick, or 2) Rams trade the 2nd overall pick to the Falcons, let’s say, who then select Clowney, and the Rams select Watkins or possibly Barr, with the 6th overall pick, then select Clinton-Dix or WR Mike Evans (Texas A&M) with the 13th overall pick. In the first scenario, the Rams would most likely only end up having their original 2nd round pick (44th overall selection). In the second scenario, the Rams would end up with the fifth pick in the 2nd round (37th overall selection) in addition to their own. Of course, this pick would change depending on the trade partner, but the Falcons are a likely trade partner because they haven’t been shy about making big moves up the draft board in years past (e.g. they gave up two 1st round picks, a 2nd round pick, and two 4th round picks in order to move up to 6th overall and select Julio Jones in 2011), and they’re rumored to really covet Clowney. The Rams could then use that pick from the Falcons to take a defensive back if they don’t select Clinton-Dix, or a defensive tackle/defensive end if they don’t select Clowney or Barr, or an offensive lineman if they don’t select Matthews.
This is a sampling of what some sites have projected for the Rams with their own 2nd round pick:
Frankly, the only projected selection that would be a steal is CB Loucheiz Purifoy, who has the potential (based upon his size, speed, and production in the SEC) to be a real difference-maker in the secondary. That’s probably also why it’d be shocking to see him fall to the 37th overall pick. While offensive tackles Matthews, Greg Robinson (Auburn), and Taylor Lewan (Michigan) are all projected to be selected in the 1st round, the Rams could target Zack Martin (Notre Dame), Cyrus Kouandjio (Alabama), Morgan Moses (Virginia), or Antonio Richardson (Tennessee) in the 2nd round. The Rams could also take a look at S Calvin Pryor (Louisville), if he falls out of the 1st round and they miss out on Clinton-Dix. Ultimately, their 2nd round pick(s) will depend on how the 1st round plays out and whether or not they end up trading the 2nd overall pick. Unfortunately for Rams’ fans, the decision to trade that pick may not be made until draft day.