1. Greg Robinson, OT Auburn
1. Aaron Donald, DT Pittsburgh
2. Lamarcus Joyner, DB Florida State
3. Tre Mason, RB Auburn
4. Mo Alexander, S Utah State
5. E.J. Gaines, CB Missouri
6. Garrett Gilbert, QB SMU
7. Mitchell Van Dyk, OT Portland State
7. Christian Bryant, S Ohio State
7. Michael Sam, DE Missouri
7. Demetrius Rhaney, C Tennessee State
The St. Louis Rams came into the 2014 NFL Draft with some pressing issues but enough ammo to upgrade some areas as well. In using the second batch of picks acquired in the Robert Griffin III trade, the Rams went big in the first round. They did have one pick that left me scratching my head, but overall, I felt like they had a solid approach to this class with some minor concerns as they go forward.
With the second pick in the draft, the Rams went huge with Greg Robinson. Robinson has Orlando Pace type upside but he is still a raw prospect. His athletic ability is off the charts and his movement skills at his size are uncanny. As a redshirt sophomore, he is not surprisingly still learning the position.
His run blocking skills are somewhat hit or miss. There are plays where he was able to collapse the entire side of the opposing defensive line and almost singlehandedly break open a big running play, which was a huge part of Auburn’s ability to get to the National Title game. There are some misses though and plays where he just fails to hit his blocks. That is a consistency issue that should come with time.
Pass blocking on the other hand; that is not a quick fix. Robinson has a lot to learn and it is going to take time to get there. The fact they are projecting him at left guard should help with that, but there is a level of risk involved with this move. Jake Long has become the second coming of Tony Boselli where he went from a great player to one who is almost more injury than man at this point. He blew out his knee last year and it is impossible to bank on him for a 16 game season. Should the worst case scenario happen and Long go down, Robinson may be forced into action at left tackle and suddenly, the injury prone Sam Bradford is a lookout block away from being on injured reserve again with his career in St. Louis perhaps at an end.
If Long can stay healthy for the year, this could be a great situation and Robinson can evolve and become the franchise left tackle they ultimately want him to be, but that initial risk is why Jake Matthews would have made sense for now. Long term, Robinson has the upside to be an all-time great, but the Rams and fans may hold their breath for this season.
With their actual pick, the Rams took Aaron Donald. With Donald, the Rams have four players taken in the first half of the first round on the defensive line and have the potential to make people reminisce about the Fearsome Foursome. Donald is not ideal in terms of his size, but he is phenomenal in terms of his quickness, burst, and technique that allows him to maximize his physical tools.
Donald has been dealing with questions about his size his entire career in college, but this past year, he was the most dominant defensive player in the nation and dominated the Reese’s Senior Bowl as well. Everyone who faced him said he was the best of the bunch. He could not have asked to go to a better situation than St. Louis.
Robert Quinn is as dynamic and potent a pass rusher in the NFL while Chris Long is a powerful, well-rounded threat on the left side. From a pass rushing standpoint, Donald is the third option and may have some relatively easy looks because those ends demand so much attention. Against the run, Donald will be flanked by Michael Brockers who the Rams hope will come into his prime this season. Brockers has the size and strength to be terrific in the middle. On top of that, the Rams have some quality depth to come in and rotate behind Donald. The potential is there for the Rams to have the best front four in the NFL if Brockers can become the man they drafted him to be and Donald comes in and plays well.
In the second round, the Rams took Lamarcus Joyner. The early indication is that Joyner, who played safety and corner during his time at Florida State, would look to be the Rams’ nickel. Joyner is really undersized, prompting some to compare him to Tyrann Mathieu. Joyner was a solid player for the Seminoles and was a leader and a hard worker there, but he was not even the best safety on the Seminoles.
As a result, I find this pick to be a substantial reach. Personally, I think Joyner should have gone in the round 4 range. Nickel is viewed by many as a starting position in defenses, which is fine, but taking one with the size limitations of Joyner is curious to say the least. The Rams would have a ‘big nickel’ package with Joyner on the field as he is a former safety but he is going to have to prove he can bring down bigger backs which litter the NFC West division. The Seahawks have a batch of big backs while the 49ers took Carlos Hyde to strengthen a group that still includes Frank Gore and could include Marcus Lattimore.
Joyner is best suited to counter… the Rams, who have a smaller group of backs. It could certainly work as Joyner has proved time and time again that he can beat the odds, but I think there were substantially better options there for the Rams, whether they wanted a nickel or anything else.
