Mel Kiper’s Latest NFL Mock Draft: The St. Louis Rams Select…

Feb 25, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Texas Longhorns defensive back Kenny Vaccaro catches a pass during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 25, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Texas Longhorns defensive back Kenny Vaccaro catches a pass during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports /

When it comes to the NFL Draft, two names stand above the rest in terms of credibility in their scouting and analysis of players; Mel Kiper Jr. and Mike Mayock. Naturally, when one of the two releases a mock, people pay attention. On Thursday, Kiper dropped his latest version, leaving the St. Louis Rams with…

16. Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia

"Danny Amendola will be catching passes from Tom Brady in 2013, so the Rams can certainly afford to place a high priority on a slot weapon. Austin is one of the true home run threats in this draft, and while he’s perfect to work in the slot, given his speed, route-running skills and soft hands, this is a player you can get creative with. The loss of Amendola leaves a void, but Austin could even be an upgrade."

Kiper has linked Austin to the St. Louis Rams on a number of occasions at this point in the mocking season, so this is not a surprise. However, analysts seems to be overvaluing Danny Amendola’s departure and underestimating the void left by Brandon Gibson on the outside. Brian Quick, at this point, has done nothing to suggest he is ready to move up from 10-15 snaps per game into a full-time role on the outside. The addition of Jared Cook also makes the Austin pick difficult, since the hybrid tight end was used primarily as a slot receiver in Tennessee; and figures to be used in a similar manner in St. Louis. Kendricks is the superior blocker, and will likely remain as the primary in-line tight end in the majority of formations. That means that, unless the St. Louis Rams are running out of a four-wide receiver set, they will have a difficult time getting all of their playmakers on the field at one time. Moreover, that lack of a threat on the outside allows the defense to clog the middle of the field and stack the box, which, consequently, will negatively impact the passing and running game, much like it has over the last half decade for the Rams.

Unless the St. Louis Rams see Quick as the immediate starter on the outside next season, they should shy away from drafting someone who’s size limits them to slot play. However, if they do deem Quick “field ready,” Tavon Austin would certainly turn the St. Louis Rams’ offense into one of the more difficult matchups in the NFL. Between Givens’ speed, Cook’s sheer size and athleticism, and Austin’s overall playmaking ability, it would be hard to image the St. Louis Rams continuing to struggle to be productive on the offensive side of the football.

With Austin “solving” the issue at wide receiver, Kiper focuses the St. Louis Rams’ attention to the defensive side of the football. With the 22nd pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, they pick…

22. Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas

"The departure of Craig Dahl for San Francisco isn’t what I’d call a personnel emergency, but there’s not a lot left behind him. Darian Stewart and Rodney McLeod are currently penciled in as the starters, so drafting Vaccaro guarantees you an upgrade at safety in a division where safeties are vital. San Francisco, Seattle and Arizona all can test you deep, and in a couple of cases, you need safeties who can fly up to make plays on QBs who are willing to run"

Craig Dahl leaving was a blessing, and the fact that he is currently listed as a starter on the San Francisco 49ers’ depth chart is certainly more than any St. Louis Rams fan could have asked for in the end. However, Kiper fails to mention the loss of Quintin Mikell, who was one of the best safeties in the NFL last season; Top 5, in fact, according to Pro Football Focus. Fisher is a master in evaluating talent at the safety position, so there is clearly a reason both Rodney McLeod and Matt Daniels have remained on the roster. Fisher has already hinting that Darian Stewart will likely get the nod at one of the starting positions, but hasn’t addressed the other hole.

Kenny Vaccaro would be a solid pickup in the secondary, and certainly would be an upgrade over either of those sophomores in terms of pure talent. However, while Fisher likes for the safeties in his defense to be interchangeable, there are some definitive differences between the free and strong safeties in the secondary. Stewart is much better suited as a free safety, where he started 13 games in 2011, finishing in the Top 20 in a number of categories, including: sacks (T-3rd), quarterback hurries (T-2nd), defensive stops (10th), yard/reception allowed (15th), and pass deflections (2nd). The problem is that Kenny Vaccaro is likely best suited for the free safety spot as well. The marks against Vaccaro have all fallen around the general are of “tackling,” especially in run support….

"Weaknesses: Can get out of control in his aggression toward the line of scrimmage. Will duck his head in his attempt to make the big hit and leave cut-back lanes for patient, explosive runners to take full advantage. Must do a better job of wrapping up, rather than leading with his shoulder. -via CBS Sports"

With that in mind, the St. Louis Rams might be better off shooting for Matt Elam, or waiting until the latter rounds of the draft to get a player projected as a strong safety in the NFL. However, if Vaccaro is available with the 22nd pick in the draft, it would be hard to image the St. Louis Rams passing on the highest rated safety prospect in this NFL Draft class. Between Fisher and Tim Walton, the former defensive back’s coach in Detroit, they should be able to make it work.