The St. Louis Rams came into the 2013 NFL Draft looking for an identity on offense as well as plugging holes on a defense that started to come together last year. Under general manager Les Snead and head coach Jeff Fisher, the defense has a nice set of corners and a terrific set of defensive ends that work fantastic in third down situations along with a developing set of defensive tackles with James Laurinaitis running the show in the middle of the defense. Offensively, it was still unclear what they really wanted to do but Sam Bradford’s career comes into this season starting to circle the drain. It has certainly not been all his fault, but it has been a disaster thus far and the Rams needed to make a big investment to help make him the quarterback that he was drafted to be and the quarterback that they stood behind when they could have taken Robert Griffin III, who was staring them in the face. Overall, the Rams took a lot of risks in this draft that could pay off in a huge way and get them into the playoff picture immediately but has the potential to blow up in the organization’s face.
The Rams made the second big trade of the first round when they moved into the top ten in a deal with the Buffalo Bills. The move up cost the Rams their second round pick, swapping third round picks and their seventh round pick. They made the move to grab Tavon Austin, wide receiver from West Virginia, who was believed to be a target for the New York Jets at nine. Wide receiver almost deserves to be in quotes because Austin really deserves the title of athlete. Everything suggests he will see time in the slot, half back, returning kicks, and anywhere else they feel they can get the ball to him in space. Austin represents one of the biggest wildcards in the NFL as well as one of the biggest risks. The NFL has not seen this type of offensive weapon since Reggie Bush was selected second overall in the 2005 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints. When he was drafted, it seemed like the only thing that could contain him was the imagination of Sean Payton, the head coach of the Saints. It did not quite work out that way and that is the risk with Austin.
Austin is 5’8” 174lbs, which is incredibly small in a league full of 300lbers that can move. Austin brings a combination of incredible speed and agility. He has sprinters speed in a straight line but his lateral agility and his ability to stop and start as well as change directions quickly might be even better. He is a nightmare in the open field and always a threat to score whether the ball is handed to him or thrown down the field. While he never really been injured and not missed a practice going back to middle school, his touches will have to be monitored. Short of literally being indestructible, he will get beat up in the NFL and if not monitored, he will get hurt seriously. The problem with a player like Austin is if he is hampered by an injury that slows him down even a little bit, it sets him up to be crushed by NFL defenses, so he needs to stay at or near full health to avoid seriously being injured. As a result, it is difficult to imagine a scenario where he is getting more than 15-20 touches in a game, if that many.
Austin has the ability to open everything up for the Rams’ offense as teams will have to put a significant amount of attention and effort into trying to find a way to stop him, which could create opportunities for the rest of their offensive playmakers. In other words, even when he does not get the ball, he should be making an impact on the defense, which could help his teammates make plays, especially Bradford. Even though he will be a slot receiver, he really could set up a lot of opportunities for players on the outside and change the meaning of a #1 receiver in their offense if everything goes according to plan.
After trading up for Austin, the Rams recouped some assets by trading back with the Atlanta Falcons picking up a third round and sixth round pick while sending their seventh round pick for 2015 to the Rams. After the move down, the Rams selected Alec Ogletree, inside linebacker from Georgia. Ogletree will make the move to the weak side linebacker spot in the Rams system to play next to Laurinaitis, potentially giving them a dynamic duo. This is a far more natural position for Ogletree and is a much better fit for what he does. Ogletree has a ton of talent but has had issues off the field which followed him into the draft process with a DUI arrest. This is not his first transgression but Jeff Fisher has not been afraid to bet on players with character questions, so this is not a surprise here.
Ogletree is an athletic linebacker with good range and the ability to make impact tackles and contribute in coverage, but he is miserable when it comes to taking on blocks and has shown a tendency to freelance from his assignments at times, which can work out but have also resulted in giving up big plays. Ogletree is a former safety turned linebacker, so he is still growing and learning at the position, so the potential is quite high if he can keep his nose clean off the field.
The combination of Laurinaitis and Ogletree could be a potent one that goes from the middle and weak side backers to being their two nickel linebackers as well, giving them a group who can be effective in helping in coverage with a good amount of range and athleticism to make plays all over the field. Considering the weapons that the rest of their division has, this is a good investment in terms of what it enables them to do with their scheme, but it all depends on Ogletree staying on the field.
