Rams owner Stan Kroneke started preparing for this moment several months ago with his hire of head coach Jeff Fisher and general Manager Les Snead. This past weekend in the 2012 NFL Draft, the new regime of Fisher and Snead was aggressive in its approach of building the championship foundation. It actually started on Thursday night in prime time, with the Rams sitting in the No. 6 slot that they had previously secured from the Washington Redskins and waiting for Justin Blackmon, the receiver they had coveted from day one. But Gene Smith, the general manager of the Jacksonville Jaguars, had other thoughts, making a trade with Tampa Bay to jump into the fifth slot and leapfrog the Rams, stealing Blackmon and providing an exceptional playmaker for quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
The Rams, though, proceeded to display Drafting 100 at its best: If your player is gone, work to bail out. Trade back a few slots. Collect more picks. That is precisely what the new regime did.
Luckily, there were several top players who were coveted by several other teams, and finding a trade partner was not an issue. The question for the Rams became: How far did they want to move back? The Dallas Cowboys wanted Morris Claiborne, the top corner in the draft, and made the call. The Rams made the trade and dropped back to the 14th slot, taking defensive tackle Michael Brockers from LSU. A dominant player and explosive run stuffer with lateral movement and the ability to split a double team with tackle for loss production, he will need to develop pass rush skills. However, I feel this young man will develop into a significant force in the NFC West quickly, and his ceiling is high.
Looking back on this trade, were the Rams looking to load up on more picks? Should they have stayed and picked Claiborne with the sixth selection, which would have filled a major need despite the poor Wonderlic score? Should they have perhaps taken the 6-4, 298-pound Fletcher Cox, the most versatile defensive linemen in the draft, to play both defensive end and defensive tackle, and generally hunt like a linebacker?
The fact that Fisher and Snead were aggressive about gathering more picks after accessing the players on the board – and stayed true to their board – is a great sign that the right men are in place at Rams Park for years to come. When asked about the moves and aggressiveness, Fisher said, “We’re not necessarily taking chances. I look at it more from the standpoint that we’re going to be aggressive. This team has lost more games in five years than any team in franchise history. We’re going to put a stop to that. In order to do that, you’ve got to go fill some holes, and you have to be aggressive with that.”
There was only decision during the draft that I really questioned. I have been on that side of the fence and recognize that the flow of the draft has some traps that you cannot avoid or sidestep. Having said that, the trade back from No. 45 to No. 50 smacked of perhaps overanalyzing things a bit too much. As a result, the Rams missed out on an opportunity to beef up their linebacking corps.
I came out of the Senior Bowl really liking several players, though, and the Rams’ second-round pick at No. 50, Cincinnati running back Isaiah Pead, was one of those players whose tape I needed to go home and review immediately. A versatile change-of-pace running back with natural receiving skills, Pead may not be an every-down, running-between-the-tackles type because of his overall size. Still, he adds speed and playmaking ability to an organization fighting to get out of the basement of the NFC West.
The Rams did a great job of filling needs, which was a large list going into the draft. Several of the top needs were prioritized: WR, DT,OL, CB, OLB, DB, PT. They drafted 10 players who have a strong chance to make the 53-man roster, and a few (Brockers, WR Brian Quick, DC/return specialist Janoris Jenkins and PK Greg Zuerlein have the potential to be Blue-platers (playmakers and difference-makers). Red players (starters or heavy contributors) include Pead, DC Trumaine Johnson and WR Chris Givens.
Round Pick Position Player College
(1) 14 DT Michael Brockers LSU
(2) 33 WR Brian Quick Appalachian State
(2) 39 CB Janoris Jenkins North Alabama
(2) 50 RB Isaiah Pead Cincinnati
(3) 65 CB Trumaine Johnson Montana
(4) 96 WR Chris Givens Wake Forest
(5) 150 T Rokevious Watkins South Carolina
(6) 171 K Greg Zuerlein Missouri Western
(7) 209 LB Aaron Brown Hawaii
(7) 252 RB Daryl Richardson Abilene Christian
While the Rams drafted some top-tier players who will become household names rather quickly, several need development. Others carry risk and will need a strong support group or plan in place for off-field success. This was a good draft for a new regime coming together as scouts and coaches in a short time span. The true test, for me, is over time. When I look at grading a draft, I break it down into two sectors: year one and year three. Allowing the teams to develop these players is the key. Will the players grasp what is required to play at the next level and develop into professional football players, performing at a high level and ascending on a consistent basis over time? In 2013, I will revisit and grade this draft for the Rams based on such factors.