The Rams took another Auburn Tiger with Tre Mason to go with his left tackle, Greg Robinson. Mason was one of the best pure runners in the NFL Draft and he got better and better as the season wore on and suddenly he was in the Heisman Trophy conversation.
I am baffled by the conversation that the Mason pick was a bad one because of the presence of Zac Stacy. The Rams like Zac Stacy; they should like Zac Stacy. Mason gives them another talented running threat. Give them both carries and let them both run. If one gets hurt, they have another in the fold. When the end of the Steven Jackson era was clear for the Rams, their running game slowed to a crawl. The fact they have one talented runner should not preclude the Rams or anyone from adding another talented runner at a perfectly solid value.
The Rams took Mo Alexander in the fourth round from Utah State. This pick is interesting because it is unclear where he may end up with the Rams in terms of his position. He was a strong safety for the Aggies, but he was at his best in the box who is a converted linebacker. While he could be purely depth behind T.J. McDonald, but he may operate as depth and potentially be a nickel linebacker as well.
The Rams like their linebacking corp but for a team that loves to put a ton of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, having quick twitch coverage players that could make plays on the football could be a huge asset for them. Alexander’s primary job may purely be developing to play the safety position but if they like what he brings to the table, they can put a ton of defensive backs on the field at once that are not afraid to tackle. Joyner is a little tougher than the average nickel and Alexander is a little more athletic than some coverage linebackers, so they could have a nice mix of speed and toughness theoretically in obvious passing situations.
The Rams took E.J. Gaines in the fifth round right down the road at the University of Missouri. Gaines does not bring eye-popping measurables, but his attitude and leadership were fantastic for that team. He has also shown he can play both man and zone coverage (though I like him better in zone) and he can play both corner and potentially move inside to safety.
Gaines has good hands and has found a knack for slipping into underneath zones and having the range to intercept passes in that area. The Tigers have had so many stars the past two seasons from the front seven that Gaines went somewhat overlooked. To me, Gaines is the type of player that is easy to root for and makes people believe in what he can bring. I am not sure he will not be more valuable to the Rams than Joyner will be, though both have the same type of mentality.
In the sixth round, the Rams took a quarterback in Garrett Gilbert from SMU. Most people know Gilbert from his struggles as a 5-star recruit at Texas that never really panned out and while he was effective in rebounding at SMU, he is still raw. From a tools standpoint, Gilbert is impressive and had a great pro day that got him some added attention.
Gilbert would be coming in as a potential third string quarterback and developmental prospect. He has the tools to be a big time quarterback in the NFL, which is why he was so highly recruited coming out of college, but there is a lot of work to do there and it will take time. It is not out of the question he could end up on the practice squad.
The Rams had four picks in the seventh round and took two developmental offensive line in Mitchell Van Dyk and Demtrius Rhaney from smaller schools, but then took two bigger names as well. First, they took another undersized safety in Christian Bryant from Ohio State.
Bryant was the best safety on the Buckeyes but a broken ankle ended his season early, bringing head coach Urban Meyer to tears. Meyer had that much respect and the loss of Bryant was significant over the course of the season, because he set the defensive backs. Time and time again, there were issues with presnap alignment and mental issues that he would have cleared up in addition to the fact he could help make plays in coverage and had the ability to hit.
This is a no risk move for the Rams and Bryant may never do anything for them, but if he can get healthy, he can be a solid pick up for them. He is not someone who is likely to start in his career, but a welcome addition to the locker room and a talented role player.
The Rams then took the second of their second duos of player from the same school by taking Michael Sam. Sam was extremely productive as a pass rusher for Missouri and was a great fit there. His measurables are not good and are actually mediocre, but he has shown the ability to get pressure on the quarterback. It will not be easy for Sam to make that roster, which has so much depth at the defensive end spot, but if he can do it, he certainly earned it and could help them.
I like their approach to addressing both lines and giving them a terrific front seven and perhaps the best defensive line in the NFL. Personally, I probably would have hit the offensive line more, but Robinson’s upside is ridiculous. The Joyner pick is an extremely odd one to me and one I did not like, but they rallied with a number of smart, hard working role players. The Rams could get a substantial amount of impact in this draft and little of it may be as starters. A lot of what they did was adding sub package players that could have specific roles in mind and just need to master those. The Rams have some substantial questions that will be answered this year including at quarterback, wide receiver and if they still need more offensive line help, but that defense could be fantastic and getting enough production out of the offense and just staying healthy could make them a dark horse playoff contender.