The St Louis Rams are done with smokescreens, done with questions about Sam Bradford, done with months of speculation. They made a statement with their first two picks of the 2014 NFL Draft. Loosely translated, that statement reads something like “Come at me, bro.”
Auburn’s freakishly talented Greg Robinson re-anchors the offensive line, and John Randle-sized defensive tackle Aaron Donald adds yet another wave of pass-rush ability to the game’s most complete defensive line. With these picks, the Rams are preparing to win the trench warfare that defines the new NFC West. Both picks are earning acclaim from nationwide pundits, but what do the RamsHerd writers think? Read on.
The Picks – OT Greg Robinson & DT Aaron Donald
Will: My pendulum at the second pick swung back and forth between Robinson and Sammy Watkins, who ended up becoming a Julio-Jones-like trade-up prize for the Buffalo Bills. More on him in a second. But the appeal of Robinson is easy to see — he flat out loves to maul, and has incredible god-given abilities to do so. I liked him as much as I liked Mike Iupati in the 2010 draft. Coming from the meat-grinding SEC should prepare him well for the NFC West trench wars, and for the smashmouth offense that Jeff Fisher prefers.
Tim: Well, my pendulum swung back and forth for Clowney or Robinson. And once Clowney was off the board, minus some blockbuster trade, it was all but a done deal for me. Robinson is an offensive line coach’s dream. Extremely athletic, nimble, and strong hands, I’m certain that Rams and Paul Boudreau will be able to turn this guy into a special player. He’s a redshirt-sophmore. He’s by no means a finished product, but he is already one of the best offensive linemen at the point of attack to come out in some time. He may play guard early, but that didn’t stop Jonathan Ogden or Willie Roaf from becoming Hall of Famers.
Brennan: I had been firmly entrenched in the Robinson camp for some time and I couldn’t be happier that he was the selection at second overall. The success, for better or worse, of this Rams offense will be predicated on running the ball and driving defensive linemen into the dirt, something that St. Louis wasn’t capable of in 2013. Robinson is an absolute road grating mauler and will beef up a unit that needs to have an edge blocking for Zac Stacy.
Will: Aaron Donald I know less about, other than that he has been highly touted but is perhaps undersized for the position at 6-1, 285 and 32″ arms. By comparison, Kendall Langford is 6-6, 313. He doesn’t have to be an every-down player in the rotation that Fisher and Mike Waufle employ, but I wonder if we’ll be as excited for this pick at this time next year.
Brennan: The Aaron Donald pick actually excited me more than the Robinson pick. He made a living at Pittsburgh as a dominant three-technique and as many have said, may actually be the best pass rusher of this group even considering Clowney and Mack. He would have been less effective on another team, but with the sheer amount of talent on the Rams defensive line, he’ll flourish. The best thing about him is his initial quickness and hand usage, something St. Louis needs to apply internal pocket pressure on Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick.
Tim: With Aaron Donald, the Rams want more pass rush out of their interior line. Brockers and Langford do a pretty good job pushing the pocking and collapsing. But, what Donald can bring is an ability to win 1 on 1 v OG. He prevents you from sliding and trying to double Quinn. The Rams are gong to be able to rotate like no other. While we move into the 3rd and 4th quarters these guys are going to be fresh, which is why offensive lines get tired. That is why they went out got Carrington. They want Hayes at End more. I just went to a DL clinic tonight. DLs are moving towards getting this way. Playing waves at a time for no more than 5 plays at a time. Go look at what the Seahawks did last year. Our 2nd wave – Hayes, Langford, Carrington, Sims – are starting quality players.
The Players Not Taken
Will: Passing on Sammy Watkins at two will be an interesting conundrum, especially with another offensive lineman that the Rams “loved” (per Mike Silver) available at pick 13 in Zach Martin. I’m not sure what will become of Watkins in Buffalo, either. Perhaps he has that Larry Fitzgerald effect where he can shine regardless of where he plays, and lead the Bills back to relevance in the passing game. If so, and if Bradford’s growth curve doesn’t skyrocket, that missed opportunity could sting a little.
Brennan: Honestly, I’m of the belief that wide receiver wasn’t as gaping of a need as others. Watkins is an incredible talent, but he needs time to learn the intricacy of an NFL route tree after being more of a freelancer and short pass catcher at Clemson. Plus, I have zero faith in this staff to develop a receiver. I would have liked Khalil Mack, but I’m still smitten with Robinson.