With their third round pick that was swapped in the Austin deal, the Rams selected safety T.J. McDonald from USC. Pegged by many as a pure strong safety, the Rams may try to have him play as a free safety and may need him to start immediately. McDonald can play in the box and be effective but he has shown the ability to play deep center field and his speed and instincts to cover a great deal of ground. He is a guy who looks to intimidate his opponents as a hitter, sometimes to the detriment of his team as he will occasionally miss, but he has the size and strength to match up with tight ends as well as play for jump balls down the field. Ultimately, McDonald has the skills to play either free or strong, but being focused on one will allow him to be molded more to that position.
There were some who got a little bit down on McDonald this year when in reality, he set the bar high as a sophomore and played well each of the following seasons. He just never went from good to superstar and it seemed like some people got bored with him and his stock suffered for many as a result; this pick could appear to them as a reach. This is probably about where he should have gone and while being a starter right off the bat may not be ideal, he has a substantial amount of experience at USC which could help him make the adjustment to the NFL.
The other thing that could help McDonald is the talent the Rams have at corner with Janoris Jenkins and Cortland Finnegan on the outside, which proved to be a great tandem last year and could build open that this year. If they continue to play at a high level, it makes McDonald’s life much easier as he will be able to focus on the middle of the field and make more plays of opportunity rather than necessity. It will be interesting to see how this plays out with the safety position for the Rams, but McDonald has a lot of talent and if the Rams can find a way to tap into all of it, he could be a tremendous player.
With the third round pick they acquired from the Falcons, they went back to Morgantown and picked up Austin’s partner in crime, Stedman Bailey. Comparatively, Bailey represented the steady option and the tight end role for their quarterback, Geno Smith, as his safety blanket and best friend in tight spots. When West Virginia needed a play, it was often Bailey that got the look from Smith. It takes the talent and athleticism of an Austin to make Bailey look like a possession receiver, because Bailey was a big play threat in his own right, who was a guy who made plays after the catch and in the red zone, despite his size.
The best quality that Bailey brings to the table is his route running and even against the top competition like going against Morris Claiborne last year, Bailey was able to create separation and get open to make plays. He has great feet, is efficient with his movements, and is disciplined with his route running, making it easy for him to get open against virtually anyone. And although he is short, he has remarkably long arms that allow him to catch passes over the shoulder and play like a bigger receiver in tight spots like the red zone. Going in the late third round is more a testament to the talent and depth of this draft both overall and at the position as Bailey warranted a pick much higher.
In the fourth round, the Rams looked to add help to the offensive line in the form of Barrett Jones from Alabama. He brings versatility as he can play any of the three interior line positions but would have a better chance of getting onto the field faster if he were to compete for a spot at guard. Physically, little of what Jones brings to the table is going to be overly impressive but he is smart, technical, and ultimately effective. He has that same type of quality that Jeff Saturday had in that by all logic, he should not be all that great, but his understanding of the position and pure will enables him to succeed.
Jones played much of last season injured and battled through it to help the Tide to win a National Championship and has contributed at three different positions in Tuscaloosa. In a pinch, he could play right tackle, but that would not be ideal. If he competes for a guard spot, he is going up against Shelley Smith or Harvey Dahl and at center, he would be competing against Scott Wells. It is unclear if he can win the job, but he is a guy who simply cannot be counted out and an offensive line coach is going to just love his awareness, toughness and grit. If he can get and stay healthy first and then continue adding strength, he could be a long term starter, but he is a guy who will is valuable in terms of depth because of his versatility.
With the first of their two picks in the fifth round, the Rams selected Brandon McGee, corner from Miami(FL). Largely, McGee is a height, weight, speed prospect with potential to develop behind the quality starters the Rams already have at that position. At 5’11” 193lbs and having a 4.4 40 to his credit, there is a lot of potential there, but McGee needs substantial work on his technique as he is good in certain areas such as his foot quickness and his ability to flip and run with receivers, his backpedal needs work and he needs to be far more consistent.
