Grading the Rams Draft
It's been over a week now since the NFL draft, specifically since the Rams' draft. I suppose you're wondering at this point, is this guy just really lazy, or a little slow on the uptake? Well, I freely admit to being both of those things, but I also have a reason for writing my draft grades this long after the draft.
See, when it comes right down to it, draft grades are pretty much useless. We're not really going to know how these things worked out for a couple of years, in all likelihood. At the very earliest, you can make some real judgements some time in the upcoming season, when we see if any of these players at least play and play somewhat respectably. But the fact is, saying how well a team did in the draft a few hours, days, or even weeks after the draft is damned near pointless. Of course, it won't stop me from doing so, but it should teach us the value of a little perspective. I was jumping for joy a couple of years ago, when Alex Barron fell to the Rams in the first round, thinking all of our offensive line problems were solved. Turns out, they were just beginning.
|If it will help you care about the grades, you can picture me looking like this while I give them out. Be warned, however, that it's going to be really awkward if we ever meet face to face.|
But all of that means that I like to at least take a few extra days, get away from the emotion of the draft, and then go back and look, see if I still like what was done. Removed from the excitement and debate of the day itself, or the coverage of the couple days right after, I can take a little bit calmer look and see if the picks still feel one way or the other to me.
Anyway, on to the meat. The reaction to the Rams' draft has been mixed, with most falling a little on the positive side of neutral. Neither Mel Kiper nor Todd McShay, over at ESPN, particularly like what the Rams did, and I'm not all that surprised, to be honest. Kiper is big on taking the best player available, rather than drafting by need, and the Rams didn't do much of that. (Honestly, though, how much stock do you put in the opinion of a guy who actually leaves the house looking like that every day?) On the other hand, over at WalterFootball.com, which is a site I like a lot, Walter Cherepinsky loves the Rams' moves. (Spoiler alert: I'm much closer to Mr. Cherepinsky than the ESPN guys.) I think how you view the Rams' draft this year is going to be based largely on what philosophy you take into drafting in general.
1st Round, 2nd Overall: Jason Smith, Offensive Tackle, Baylor University
This one, to me, was pretty much a no-brainer. Kiper has said he would have taken Mark Sanchez here, but I don't get that. I think Sanchez is probably going to be a very, very good quarterback, but I also look at what he's actually accomplished, and I'm a little puzzled as to when this kid became the chosen one. Regardless, even if the Rams had taken Sanchez, putting him behind the O-line that we currently sport here in St. Louis would have just been inviting him to go all David Carr on us.
There were two guys available that the Rams could have taken here at right tackle, Eugene Monroe of Virginia, and Jason Smith. Monroe was a little more polished, a little better right now at run blocking, but Smith has the higher upside. He was the most athletic, potentially dominant offensive lineman in the draft, and he addressed the Rams' biggest position of need. Excellent pick here.
The Good: Amazing raw physicality. Excellent pass blocker, plays with a nasty streak that should serve him well in pro ball. Footwork is sound.
The Bad: Needs work in run blocking, as he played in a pass-first, spread offense in college. Has had a knee injury in the past, so that will bear watching.
The Bottom Line: Smith was the best player available at the position the Rams most needed to fill. They really couldn't have done any better, in my opinion.
2nd Round, 35th Overall: James Laurinaitis, Inside Linebacker, Ohio State
Okay, let's face it: the Rams lucked into this pick. There were three big time linebackers in the draft that people thought would fit well in the middle; Aaron Curry, Rey Maualuga, and Laurinaitis. All three were expected to be first round picks, with Curry being a top five guy, and the other two falling somewhere in the middle of the round.
Instead of all three being long gone by the time the Rams went on the clock for the second time, both Maualuga and Laurinaitis were sitting right there, just waiting to fill the Rams' other gaping hole.
On draft day, I'll admit, I was kind of hoping for Maualuga. Laurinaitis was the most productive middle linebacker in all of college football, but Maualuga has that explosive tackling ability that can blow plays up in the middle of the field. Laurinaitis is a fundamentally beautiful tackler and a remarkably sound player in all facets, but he doesn't jump out at you with his hitting ability quite as much. So at the time, I was thrilled to see the Rams get one of these guys, but a little disappointed they didn't take the other guy.
The more I look at the pick, though, the more I think the Rams probably made the right choice. While Maualuga may be the highlight tackler, it's no coincidence that Laurinaitis recorded over 100 tackles his last three season at Ohio State. It's also no coincidence that he won the Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker in 2007.
The Good: Excellent production. Stays at home well, isn't prone to freelancing as much as a Maualuga. Great tackling form; wraps up and brings players down. Plays equally effectively in either pass coverage or against the run. Has that fabled quality of "motor", never taking off a play. Has been exceptionally durable, never missing a game in college.
The Bad: Isn't an explosive tackler. Needs to be more aggressive at the point of attack, as he often allows himself to get blocked, then releases and makes the play. Isn't as good in pass rushing situations, as he tends to play laterally rather than running downhill straight ahead.
The Bottom Line: The Rams get one of the best inside linebackers in the draft, and the one with the best production numbers, well below where he was expected to go. Sometimes it's better to be lucky than smart; the Rams managed to be both in this case.
3rd Round, 66th Overall: Brad Fletcher, Cornerback, Iowa
I like this pick here, while both of the ESPN guys pointed to this one as a reach. Fletcher probably was a reach, to be honest, but I still like it. (Although, I will admit to really, really wishing the Rams would have taken Chase Coffman, the TE out of Mizzou, with this pick. Oh, well.) Fletcher wasn't in the third round in most people's mocks, but he could still turn out to be a pretty solid player, I think.
