The St.Louis Rams were in perfect position to improve their football team heading as the 2014 NFL Draft began. After three days, sevens rounds and 11 picks, they can confidently say they are more talented and better suited to compete in the brutal NFC West. The media speculated incessantly about the Rams trading down and maximizing their picks in the weeks leading up to the draft. That never happened, rather they stayed put. The only move head coach Jeff Fisher and GM Les Snead made was a move up in the second round to grab Lamarcus Joyner, a corner-safety hybrid out of Florida State. As we assess the picks made by the Rams’ brass, a clear football philosophy is being built: establish the run and get after the opposing quarterback. Considering the great success division leaders San Francisco and Seattle have enjoyed by playing a run first offense and playing great defense, it only makes sense that the Rams try to do the same, while nullifying the strengths of those teams.
By far my favorite pick of this years draft was Aaron Donald, the DT out of Pittsburgh. It’s hard to believe he fell to number 13, and the Rams jumped all over him. One of the knocks on him was his bulk. Assuming he’ll be playing next to fellow first round selection Michael Brockers, there is no pressure for him to be the guy that plugs up the middle. That’s not Donald’s game. He is much more skilled and dynamic than that, and if the Rams wanted a gap plugger they would’ve waited and taken someone like Luis Nix in the second round. The other knock on Donald was his scheme fit, as he is a classic 3-technique penetrator. He is a perfect fit on the Rams line. With Robert Quinn demanding double teams, each other member of the line should see 1-on-1 opportunities to rush the passer. I can’t wait to see that front four next season. This was a value pick that was too much to pass up, and he provides an immediate upgrade over Kendall Langford.
Not much more can be said about Greg Robinson, the Auburn tackle, as we all know what he brings to the table. Rather, let’s discuss his Tiger teammate: RB Tre Mason. He should get his fair share of carries from day 1, providing production while spelling Zac Stacy. Tre Mason is an immediate upgrade over Isiah Pead (why is he on the roster?), Daryl Richardson and Benny Cunningham, who all have the ceiling of a RB 2 in the NFL at this point. Stacy and Mason are quite similar in their running style, although Stacy has more power and Mason has a bit more wiggle and explosiveness. Stacy should get 20-25 touches per game, and if Mason can work in around 8-12 touches the Rams would have a formidable ground attack that can set the offensive tempo.
Utah State safety Maurice Alexander has a lot to prove in my eyes. The Rams chose him with their only 4th round pick on a bit of a reach. Alexander is a big hitter, but many have doubts about his coverage skills (as he is a converted LB) and overall football discipline. From what Fisher has said, Lamarcus Joyner will step in right away and play nickel corner, so Alexander will compete with Rodney McLeod and Darian Stewart for reps at FS eventually. Coach Fisher said on the Kevin Wheeler show at ESPN 101 that Alexander will not be in the defensive lineup when the season begins. He said he will be a special teams player, which isn’t bad for a young talent right out of the gate (Stedman Bailey anyone?). Time will tell if he will develop into a solid starter.
I applaud the Rams for selecting Mizzou DE Michael Sam in the 7th round. How did the Co-SEC Defensive Player of the Year slip to Round 7? No matter. He joins the Rams and the best defensive front four in football. Sam is a high motor edge rusher, much like Chris Long. Sam should contribute right away on special teams, but as long as the Rams have this much talent on the D-line, I doubt he will get many reps there. William Hayes and Eugene Sims could be starters on other teams, and they’re backups. Sam may find it hard to shine in this crowded group.
The Rams improved themselves after another productive draft during the Fisher Era. I can’t wait for these kids to get the pads on and prove what they can do.