The Rams are in the middle of three straight years with two first-round picks. Thanks, Redskins.
An abundance of early picks (two in the top 25, and three in the top 50) is convenient, because the Rams also have an abundance of early needs. Danny Amendola decided that receiving passes from Tom Brady rather than Sam Bradford is better for his long-term career aspirations, and then Brandon Gibson departed for the latest dreamy team in Miami. That left a thin depth chart at wide receiver led by youth and promise in the form of Chris Givens and Brian Quick.
Even more youth and even more promise will likely be added early, but how early? Tavon Austin has been linked to many teams, but schematically he seems like the best fit for the Rams among the teams we’ve previewed so far, since he’s the most Amendola-like receiver available. But with two picks in the middle of the opening round (16 and 22), plenty of options are available, including the possibility capitalizing on Austin’s allure, and moving back to collect more picks and address more needs.
1. A year ago, the assumption was that if Justin Blackmon made it past the Jaguars, he’d quickly be the newest Rams employee. That didn’t happen, so the Rams traded out of the sixth overall slot. Now with Danny Amendola gone along with Brandon Gibson, we can safely assume that with their first pick in the opening round the Rams will take the best receiver available, right?
The story of Jeff Fisher slamming down his glasses when the Jaguars jumped the Rams at last year’s draft is pretty well known. The Rams ended up with Brian Quick and Chris Givens, two receivers who showed talent, but they still need to find targets for Bradford. They added Jared Cook in free agency, but I think they’ll be looking for another receiver early on. They’ve talked with Quinton Patton, but the most obvious target is Tavon Austin. I don’t think he makes it past 16 if he is available.
2. There are plenty of wide receiver needy teams behind the Rams in the first round, and Austin is becoming an increasingly appealing prospect. If a trading partner presents itself, what are your thoughts on the Rams trading back and accumulating more picks to address other needs in the early rounds, and then waiting on a wideout?
Given that the Rams went from two, to six, to 14 last year, I’d think that it’s a definite possibility that the Rams move down. The draft is deep with players at positions of need for the Rams (interior offensive line, safety, wide receiver), so adding a couple of extra second round picks would be a serious boon for the team. They’ll have to think long and hard if there is a player high on their draft board at 16, but if the chance to add picks presents itself, the Rams would probably take it.
3. With Steven Jackson gone, running back is another possible direction in the early rounds. But Isaiah Pead was a second-round pick a year ago, and Jeff Fisher has hinted strongly that he’ll handle a much heavier load next season. So will a running back be taken as more of a depth play later, or could the Rams be tempted if the right name (Eddie Lacy?) falls early?
I have my own reservations about Lacy, but the fact remains that replacing Steven Jackson won’t be an easy task. The Rams added Pead and Daryl Richardson last year, and both of them will be counted on heavily to drive the run game during the 2013 season. Neither are as complete a back as Jackson was, but they both present interesting possibilities. Pead was impressive in the final game against Seattle, but struggled to adapt to the NFL in his rookie year. Richardson has excellent burst, but lacks the top gear to break off monster runs. The Rams also have Terrance Ganaway (he of Jimmy Johns fame), so they have plenty of young players at the position. I doubt they add a running back early.
4. There’s a much more pressing need at safety. Of the likely names available at No. 22 (Matt Elam, Jonathan Cyprien, or possibly Kenny Vaccaro), who gets targeted with that pick? Or do you think a safety is a higher priority than a wide receiver, and is targeted even earlier?
I think the Rams would be smart to target a safety with the 22nd pick, or even in the second round. There is a lot of depth at safety this year, so they might wait until round two to make a move. Still, I think the best fit at No. 22 is Cyprien, whose hard-hitting style fits the Rams defense pretty well. Assuming the draftniks are right and most, if not all, of the top offensive lineman are off the board at No. 16, I think receiver/safety is the most plausible scenario with the dark horse being a defensive tackle at No. 22.
5. What are the Rams’ other major needs? An outside linebacker should also be a priority, and likely a guard too.
Outside linebacker is a big need for the Rams on the strong side, where they had absolutely nothing last year. They still need offensive line help (Rodger Saffold is scheduled to be a free agent next year and Scott Wells and Harvey Dahl are both veterans with huge salaries who are recovering from injuries). Fringe needs? A defensive tackle to groom behind Kendall Langford, who has struggled in his transition to a 4-3 DT and another cornerback for depth.