The second day of workouts at the 2014 combine is easily the most intriguing for the Rams, and will easily be the most-discussed among Rams fans. As the quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers take the field at Lucas Oil Field, I expect Les Snead, Jeff Fisher and company to be fully attentive.
Let's dive right in.
NEED LEVEL: MEDIUM
The need level here is medium. Right in the middle between high and low, because simply it depends on where you stand on the Sam Bradford conundrum. Bradford has quickly become one of the most polarizing Rams players since the arrival of the franchise to the city of St. Louis. For better or for worse, it seems as though for the moment the organization has gone all-in on the former 1st overall pick.
Bradford is entering year five and is coming off a season ending ACL tear. One thing is certain for the former Heisman Trophy winner and that is it is now or never. This is the most complete team he has been surrounded by since he entered the league. There must be a sign of progress or all parties involved, including Snead, Fisher, and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, should expect a change.
WHO TO WATCH FOR AT THE COMBINE:
The big 3 of this year’s class, Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, and UCF’s Blake Bortles will garner the most media attention. Mostly likely just behind these three and above the rest of the class is Fresno State’s Derek Carr. That leaves Alabama’s A.J. McCarron, LSU’s Zach Mettenberger, Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo and Georgia’s Aaron Murray jostling for position in Day 2 of the draft.
The Rams quarterback situation is very intriguing. Sam Bradford is coming off of ACL surgery. Backup Kellen Clemens played well at points, but is a free agent. It remains to be seen if Clemens performance will be rewarded with a new contract.
Les Snead has said that he will scout all the top quarterbacks so he knows what their value is when it comes to a trade. Smokescreen? Well, maybe. The Rams money man, Kevin Demoff, has been quoted as saying he expects the Rams to target a QB in the middle rounds.
One guy to keep an eye out for is LSU’s Zach Mettenberger. While it is a bit scary to have not one but two quarterbacks coming off of season-ending ACL tears, Mettenberger’s size and arm strength are very good. And recently, news broke that Mettenberger’s recovery rate was coming close to that of Adrian Peterson. He had surgery in early January and is already throwing. Additionally, he was coached up by former Baltimore Ravens OC, Cam Cameron. Cameron describes Mettenberger as having “pin point accuracy under pressure”, who can make every throw and thrives when he can use play-action. That seems to fit exactly what the Rams need from a quarterback.
NEED LEVEL: LOW
The Rams running back unit caused me some unrest entering the 2013 season. It appeared as if the Rams were going to employ a running back by committee given the majority of the carries to whoever would win the job out of camp. The candidates included 50th overall pick in the 2012 draft, Isaiah Pead. 2nd to last pick in the 2012 draft, Daryl Richardson, 5th round pick in 2013, Zac Stacy. Richardson seemed to have won the job out of camp as the Rams searched for a new spread offense identity. But by October it was clear that the new identity and Daryl Richardson were not as successful as the Rams attended.
A change in direction led to the emergence of Zac Stacy, who may have won the Offensive Rookie of The Year had he started the whole season. Adding some punch to the backfield alongside Stacy, undrafted rookie free-agent Bennie Cunningham, who might have been the gem of the 2013 draft had it not been for Stacy.
WHO TO WATCH FOR AT THE COMBINE
The NFL went 50 drafts in a row with a running back being selected in the 1st round. This is until 2013 where the 1st round came and went before the Cincinnati Bengals selected Gio Benard five picks into the 2nd round. As it sits now, a little history repeating seems likely for the 2014 draft. There isn’t really a clear-cut favorite in this class. Additionally, there doesn’t seem to be a 1st round talent among the group.
Auburn’s Tre Mason seems to be a consensus as one of the top backs this year, but a favorite, well that just depends on who you ask. Arizona’s KaDeem Carey and Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde are names that rival Mason’s in different circles.
Often there is a lot made of Jeff Fisher’s draft history and the lack of a 1st round offensive linemen selection. One trend that is not talked about often is Jeff Fisher’s draft history with running backs. A Fisher lead team has drafted a running back in 13 of 18 drafts including 9 out of his last 11 seasons in Tennessee and his first 2 years in St. Louis.
