We’re deep into the task of opening the doors on TFQ’s NFL Draft Advent Calendar! This is our Christmas – when NFL teams get to decide what sort of new toys they get under the tree to play with next season.
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Door #28-The Rams
2012 finish: 7-8-1; missed playoffs
TOTAL PICKS: 8
22 (from Redskins)
Head coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead joined the Rams in 2012, and wasted no time turning the franchise around. Fisher chose to go to St. Louis after being courted by numerous teams. He was viewed as one of the best head coaching candidates around. In my opinion, Fisher was the best potential hire in years. He, Andy Reid and Bill Cowher make up the trio of the most successful rocks of a franchise to have coached in the last 20 years. Not only is Fisher a great head coach, but he’s also a paragon for all-around NFL service, having played safety for the Bears during their defensive dynasty in the 1980s and occupied high positions on the league competition committee throughout the years.
Fisher wasted no time putting his stamp on the Rams. Out went the mindset and unimpressive rosters that had too-often defined a franchise that averaged a pathetic three wins over the five seasons prior to 2012. Fisher purged the roster, filling it with youthful players that fit his no-nonsense and physical approach to football. St. Louis tied for the league in sacks, but beyond that the team’s statistics are all pretty much average or lower. That still represents a huge swing upwards – especially given that it has been just one year into a rebuilding process under a new head coach and front office. More to the point, it’s hard to edge out great stats when you play in the Ice Tub Division, aka the NFC West, which boasts the league’s best defensive quartet of teams. What really shows the success of the new Rams is that they went 4-1-1 in that division last season, losing only to the Seahawks by seven points in Week 17 and forcing the NFC Champ Niners into overtime twice. (St. Louis went 1-0-1 in those games.) All this was achieved after trading the second overall pick in last year’s draft to the Redskins. Washington got rookie star QB Robert Griffin III but now St. Louis has two selections in Round 1 of this year’s draft – right where some of the best value can be had.
So what does this team have in store for year two of the new era? Now that the first step in the roster overhaul appears to have worked, the transactions have evolved to the moving of more important pieces. On offense, St. Louis lost WR Danny Amendola, but then again, QB Sam Bradford was used to the oft-injured slot receiver being out of the lineup anyway. More concerning is the fact that longtime Rams RB Stephen Jackson is now a Falcon. Second-year back Daryl Richardson had already basically won the support of the coaching staff prior to Jackson’s departure, but losing an All-Pro quality player that can run, pass block and receive is no small thing. The real turning point with this offense, however, lies in the passing game. Elite left tackle Jake Long was signed as a free agent for 4 years and $36 million. Solidifying the perennially bad pass protection around Bradford is step one for the Rams’ offense, and if the battery of tests St. Louis’ medical staff ran on Long indeed mean that he’s healthy enough to play like the Pro Bowler he can be, that signing will be huge. Guard Robert Turner left for Tennessee via free agency, so a third-to-fifth rated prospect at the position – Kentucky’s Larry Warford, for example – would add to the improvement Long should bring.
The most pressing offensive need is a playmaker at receiver – and the stars seem to have aligned for the Rams in this regard. Many highly rated mock drafts have the top-ranked receiver prospect going right around where St. Louis picks at 16th overall. West Virginia’s Tavon Austin is the typical choice as the top wideout, and I just don’t see any of the other ones ranked below him being drafted that high.
Here’s my less conventional theory: Go for the interior of the O-line with one first round pick, and opt for a safety with the other. Craig Dahl (free agency) and Quintin Mikell (let go for cap reasons) are both gone, and it’s a position Fisher tends to value highly – not to mention the fact that the offenses of San Francisco and Seattle will put a lot of pressure on safeties next season. Kenny Vaccaro from Texas would be a great pick at 16. Then, take WR DeAndre Hopkins (Clemson) in Round 2, trading up some spots if necessary. I like Hopkins the most out of the receivers in this draft. His 40 times at the combine and pro day were only in the 4.5-6 range, but he looks faster than that in games. He’s an exceptional all-around athlete who has great body control and soft hands. The other receivers ranked above Hopkins don’t have the same explosiveness in their moves and don’t run routes on film as tightly as he does either. You can call waiting for the second round for a position of extreme need a gamble if you like, but it could work out perfectly for the Rams.
Of course, St. Louis could use the luxury of two high picks to trade up or down. Overall, it’s tough to predict what the Rams will to with the majority of their draft picks because of the developmental stage this roster is at. Which of the weaker players/positions will Fisher and his staff deem as projects, and which ones are they already seeking to challenge and/or replace with some rookie blood? If year two is anything close to the leap and bounds that St. Louis made last season, it’s going to be a dogfight again in the Ice Tub Division.
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STAY TUNED FOR THE REST OF THE DAYS LEADING UP UNTIL THE 2013 NFL DRAFT. WE’LL TAKE A LOOK AT EACH TEAM, AS WE OPEN THEM UP IN THE ADVENT CALENDAR. WE’LL ALSO BE DOING A LIVE TWEET-UP DURING THE DRAFT.