In the Rams defense, McGee is more of a long term potential player but could be a factor in nickel and dime packages as a rookie as his only real competition to play there is Trumaine Johnson, a safety who was shifted to corner. It remains to be seen who will win the spot, but both could end up seeing time especially in dime and play physical football in the slot with length and the ability to make plays on the football.
The Rams cashed in both of their sixth round picks to get back into the fifth round and with their last pick of the draft, selected Zac Stacy, running back from Vanderbilt. Stacy adds to their running back rotation which is made up of Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead, and Terrance Ganaway going into this pick. Richardson had a nice year as a rookie in the seventh round while Pead was a huge disappointment, which Pead will be looking to bounce back. Ganaway was a big back that was brought in as an undrafted free agent.
Stacy is a powerhouse at 5’9” 215lbs with tremendous short area quickness. The issue with Stacy is that he has all of this physical ability but he does not use the technique necessary to take advantage. For instance, in situations that would call for him to take advantage of his natural leverage and get behind his pads going into contact, he will run too tall and not get any of the benefit, which makes him play far weaker than his natural strength would indicate he should. He does not offer a ton in terms of speed but he is impressive when it comes to quickness and making opponents miss. If he can put it all together in terms of his technique and taking advantage of his power, he could be an absolute steal along with Richardson and if Pead can be the player he was drafted to be. The physical talent is there; he just needs to be coached into the right habits.
My Thoughts: The Rams drafted was one of the riskier drafts this year as it has the potential to make the Rams a playoff contender now but it could end in absolute disaster as well. Rather than trying to go with a slow build and acquisition of talent, Snead and Fisher opted to go big and try to make a big leap this year. It is a little surprising they did not do more to help the offensive line, but it could work out if the offense goes the way the talent suggests it could.
The addition of Bailey with Austin could result in a wholesale change in the offense of the Rams. In addition to those two players who really operate well in space with speed and agility, the Rams also have second year receiver Chris Givens, who was a third round pick last year and had a good rookie campaign. Givens is another guy with a ton of speed and someone who could operate in space and make plays in the slot. Put all these together and the Rams could feature an offense of these smaller, athletic and speedy receivers with a combination of the three on the field at the same time in a spread offense more akin to the ones Bradford ran at Oklahoma.
If Brian Quick can become the player they drafted him to be this year, they could use those four receivers, spread the field, and just let Bradford find athletes in space. Quick was drafted as a project last year, who needed a year to really get accustomed to the NFL after being drafted out of Appalachian State. If all goes according to plan, the Rams would have two talented second year receivers and two rookie receivers with a lot of speed and ability to make plays in space. Their running backs are smaller, faster and more agile with the exception of Ganaway, but he played in a spread offense at Baylor.
The last part of this equation is the tight end position which features newly signed free agent Jared Cook, who is no stranger to playing in a joker role in the slot. He can play inline but he is more comfortable in space with his speed and athleticism. Lance Kendricks is also undersized and better equipped to play in the slot. In all, everyone in the Rams offense seems to be able to transition to a spread type offense easily if not better than more traditional NFL offenses. It remains to be seen if they actually go this route, but it would make a ton of sense if they did and put significant stress on the nickel and dime defenses in their divisions and possibly take some effective talent off the field, giving them advantages.
The Rams project as the third place team in the division behind the 49ers and Seahawks but a radical change in offense that could be extremely effective with their talent could ultimately put them in the mix to make the playoffs. It is also worth noting that the defense of the Rams is more equipped to play with a lead and get after the passer than they are when it come stopping the run, which would be another benefit to this move.
The pick of Austin is incredibly risky, because it is going to be difficult for Austin to live up to the pick no matter what he does. If everything goes exactly as they hope and he is a dynamic threat along the lines of a smaller Percy Harvin, the amount of production he brings may never warrant a top ten pick. At the end of the day, he is going to be a slot receiver, part time scat back and returner. Getting over 1,000 yards of total offense with half a dozen touchdowns with a lot of highlight plays on Sportscenter and everything else is not going to be enough production for the pick. He is going to have to get somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,200 to 1,500 yards and over 10 touchdowns per season to warrant the pick, which is not easy for anyone, but especially difficult for a guy who will have his touches monitored. And that is if everything goes well. If he struggles or gets hurt, then it is an awful situation because of that much like Reggie Bush was with the Saints. He was never a bad player but certainly never warranted the second pick in the draft.
