With the NFL Draft officially in the rear-view mirror and the new draftees filing into Rams Camp, the focus now shifts from how they performed in college to how they will perform against NFL competition. For the St. Louis Rams, the offseason should be full of excitement, with 11 newly drafted players and another 15 undrafted free agents. Some of those players’ roles have already been somewhat defined (i.e. Greg Robinson and Aaron Donald), with expectations to make an immediate impact on the field. However, for the other 20+ other fresh-out-of-college prospects, there are still plenty of questions. With that in mind, here are our four rookie to keep an eye on as we head into OTAs, minicamps, and the preseason.
Mo Alexander, S (Utah State)
To start off Day 3, the St. Louis Rams made a surprising move taking the hard-hitting, “red flagged” safety who had been projected to drop in the latter rounds of the draft. Jeff Fisher obviously sees some potential in the athletically-gifted defensive back, who posted some impressive numbers at the Combine. Aside from the off-the-field issues, Alexander was dinged by scouts for failing to demonstrate adequate read-and-react skills necessary to be a centerfielder in the NFL. With T.J. McDonald, another prototypical strong safety, firmly planted at one of the starting roles, it should be interesting to see where Alexander is placed on the defense. Can he develop into the hybrid safety that Jeff Fisher covets?
Lamarcus Joyner, CB/S (Florida State)
Unlike Alexander, Joyner will undoubtedly be on the field for the St. Louis Rams in 2014. The question is: Where? Both Jeff Fisher and Les Snead have suggested that Joyner will likely fill the depth chart as the third cornerback (i.e. the nickelback). However, with talented players like E.J. Gaines, Greg Reid, and Marcus Roberson fighting for reps, it wouldn’t be unfeasible for the Rams to shift Joyner back to the “free safety” role, which, to this point, does not have a clear-cut favorite. While Fisher loves hybrid defensive backs, Gregg Williams’ scheme does hinge on having a defensive back that can handle responsibilities as a centerfielder on the backend. With Joyner’s skill set, it would not be surprising to see him moved back next to T.J. McDonald, especially if the rookie cornerbacks outshine the rookie safeties.
Mitchell Van Dyk, OT (Portland State)
Offensive line depth has been a massive concern for the St. Louis Rams since Orlando Pace was released by the organization. With the signing of Jake Long, the re-signing of Rodger Saffold, and the drafting of Greg Robinson, the position looks to be quickly transitioning from a weakness to a strength. However, that depth does not come without some question marks. Jake Long is rehabbing from a torn ACL, Saffold has not demonstrated that he can maintain his health on the outside, and Greg Robinson is currently manning one of the offensive guard spots as he develops as a pass protector. Joe Barksdale, the current starting right tackle, played admirably, and should be a priority free agent re-signing next offseason. However, Fisher handed offensive line coach, Paul Boudreau, a heck of a specimen in Mitchell Van Dyk. The Portland St. prospect is extremely raw, especially in pass pro, but at 6’7 tall, 313 lbs. with enough quickness to get by (5.04 40-time), he could certainly be groomed into a competent backup behind whoever is starting at offensive tackle next season.
A tough, chippy physical college right tackle ideally suited for a zone-blocking scheme, Van Dyk displays the football temperament to compete in the run game. -Nolan Nawrocki
When times get tough for Jeff Fisher offensively, he typically reverts to the ground-and-pound game. If Van Dyk can improve throughout the offseason and make the roster, he could be a valuable asset down the line. Given the Rams offensive line injury history, that could be a good thing…
Marcus Roberson, CB (Florida)
In the weeks leading up to the 2014 NFL Draft, Roberson was tagged as an early- to late-Day 2 pick, with some projecting him as high as the Top 35. Yet, the Gators’ prized defensive back waited seven rounds without hearing his name called at Radio City Music Hall, eventually signing with the St. Louis Rams as a priority undrafted free agent. With a somewhat substantial injury history, some flagged off-the-field issues, and a lackluster Combine performance, it is not hard to see how Roberson could have dropped some in the Draft. However, snagging a prospect that drew comparison to both Jonathan Joseph and Alterraun Verner without having to use a draft pick is an impressive feat for Jeff Fisher and the Rams front office. Roberson is arguable the most talented cornerback in the Rams draft class, despite his medial numbers at the Combine. Size, physicality, and anticipation set him apart from the other rookies and could certainly give him an edge in fighting for a spot on the depth chart.