Right now, every single reputable, football-related website has already churned out multiple mock drafts, player profiles, detailed team-by-team areas of need, and overall “Big Boards.” The latter of those is often the most intriguing, as analysts cast aside positional value and attempt to rank all of the players in the draft by their overall value. There are two major problems with that concept. For one, there are no real “standards” or guidelines that can be established to rank these players. Some put stock in experience, while other harp on “upside and potential.” Still, at the end of the day, how can you really compare quarterbacks and offensive tackles in an objective way? The second, and more obvious issue, is that these Big Boards are meant to be all-encompassing; not taking into account any specific team needs or “fit” within the offensive or defensive scheme. Certainly a team like Seattle is not going to have a quarterback as high on their Big Board as, let’s say, the Oakland Raiders or Cleveland Browns.
So, throwing that concept to the side, we wanted to make our own St. Louis Rams Big Board, flush at the top with prospects that Jeff Fisher, Gregg Williams, and Les Snead are likely eye-balling in the Top 10. We’ll attempt to go armchair psychologist, breaking down our Top 3, and explain why these player are placed where they are in the order. Here we go…
1) Sammy Watkins, WR (Clemson)
Regardless of how many times Les Snead or Jeff Fisher claim to be “content” with the Rams current wide receiving corps, it should not dissuade anyone in Rams Nation. Both War Room leaders have shown a propensity to bite on offensive and defensive playmakers in the opening round, including, most notably, the bold jump from No.16 to No.8 for Tavon Austin last year, and the 2011 Julio Jones trade in Atlanta that was orchestrated primarily by the Rams current, golden-haired general manager. The signing of Kenny Britt demonstrates, if nothing else, that the coaching staff is certainly not content with their young ensemble of receivers, and with this truly being a “make-or-break” season for Sam Bradford, it would be surprising if the Rams didn’t surround him with as much weaponry as possible to prove his true worth as a signal caller. Taking Watkins anywhere in the Top 5 is likely “equal value,” and would undoubtedly fill an immediate “area of need” on the roster. Moreover, Watkins would appear to be a solid fit in Schottenheimer offensive system, with Clemson relying equally as heavy on the quick passing game and receivers managing yards after the catch.
2) Khalil Mack, OLB (Buffalo)
Some reports, albeit in the height of smokescreen season, have claimed that the Rams are strongly considering taking the University of Buffalo phenom with their opening pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Some, like Mike Mayock, have heralded Mack as arguably the top prospect in the draft class, pointing to his maturity, record-setting college production, and positional versatility as highlights in this defensive grouping filled to the brim with one- or two-year starters. The hiring of Gregg Williams gives this potential selection every more validity, with Mack possessing the size and skill set to be planted all over the Rams front-seven. With Williams’ defensive aggressiveness, a versatile, high-caliber pass rusher would be the perfect “joker” piece; one that could set the Rams already Top 5 pass rushing unit into the next stratosphere. Much like Watkins, Mack is “equal value” anywhere in the Top 5, and would be an immediate upgrade over Jo-Lonn Dunbar in the Rams second level. He also possesses the size, experience, and pass rushing skill set to be effective as a rotational/situational defensive end in the Rams front-four. St. Louis is still in dire need of a player that can both patch up the Rams spotty run defense and make game-changing plays (i.e. turnovers, sacks, tackles for loss) to help aid the offense. Khalil Mack is the personification of that “dream player,” and would make an immediate, palatable impact on the Rams defensive in 2014.
3) Jake Matthews, OT (Texas A&M)
What? How? Why? Few, if any, will have Jake Matthews slotted above Greg Robinson on their Big Board. However, every organization varies in the types of players they look for, and how they compare various prospects. Everyone is, by now, well aware that Jeff Fisher has not take an offensive lineman in the first round in two decades; since the Tennessee Titans were still the Houston Oilers. His rationale, as explained in the past, is that you can nearly always find moldable, physical specimens in the mid- to late-rounds of the draft that can be shaped, with the right coaching, into solid starters in the NFL. Considering the Titans have seemingly always had, if nothing else, a stout running game maneuvering behind a mauling offensive line, it is hard to argue with his philosophy. However, with the Rams being in an unusual position, with a “bonus” Top 5 pick, hand-delivered by the failures of the Washington Redskins, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Jeff Fisher break away from his typical drafting mold if the right prospect were available. With that in mind, what characteristics does Jeff Fisher covet in his linemen?
First and foremost, versatility! Rodger Saffold, and his new contract, are an excellent supporting example. Next, as made blatantly obvious by his regular signing of veteran offensive linemen in free agency, Fisher covets experience. Without having to dive much further into the topic, it is obvious that Jake Matthews most readily fits the criteria that would likely be necessary for Fisher to break from his “not taken an offensive lineman in the opening round in 20 years” streak. Fisher has openly raved about Matthews on multiple occasions, speaking highly of his pedigree, competitiveness, and versatility on the offensive line. Matthews may not have the “upside” of Greg Robinson, but he is a bonefide starting-caliber tackle in the NFL; one that has already demonstrated the ability to play both right and left tackle, as both a run blocker and pass protector, against the demoralizing defensive fronts in the South Eastern Conference. Unlike Khalil Mack and Sammy Watkins, taking the Texas A&M switch-tackle in the Top 5 might not be considered “equal value.” Matthews is a more of a Top 10 prospect, as opposed to a Top 3, and would likely be the prime target if the Rams moved down in the opening round, assuming the two players listed above (Sammy Watkins and Khalil Mack) were already off the board. It would be hard to imagine Jeff Fisher being blinded by the “potential” of Greg Robinson, or, at least, to the extend that he could overlook the Auburn mauler’s utter lack of experience as a pass protector. If Fisher is going to “break his mold,” it’ll be by taking the most experienced, most (proven) versatile offensive lineman in the class; Jake Matthews.