Tim: The only guy I think is in the discussion there would be Khalil Mack. Would have be a dynamic piece with this defensive coordinator
Will: At pick 13, the Rams clearly could have followed up on all their supposed Johnny Manziel love, if that wasn’t a blatant smokescreen. With the way Les Snead and Jeff Fisher re-introduced Sam Bradford, in person, to their season ticket holders on the night before the draft, there was no way they were going with a QB here, particularly not a lightning rod like JFF. I don’t have a problem going with best defensive player available here. However, it’s worth wondering if they got the right defensive player. Could linebackers Ryan Shazier or CJ Mosely, or one of the three safeties that went in the next thirteen picks have been a better investment?
Tim: Maybe a cornerback. Rams brought in the top 5 cornerbacks in pre-draft visits. And no matter how you feel about Janoris Jenkins or Tru Johnson, the Rams still need someone to play in the slot, unless McLeod resumes that role.
Brennan: Again at 13, I think they nailed it. I was surprised that Darqueze Dennard and even Jason Verrett weren’t considered more heavily, but Donald at that point really was the BPA. The one thing that I think will hurt the Rams moving forward is the safety position has been nearly picked clean. 13 would have been a reach for even Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, but having Bucannon, Ward, Pryor and Clinton-Dix gone is painful.
In a Draft Full of Trades, the Phones are Cold
Will: Clearly, Fisher and Snead did what they could to try to build up a market for trading down, particularly with the Manziel smokescreen. However, given that they admitted to smoke-screening on Wednesday, they just as clearly did not find even a hint of a market for him at 2 or 13. Are you surprised or even disappointed that Snead wasn’t able to get a deal done?
Brennan: I’m a little surprised no deal got done at 13. I thought 2 was pretty much a foregone conclusion, but 13 had more wiggle room with “Riverboat Snead.” I’m surprised with Donald there that a team like Dallas or Chicago didn’t try to jump St. Louis, but I’m happy with him even if they didn’t recoup some extra picks.
Targets for Round 2 & 3
The Rams have two picks on day 2, #44 and #75.
Will: I think safety is the most pressing unaddressed need, and the position where the most cream has already been skimmed off the top of the draft class. However, given that there will be 11 teams picking ahead of them in round 2, it may not be easy to stay true to your board to get that safety. The Rams waited on the position last year and landed TJ McDonald, the 6th safety in the class. Four are gone already after just one round in 2014.
Brennan: I agree with Will that safety is the most pressing need, but I don’t see anyone at this spot pending a trade down that isn’t a reach. I think it’s time to look at the cornerback spot with several available here including LaMarcus Joyner, Pierre Desir and Stanley Jean-Baptiste. Joyner is interesting as a sort of Tyrann Mathieu pick. He’s undersized, but could fill St. Louis’ need at nickel corner and flex to free safety in some packages.
Tim: To me you have to get some type of help in the secondary on Day 2. Maybe the Rams are only looking to get one starter in the secondary. Some think the Rams needed to get two. Regardless, I’ve been on the LaMarcus Joyner train. I think he can play either at FS or in the Nickel corner role. Adding that kind of flexibility to the secondary can only help. The Rams lost Finnegan, who was widely praised for his leadership. It’s a young secondary and a guy like Joyner, a guy who’s been a leader in one of the best secondaries over the last two years, would be a great addition. His teammate, Terrance Brooks is another option. That said, with the Rams looking to move up in the first round last night for Zack Martin, I wouldn’t rule out guys like Joel Bitinio, Morgan Moses, or even Billy Turner at 44. There are some receivers still available that could be intriguing. And I’d be curious to see if the Rams pass on Derek Carr if he made it to 44.
Will: I am also very curious to see whether the Rams select a quarterback on day 2. Clearly someone that the Rams have reported interest in (such as Aaron Murray, Logan Thomas or Tajh Boyd) will be there in the 4th round and beyond, but they’ll be there for a reason. If they see someone here with the ability to start in 2015, do they need to take him today? Or are there other positions you’d address first?
Brennan: With the third round pick, I think it’s time to look at a quarterback or nab a safety like Dion Bailey. Quarterback is more interesting because I think several will go in the second, but guys like Carr and Garoppolo may be too expensive. Either the Rams invest a “premium” mid-rounder in the third on a guy like Savage, Mettenberger or McCarron or hold out very late for someone like Thomas, Connor Shaw or Tajh Boyd.