With Ogletree, the Rams are taking another risk, this time on character. Ogletree has an arrest due to theft, a suspension due to marijuana, and the DUI now. For Fisher’s sake, the hope is this is not another Pacman Jones situation where the talent was great on the field, but he could not keep it together off the field. The combination of Laurinaitis and Ogletree has the potential to be fantastic in a division full of great linebacker groups, but Ogletree is going to have to grow up and mature for any of that to happen and it remains to be seen if he can do it. The Rams bet on character last year with Janoris Jenkins and so far, it has worked out great, but it is concerning to collect a group of these guys and put them in the same locker room as they not only have the risk of falling into bad habits, but having multiple players go down at the same time which could destroy a team from the inside.
I am intrigued by the pick of McDonald and how they want to use him in their defense. He had some flaws but a lot of talent and experience and it seemed like he was dinged by some for just being a good football player. There is nothing wrong with adding a good player to the roster and the Rams needed safety help badly, so it appears as though he will have the opportunity to contribute immediately. He is a hybrid type safety who plays with a lot of physicality and with the corners they have, it could allow him a lot of opportunities to make big plays and big hits in the box.
The pick of Barrett Jones makes a lot of sense given his versatility and his incredible will to overcome and win despite injuries or a terribly impressive physical skill set. He could ultimately start but he is a valuable addition due to his versatility as depth and what he brings to the locker room. I am surprised the Rams did not do more to help the offensive line as they signed Jake Long to play left tackle, which is good… when he is healthy. Long has been a tremendous player during his career but he is breaking down similarly to the way Tony Boselli did in Jacksonville. He was a fantastic football player but injury after injury took their toll and wore him down, which might be happening to Long. His physical seemed to take days with all of the issues he had to have checked out before signing the contract. If healthy, the Rams have a decent set of tackles, but if Long goes down, the Rams are in a world of hurt. Their tackles are solid if healthy but the interior of the line is still iffy.
The one caveat to this is if the Rams employ a spread type offense that gets the ball out of Bradford’s hands quickly, it could work to significantly reduce the workload of the offensive line and make it so they do not need to protect for long. They will still need to run block but the larger concern is keeping Bradford up right.
I like the pick of Stacy especially with the rotation they already have and thin they could find a good group there, especially if Pead’s renewed focus on football pays off and he plays like he was expected to when he was picked in the second round. All of these players would work well in a spread out offense but can also contribute with the offense focused on the middle of the field.
McGee was not the first corner basically picked on workouts and certainly will not be the last. The Rams picking him makes more sense than a lot of teams because they have a good situation at corner on the outside and can bring McGee along more slowly. It could work out to give them a good play as a slot corner with the potential to do more down the road.
Overall, the moves of Snead and Fisher have the potential to pay off in a big way and make them a contender, but could definitely blow up in their face as well. They have added a ton of talent, versatility, and volatility to this team that could cause opponents nightmares but could just as easily end up with everyone fired and blowing the team up. Jeff Fisher is putting a significant amount of pressure on himself to not only keep the inmates under control but getting them to produce at a high level. To his credit, he has been able to do it in the past at various times, so it could be a big gamble. I still have huge reservations with the offensive line and the other safety position, but the Rams might have cobbled themselves a talented roster if they can keep everything together and get them all heading the same direction. The potential for Bradford to work as the point man and just let Austin, Givens, Bailey, Cook, Quick, and Kendricks may plays all over the field could be fun to watch if it all works and it will be incredible difficult for defenses to deal with those matchups. The Rams could be in position next year to really put the finishing touches on one of the more unique teams in the NFL if this works out.
Tags: 2013 Nfl Draft Alabama Crimson Tide Football Alec Ogletree Barrett Jones Brandon McGee Georgia Bulldogs Football Miami Hurricanes Football St. Louis Rams Stedman Bailey T.J. McDonald Tavon Austin USC Trojans Football Vanderbilt Commodores Football West Virginia Mountaineers Football Zac Stacy