Sep 26, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; San Francisco 49ers punter Andy Lee (4) and kicker Phil Dawson (9) look on as St. Louis Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan (31) celebrates after a missed field goal attempt during the first half at the Edward Jones Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

St. Louis Rams "Biggest Need" For 2014: Cornerback?

 

With only seven days to go before the big unveiling in the 2014 NFL Draft, pundits and writers around the league are starting to vamp up their analyses of prospects and projected picks. This week will inevitably be filled with a bevy of “new” mock drafts, stuffed to the brim with new rumors, skyrocketing stocks, and prospects tumbling down the board. Despite the changes in the evaluations of players, one aspect of the Big Board should have remained static since the “end” of free agency; the teams’ needs.

Once the lion’s share of free agents have signed with their new team, the documentation of needs on any given roster becomes much more clear. For the St. Louis Rams, free agency saw only a handful of movers, albeit some at important depth positions. With those players in tow, the needs list was set. However, today, a mere seven days from the start of the NFL Draft, Bleacher Report released this headline, “2014 NFL Draft: Every Team’s Biggest Need 1 Week Before the Draft.” Sift through the slides, and the St. Louis Rams apparent biggest need is… cornerback?

Cornerback, specifically a slot corner to fill the inside in their nickel package, is certainly a need on the roster. With Cortland Finnegan gone, there is no “true corner” on the roster with any significant playing experience. Brandon McGee saw little action last season and Rodney McLeod was forced into the nickelback role at the midpoint of the season, as the defensive backs played musical chairs in the secondary. Dan Hope, the author the article, expresses this concern,

The play of Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson has been filled with ups and downs in each of their first two NFL seasons, but the real concern is that the Rams have no legitimate depth behind that pair.

However, the signing of Greg Reid and the mere presence of both Rodney McLeod and Brandon McGee, an early Day 3 pick from the 2013 Draft, should exclude cornerback from the very top of the “needs” list. Even under the assumption that Jeff Fisher and Gregg Williams plan to continue their heavy use of the nickel package, there are other positions on the roster that unarguably usurp a third corner.

For one, the St. Louis Rams are currently without one starting guard on the offensive line, a massive hole (literally and figuratively) that will have to be filled by the time Mr. Irrelevant is crowned on May 10th. If not, Brandon Washington, an undersized guard selected 200th overall in 2012 (and subsequently cut), or Barrett Jones will have to man the position; neither has played a single snap in the NFL.

There is also a massive need at the safety spot, adjacent to T.J. McDonald in the deep secondary. Rodney McLeod was adequate, at best, last season as the Quinton Mikell fill-in. However, with Gregg Williams aggressive defensive playcalling, the St. Louis Rams absolutely need someone that can play centerfield and create turnovers when the Rams monster front-seven inevitably forces some pressured throws. The highlight their inadequacy in the department last season, despite leading the NFL in forced fumbles, the Rams barely ranked in the Top 10 for total turnovers; tied for 20th in the NFL in interceptions.

Sticking on the defensive side of the football, one could even argue that outside linebacker is a more pressing need than cornerback on the roster. Last season, Jo-Lonn Dunbar graded out 31st among 35 eligible outside linebackers, according to Pro Football Focus. In 425 defensive snaps, Dunbar managed only four total pressures and 19 defensive stops, all while allowing an alarmingly high 100% catch rate in coverage (i.e. allowed a catch on every target). The St. Louis Rams struggled mightily at varies points throughout the season against the run. Dunbar may be a power hitter, but does not possess the lateral quickness or burst in pursuit to competently maintain the edge or track uber-athletic runners like Colin Kaepernick or Marshawn Lynch.

Moreover, some might argue that the St. Louis Rams heavy reliance on the nickel package was more the product of necessity than preference. Without any semblance of competency at the outside linebacker spots in 2012, and a $50 million slot corner on the roster, Jeff Fisher made at easy choice to opt out of their 4-3 base defense. The same could be said for the 2013 season, with Will Witherspoon and Jo-Lonn Dunbar being the only viable options to pair with Alec Ogletree and James Laurinaitis in the second level of the defense. With the drafting of a genuine, starting-caliber outside linebacker, the St. Louis Rams could finally revert back to their 4-3 base, stiffen up their run defense in the power-heavy NFC West, and allow Gregg Williams to get creative with a trio of linebackers packed behind, arguably, the best defensive line in the NFL.

In all, while the third corner spot is certainly a need on the roster, it is hard to argue that is a more significant need than any position without a current starting-caliber player.With the recently drafted Brandon McGee and the acquisition of the boom-or-bust Greg Reid, the St. Louis Rams, if nothing else, have options at cornerback. With that in mind, guard has to take the cake at the primary need on the roster. After that, you could make a case for safety, outside linebacker, nickelback, or even wide receiver and offensive tackle.

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