The Good: Fletcher is big. Much bigger than a guy like a Tye Hill, and I really like that. Has tremendous vertical leaping ability, able to go over receivers to make the play. Is physical off the line, uses his hands well to disrupt routes. Tackles very well in open space.
The Bad: Isn't all that fast, particularly straight-line running. Has good quickness, but can get beaten downfield by real burners. Doesn't turn and explode well out of his backpedal.
The Bottom Line: Fletcher looks to be a bit of a late bloomer, as he really only seemed to begin playing up to his potential his last year at Iowa. I like him, as I'm a fan of bigger, more physical corners, rather than the small, playmaker types. Give me a coverage guy any day, and I think Fletcher could be that. I'm unsure what his ultimate ceiling is, but Fletcher offered positional value to the Rams, and should be a solid depth guy at worst.
4th Round, 103rd Overall- Dorrell Scott, Defensive Tackle, Clemson University
I wasn't a huge fan of this pick, though I also didn't think it was a terrible one. Clemson was seen as a badly underachieving team this past season, and perhaps that's colored my opinion of its players, but I think the Rams could have done better here.
The Good: Scott has very good size, at 6'3" and over 300 lbs., with long limbs that should help him in the middle of the field. Can clog up the running lanes and disrupt the quarterback's vision effectively by getting his hands up. Is very strong up top, able to pull effectively to get into a gap occasionally.
The Bad: Possibly as a result of past injuries, Scott's lower body is weaker than you would expect. He fails to set his feet, and gets beaten as a result. Lacks the explosiveness to get to the QB in pass rush situations. Is adequate in pass coverage, but not great by any means.
The Bottom Line: Scott offers definite positional value to the Rams, as D-Tackle was yet another need for them, but I don't think he's going to be all that productive. He'll need to improve his explosiveness and lower-body control is he's going to be effective in the pass rush. However, he does offer a nice, wide-bodied presence in the middle of the field to clog up the running lanes, one of the areas in which the Rams were most deficient last season. I may be grading this pick a little too tough, as Scott seems to be exactly what the Rams needed, but I think there were better players on the board.
5th Round, 160th Overall: Brooks Foster, Wide Receiver, North Carolina
I looooove this pick here. I thought that Foster could go as high as the third round, and was thrilled to see such a talented player still on the board this late.
The Good: Foster offers off the charts athleticism to the Rams, with remarkable leaping ability and good downfield speed. Has huge, soft hands, and catches the ball well in traffic. Good size and strength, allowing him to fight for tough catches, then turn them into positive yardage.
The Bad: Was an underachiever in college, and occasionally seemed to be satisfied not being a big part of the game. Lacks confidence, and needs to step up from being a role player. Takes plays off.
The Bottom Line: Foster was a real steal at this point in the draft, I believe. He isn't starting material right now, but is the sort of longer term project player that, if handled correctly, could turn into a tremendous pro player. He has all the physical tools to make both difficult catches in traffic and be an outside deep ball threat, but needs a team to take time and develop his confidence and skill set if he's ever going to reach his considerable potential. An outstanding, longview-focused pick.
6th Round, 196th Overall- Keith Null, QB, West Texas A&M
I'll be perfectly honest with you: I know almost nothing about Keith Null, and haven't been able to find out very much. I like the strategy of taking a developmental quarterback late in the draft, but I think there were a couple of guys still on the board who were much, much better. I think this pick could have been better used on a player the team could actually use, or at the very least another quarterback who faced better competition. I am willing to give the coaching staff the benefit of the doubt, but I also fear what this means for Brock Berlin, who I think should actually get the chance to compete for some playing time this coming season. Meh.
7th Round, 211th Overall: Chris Ogbonnaya, RB, University of Texas
Very nice pick here. The Rams needed to find someone to take some handoffs and take some of the workload from Steven Jackson, and I think they did nicely with Ogbonnaya.
The Good: Very physical, strong runner who is unafraid of contact. Excellent balance, can keep his feet after absorbing a hit. Should provide solid presence at backup for the Rams.
The Bad: Doesn't cut all that well; slows down when changing direction. Needs to take better care of the football, as he carries it out away from his body a bit. Will need work on blocking, as was rarely asked to do so in college. Lacks real production numbers, as he played in a college system that ran largely through Colt McCoy, the Texas quarterback.
The Bottom Line: Not to be flippant, but backup running backs are a fairly fungible commodity in football. Nonetheless, I think the Rams did nicely for themselves here, picking up a guy who should be able to take some carries and give Steven Jackson a rest when needed. Ogbonnaya is more talented than this spot in the draft, but was hurt by low production numbers, caused mostly by the system Texas employed. Good value pick.
Total Draft Grade: B+
As I said earlier, I think the Rams did very, very well for themselves in this draft. The top two picks alone make it a very good draft, I believe, and they did some really nice things after that that could have some real benefits down the road. They probably overdrafted in both the third and fourth rounds, but I like the Fletcher pick, and getting Brooks Foster in the fifth was a steal. The end of the draft had a couple of pretty okay picks, with low impact players taken, but good value in the seventh. They didn't always take the best player available, by any means, but they did an outstanding job of sticking to what they needed.
In the draft, you have to take either pick value or positional value, and the Rams did so with virtually every pick, aside from the pick of Null in the sixth round. They might have been able to do a little better overall, but not much. As good of a draft as I can remember seeing, and in my opinon, one of the three or four best of any team.