Jan 5, 2013; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish offensive tackle Zach Martin (72) speaks to the media on media day for the 2013 BCS Championship game at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Assessing The St. Louis Rams 2014 NFL Draft Backup Plans: Part 1


 

By this time next week, the St. Louis Rams will have, at least, two shiny new rookies on their roster. With only six days until the start of NFL Draft, the debates among team fanatics are on the rise, as everyone defends the potential selection of their favorite prospects. Those in Rams Nation might be a little more spoiled, holding the keys to two Top 15 picks in the upcoming draft, with 12 total selections to use as ammunition to move wherever they please on the board. In essence, whoever the St. Louis Rams want, they can get. While that may be an exciting proposition, it is also inherently frustrating to fans, as there is no way to truly hone in on who the St. Louis Rams might target. At the No.2 overall pick, they could go offensive tackle, wide receiver, or even snag on of the top pass rushers in the class. The number No.13 slot has even more potential, with the cream of the defensive back crop expected to be on the board, as well as a handful of other top ranked offensive tackles, receivers, and possibly even the top ranked interior defensive lineman. At this point, if you asked 10 different people about their “dream draft,” you would likely get 10 different responses. That begs the questions…

What is the backup plan when the St. Louis Rams don’t fill a positional need in the opening round?

With only two picks, currently, there will inevitably be some positions on the roster that does not get filled with a “top of the class” prospect. Here, we will look at a handful of “positions of need” and walk through how the Rams might adapt if the opt to go in a different direction on May 8th.

 

Wide Receiver

For the last two months, Sammy Watkins has been the apple of Rams Nation’s eye. The dynamic Clemson star is a consensus Top 3 prospect in the class, and is expected to be taken anywhere from No.2 to No.5 in the order. Mike Evans is the other arguable Top 10 option, sporting an unparalleled sets of measurables and natural catching ability.

So, what happens if the St. Louis Rams pass on both prospects?

Well, as it currently sits, the Rams have seven receivers on the roster: Chris Givens, Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Austin Pettis, Brian Quick, Justin Veltung, and their most recent addition, Kenny Britt. Without taking a receiver in the draft, the Rams will have the same five-man rotation in the receiving corps as they did last season. On top of that, they’ll have Kenny Britt in the mix, a still-young, former Top 32 selection that could certainly realize his potential in the Rams offensive system. Could Sammy Watkins or Mike Evans help the Rams offense rise from the ashes? Absolutely. Will the offense come to a stand-still without them? No. Moreover, St. Louis could benefit from this extremely deep class, taking a flyer on a less polished, high-ceiling receiver on Day 2 or Day 3 of the draft. No need to fret…

 

Safety

Last season, the Rams secondary was arguably the worst unit on the team. To be fair, the Rams struggled to find a competent replacement for the ailing Cortland Finnegan, lost T.J. McDonald for a chunk of the season with a broken leg, and were regularly put into unfavorable positions under the inexperienced play calling of the Rams former defensive coordinator, Tim Walton. Still, the rotating door of Matt Giordano, Rodney McLeod, and Darian Stewart were ineffective on the backend, regularly failing to provide support for the oft-aggressive Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson. Worse, the trio managed only three total interceptions, two quarterback pressures, and seven pass deflections in 1,787 combined defensive snaps. Gregg Williams’ need for a top-tier centerfielder in his defensive scheme is well-documented at this point; something that the St. Louis Rams haven’t had on the roster since O.J. Atogwe.

So, what happens if the Rams pass on HaHa Clinton-Dix or Calvin Pryor?

Well, they could test their luck with Rodney McLeod, Matt Daniels, or Cody Davis. However, McLeod was average, at best, last season, Matt Daniels cannot stay healthy, and Cody Davis has yet to take a meaningful defensive snap in the NFL. Unlike wide receiver, there isn’t a bevy of talent at the position, and the Rams did not bring in any additional help this offseason. It is essential that the St. Louis Rams address the safety position in the opening two rounds of the Draft. Luckily, with players like Jimmie Ward and Deone Bucannon projected to be available at the start of Day 2, Les Snead should be able to find a top prospect by the end of pick No.44.

 

Guard

As of this moment, the St. Louis Rams have two “guards” on the roster: Rodger Saffold and Brandon Washington. One of those has started only six games on the interior, the other has never played an offensive snap in the NFL. However, taking offensive linemen in the opening round has not been a highlight on Jeff Fisher’s draft resume. That is likely not going to change, at least with respect to taking an interior lineman in the Top 15.

So, how will the Rams address their most immediate need on the roster if they don’t overdraft a guard in the 1st round?

Well, while there is no doubt that St. Louis will not take a guard at No.2 or No.13, they do have more than enough draft capital (i.e. a league-leading 12 picks) to trade up into the 1st round from the No.44 slot. If that were the case, they would likely be targeting UCLA offensive line phenom, Xavier Su’a-Filo, the consensus top guard prospect in the class. The Rams might also consider taking a flyer on Zach Martin (a projected Top 20 selection), the Notre Dame offense tackle that some scouts project could be a Pro Bowl-caliber guard, if transitioned to the interior. After those two prospects, the dropoff is substantial. Much like the safety position, the St. Louis Rams have to fill the void at guard through the draft. If not, they will be relying solely on players like Brandon Washington and Barrett Jones (who has also never taken an NFL snap) to start, while also banking on Rodger Saffold to remain healthy for the entire season; a feat that has happened only once since he was drafted in 2010. Players like Dakota Dozier and Gabe Jackson will likely still be on the board at the end of Day 2, but wouldn’t be considered “plug-and-play,” a characteristic that Les Snead and Jeff Fisher should be coveting in this draft class.

 

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  • Fangface

    Last year was Barrett Joneses redshirt year to get healthy and put on some weight. According to Jim Thomas of the STL Post-Dispatch he has done just that. He might be a viable option at LG. Saffold remained healthy from the time he switched to RG until the end of the year. It’s a small sample size but may be exactly what he needs to get though the year.

    • Nathan Kearns

      Barrett Jones is a potential fill-in, although Jeff Fisher verbalized on multiple occasions last season that Jones would be used as a center, not as a guard. However, it wouldn’t be the first time that Fisher has made a bold positional stand, then later did exactly what he said he wouldn’t…

      You may be right about Saffold, but he has held up for six-game stretches before… it is the entire season we are worried about. Then again, throw him on the interior where less movement is involved (in more instances), on the side of the line opposite his shoulder injury, and maybe (just maybe) we’ll get a solid 16+ games.

      However, scary thought to bank on those two things happening!

  • Rick Talley

    The truth is, it will be difficult for the Rams to screw-up this draft. They have so many ways they can go. This article mentioned immediate impact players, and I think that will be the Rams mantra. They are in the enviable position to cherry pick, and that position will likely improve with additional picks from trading down. That’s why I think guys like Khalil Mack, Aaron Donald, and Lee Evans are very much in play. Zach Martin makes perfect sense, as does Mathews: not so much Robinson and Lewan. Rams fans should be stoked. I could see us getting FIVE INSTANT STARTERS: nobody else in the NFL is in a position to do as much.

    • David Moore

      I agree this should be a “can’t miss” on at least the first 2 picks. I can potentially see trading back to 5-7 getting at minimum another 2nd rounder and then taking Evans with the 5-7 pick. With 13 Take Dix, Martin, Dennard, Gilbert….so many options. Then, do we take best available with the 2 second round picks, or trade them both to move up for a 3rd first round pick? So many options it’s mind boggeling. I can’t wait. GO RAMS! PLAYOFF BOUND!!