While the top of the rotation now seems to be firm in the grasp of Zac Stacy, the same cannot said about the bottom of the rotation. 25 games into his career, and Isaiah Pead has 17 career carries or what Zac Stacy would call an average Sunday. ( Stacy had 17 or more carries in 8 of his 12 starts last year.)
Own Isaiah Pead in the Rotoworld Dynasty League. *Would* consider a ham sandwich if you mail it in a vacuum-sealed bag.
— Patrick Daugherty (@RotoPat) February 20, 2014
The 2013 season also seemed to be the testing (and subsequent failure of) Daryl Richardson as any kind of featured back. Pead’s draft stock and contribution on special teams may keep him on the Rams roster. Similar fate seems unlikely for Daryl Richardson.
If the Rams were looking for a change of pace back, Tre Mason could be that guy. But if the Rams were to take an approach like the Seahawks and supplement power with power, Carlos Hyde or Boston College’s Andre Williams would sure be a welcome addition to the rotation. Williams was a college workhorse amassing 355 carries in 2013 and gaining 2177 yards. Also, someone to take note of is West Virginia’s Charles Sims. Sims, a transfer from Houston, excelled in just 1 year with the Mountaineers. He finished 2nd on the team with 45 receptions in 2013 and finished his career with an astounding 203 career receptions in his career.
NEED LEVEL: MEDIUM
"A medium!?!? Shields, are you crazy?" Hear me out before you click the “X” at the top of the screen.
Flash back to week 5 of the 2013 season. Jeff Fisher addresses the team in training camp gear. He suggests to the then 1-3 team that this was the start of the season. What it really was, was the Rams reverting back to Fisher’s base philosophy: win games with a strong run game and strong defense. So after 4 games that saw the Rams unable to eclipse 70 rushing yards, a change was made in philosophy and at tailback, and the Rams transitioned in to a new team.
The Rams have chosen 4 receivers in the top 96 picks over the last two years at the position, highlighted by their trade up from 16 to 8 for Tavon Austin. There is youth there. Youth whose development you could argued was hindered a bit when Sam Bradford’s season ended in Week 7.
So the question really remains, do the Rams have enough or feel comfortable enough with the progression of the unit moving forward to win with games like they did at the end of last year: with a strong run game and strong defense?
WHO TO WATCH AT THE COMBINE
Clemson’s Sammy Watkins is almost a sure bet to be the first receiver off the board in 2013. Texas A&M’s lengthy 6’5, Mike Evans, and USC’s Marqise Lee are sure to join him in round 1.
After Lee, there becomes a smorgasbord of talent. There are playmakers in all sorts and sizes. FSU’s Kelvin Benjamin should and does impress with his measurables and flashes of dominance. The SEC single-season record holder for receptions and yards, Vanderbilt’s Jordan Mathews, should be fun to watch at the combine as well. His athleticism and ball skills have gone a bit underrated in this process.
In recent days, Sammy Watkins has drawn multiple comparisons to Julio Jones. While Watkins doesn’t necessarily possess the size and length of a blue-chip, match-up busting top-10 pick, he plays much bigger than his 6’1, 205 lb body. He highpoints the ball and plays through defenders better than anyone in this draft. Another unique ability he possesses is not just his explosiveness, but his ability to get north and south as fast as anyone I’ve seen in a recent draft. I’m talking stopping at the top of a route, ball in hand, taking a drop step up field, splitting countless defenders and then gliding with ease 60-yards for a touchdown. (SEE: 2013 v Georgia or 2012 v Auburn.) There are no wasted steps and his acceleration is just unmatched by anyone in this class.
Now, if the Rams were to look for size, Mike Evans could be a guy they inquire about. The 6’5" wide receiver was Johnny Manziel’s favorite target. If the Rams were to look for that size in day two, Kelvin Benjamin is someone worth noting. Also, keep an eye out for Watkins’ Clemson teammate, Martavis Bryant. Bryant is a one-year wonder who burst on to the scene in his junior year. There is talk that the 6’4, 200 lb receiver could put up some impressive numbers including a sub-4.4 40-yard dash.
The Rams seem likely to add a receiver at some point in the draft. The question is where. That is a discussion that Snead, Fisher, Schottenheimer, and receivers coach, Ray Sherman will have in the coming months.