Before the NFL Draft began on Thursday night, I shared Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher's outlook that the team probably couldn't fill all of its holes with the eight draft picks that it possessed.
There were simply too many guys from the previous regime that Fisher and GM Les Snead had to release due to age or poor scheme fit. For instance, the Rams only had four linebackers under team control headed into the draft. They had three running backs, but two of those were roster longshots Quinn Porter and Chase Reynolds, a concern for a Fisher team that will likely rely on moving the ball on the ground a lot.
The same old crew of wide receivers was intact from the year before, a group that had yielded unacceptable results in the passing game. There was a gaping hole at left guard and starting defensive tackle, and questions about the durability of both offensive tackles and a couple of cornerbacks.
Were the Rams able to plug all of these holes in the draft with starting caliber players? It would be insane to say so. But they came a lot closer than I thought they could, and, as we shall soon see, by filling at least one "off-the-radar" need, they have given themselves the flexibility to find another veteran free agent or two to compete for a starting spot.
I could try to write up clever transitions and groan-inducing puns to move from pick-to-pick in my analysis, but in the interest of keeping your...well...interest...let's take a look at the Rams' Day 3 selections in capsule format.
Chris Givens - WR Wake Forest
The Rams fourth-round pick is a burner, pure and simple. Givens is a bit shorter than a "prototypical" receiver in the Calvin Johnson mode, but think of him more like a Jeremy Maclin on the outside; blazing speed, good route running, and an ability to get over the top of a defense are all hallmarks of Givens, who, according to Snead, will fill amuch-needed role in the Rams' receiving corps.
“He was a fast player at the Combine. He’s a 4.3 guy on the clock, but I think you better be able to figure out, like I’ve said, if he can play fast. And this guy plays very, very fast," Snead said. "I think that’s just going to give us a dimension. He’ll be one of our fastest receivers on our team, so that’s just going to open up things for…like I said, I know everybody, hey it seems like the room…you’re one player away, you need one wide receiver away, but I think offenses, it’s more than one player. It’s like Jeff said, [RB] Isaiah Pead and what he brings, it’s [RB] Steven [Jackson] and the power, it’s this guy stretching the field, it’s [WR Danny] Amendola doing his thing inside, it’s big [WR] Brian Quick giving [QB Sam Bradford] a big target. So there’s just weapons that spread and keep a defense on its heels.”
Rokevious Watkins - G/T South Carolina
The one thing that analysts kept mentioning about Watkins was that he had a "good body type," the type of guy whose frame can project well at the next level. I'll take their word for it. If nothing else, Watkins started for South Carolina this past season, and went up against some of the premier collegiate defensive talent in the country. He also started at three different positions along the offensive line, and actually played four in all since he saw some time at left guard. That kind of versatility should serve him well if pressed into service as the starting left guard, or as a "jack of all trades" backup.
"The first four games all the way up to the Auburn game I played right tackle, and our left tackle got injured for the season, so I moved to left tackle and started there all the way until the bowl game," Watkins said. "We lost our starting right guard like a week before the bowl and we had a left tackle that came in, pretty much it was a lot more pressure on the inside from the d-tackles on Nebraska, so Coach moved me back in to right guard and I started there for the bowl game. So I played four games at right tackle, like eight at left tackle, and then the last one at right guard…and I also played…yeah, this was this season. Last season I played strictly right guard and for two games I played left guard.”
Greg Zuerlein - K Missouri Western
"Ugh, a kicker! There goes crazy old Fisher, wasting our picks!" Not so fast, Rams fans. Take a look at this youtube video of Zuerlein and then tell me if you still disagree with the pick. Zuerlein went 21 of 23 this past season for the FCS Griffons, including nine of nine from beyond fifty yards. The video will confirm that he has more leg than that, even.
Zuerlein's selection means that Josh Brown's time in St. Louis is over, "This means Josh Brown will be released [today]. He’s already been informed of that," Fisher said. "Josh was a great kicker and is tremendous here in the community and has got deep roots here. I spoke with him immediately after the pick, and he understands.” I'll echo Fisher's sentiments about Brown's work in the community being appreciated, but he did struggle at times last season. Perhaps more importantly, the Rams will save a little over $2 million at the kicker position, which should allow them to bring in a veteran linebacker or offensive lineman to potentially compete for a starting spot.
Aaron Brown - LB Hawaii
Finally, the Rams select a linebacker! Brown is an athletically-gifted prospect, who may have dropped due to off-field concerns (sound familiar?), specifically his alleged involvement in a bar fight last season. It's just more evidence that Snead and Fisher are more concerned with football ability and even a little bit of nastiness than having fifty-three choir boys who are also proficient at macrame on the roster.
“He’s an explosive player. Two-year starter there at Hawaii. He was a [junior college] guy," Fisher said. "Very explosive. He’s a little over six feet, 235 pounds. Runs well, tackles well, tough guy. I mean, real tough guy. That’s the kind of guy that you think has a chance to fill in at a linebacker spot. Worst case scenario where we’re picking, he sounds like a premiere special teams fit.”
Brown was the only linebacker the Rams selected, but Fisher sounds confident that the team can fill any voids at the position in the coming weeks, "Not concerned. We’ve got options. We’ve got options in the pro free agent market as well," Fisher said.
Darryl Richardson - RB Abeline Christian
"What? We needed a punter. Where is the punter!" Given how much the Rams are planning on running the ball, it's important that Fisher have three options that he's comfortable using in the running game. Richardson is (another) small school standout, who brings speed to the table; he ran a 4.45 forty at his pro day, with a low of 4.38. Besides, the Rams signed a punter in rookie free agency (Oregon State's Johnny Hekker).
Let me leave you with these final thoughts. In previous years, the Rams had to focus on "polished" talents, because, quite bluntly, the previous coaching staff proved to be rather inconsistent in terms of developing talent and talent evaluation. Rams fans are used to seeing project after project bust out, or be released only to be snatched up by another team.
Fisher and Snead have shown that they aren't scared of taking later-round guys based off of potential. They've also demonstrated a long-awaited affinity for speed among their later round picks, which should add some more explosive options to the offense and limit my harping on the issue (for a while, at least).
But more importantly, they are confident that they can develop these guys with question marks into legitimate NFL players. Of course, so does every coaching staff in the league, but I think that the things Fisher and Snead have focused on (speed, size, athleticism, and mental intangibles) give this coaching staff better raw materials to work with than the previous regime. And, quite honestly, I do trust Fisher and his veteran coaching staff to bring young players along better than his predecessors.
Was this draft a home run? Probably not. I guess it could be, but that would require at least two of the guys mentioned above becoming above-average NFL starters, and the rest keeping their roster spots for a number of years as backups. Even the best draft class isn't going to hit on every player drafted.
But I do give FIsher and Snead high marks for recognizing needs, and filling those needs based on talent and projectability within the offensive and defensive systems that Fisher wants to establish.
-So that's the draft. I just want to say that it was great being able to cover the draft for this fine website, so thanks to Tim for the opportunity. I'll drop in intermittently as events with the team warrant, and hopefully, I'll be back later this summer when training camp opens on a regular schedule. As always, thanks for reading.
D.J. Gelner covers the Rams for insideSTL, and will be posting three columns per week through the NFL Draft. Follow him on twitter (@djgelner) for the latest Rams updates. Check out his personal blog for updates on the as-yet-untitled novel that he's writing.