For most of the last decade, the St. Louis Rams wasted away their drafts on disappointing players such as offensive tackle Alex Barron, linebacker Robert Thomas, and defensive linemen Jimmy Kennedy and Adam Carriker. However, the new management in Rams Park has proven over the past two years that the draft day is now a reason for fans to celebrate instead of shaking their heads. Now the Rams are on the upswing and looking to make the jump into the playoffs in 2011. With future playoff hopes on the minds of Rams’ fans everywhere, what should General Manager Billy Devaney be focusing on for next week’s NFL Draft? Here are three thoughts on what to expect from the Rams on draft weekend:
The First Round
The Rams pick 14th in the first round of the draft, and the thought is that they would take Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones if he were to drop to the Rams’ slot. However, Jones isn’t expected to be there any longer at the 14th pick, so the question is: what do the Rams do with their pick? They’ll likely hold still and address the defensive line.
The key to the Rams’ defense in 2010 was the play of the defensive line. Defensive ends James Hall and Chris Long kept pressure on opposing quarterbacks, while veteran Fred Robbins worked to plug holes on the interior line. The defensive line allowed both the linebacking corps and the secondary more flexibility to move around and make plays. The problem here is that both Hall and Robbins are getting up in years, and if the Rams’ defensive line is going to continue to dictate the game to opposing offensive lines, new blood is needed.
Don’t expect the Rams to trade up for Jones. There is a definitive need for the Rams to take a playmaker like Jones, but they likely aren’t willing to give away draft picks they need to fill other holes in order to get him. If Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget is available, the Rams will likely take him. Another option is Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers, but if Liuget is there, the Rams will take him.
James Laurinaitis has filled the void at middle linebacker in impressive fashion during his first two seasons, and he will be the Rams’ defensive captain for the next decade. However, Laurinaitis needs some help at outside linebacker. David Vobora, Larry Grant, and Chris Chamberlain are not the playmakers the Rams need at outside linebacker, and fans should expect them to take one early in their draft.
Washington’s Mason Foster will likely be available when the Rams pick in the second round. A prototypical outside linebacker, Foster reads plays well and moves to the ball quickly. He’ll likely become a leading tackler on whichever team drafts him.
Another possibility at outside linebacker is Akeem Ayers. The former UCLA Bruin is one of those rare gems that can do it all on the field at his position, but he is expected to be drafted late in the first round after a somewhat subpar combine performance. If he does drop into the late first round or even into the early second round, the Rams may make a move for him. However, the safer bet is probably Foster.
Other Draft Needs
With the departure of O.J. Atogwe to the Redskins, the Rams have a large hole to fill at safety. The Rams will probably attempt to fill this void in the middle rounds of the draft, although exactly where depends on what they do at running back.
Steven Jackson has been one of the best running backs in the league since the Rams drafted him, but he has also taken a beating. The Rams need a solid backup to give Jackson a breather and help keep him healthy. Kenneth Darby is not the answer for the Rams, and neither are any of the other backups on the team.
The Rams also need help at receiver, but may address it in free agency if they don’t land Jones. Elsewhere on the offensive line, they have both tackle positions and center set for the future, but they need to upgrade at both left and right guard.
Hopefully, the Rams put together another solid draft class this year. If they do, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if they win the NFC West in 2011.