Hindsight: St. Louis Rams Offseason Grade
I had started doing the NFC West piece in traditional fashion, with the intention of doing all four teams at once. However my writeup on the Rams was so long (as long as some of the entire other divisions combined) and contained so many controversial topics, that I felt their offseason analysis deserved it’s own article.
Financial Situation and Free Agency:
With $57M tied up this year in just 5 players (Sam Bradford, Chris Long, James Laurinaitis, Jake Long, Jared Cook) the Rams did not have much flexibility in free agency. There was absolutely no room to trim the fat, as cutting these players would have resulted in a dead money loss of $56M, with similar status for their other significant contracts. Not surprisingly, they were fairly inactive, allowing a few starters to walk (CB Cortland Finnegan, OG’s Chris Williams and Harvey Dahl), while only signing WR Kenny Britt to a 1 year $1.4M “prove it” deal and resigning OT Roger Saffold to a 5 yr $31M deal. Britt is an impressive physical specimen, and looked to be breaking out in 2011 with 14 catches, 271 yards and 3 touchdowns in the first 2 games. However a season ending injury and some character concerns seem to have completely derailed his career. I like this gamble since he is so cheap, but one has to be worried about the possibility that he does not contribute anything, especially considering how little he signed for. A player of his physical caliber should generate more demand than this if there are no real physical issues, regardless of character concerns. A good comparison would be Braylon Edwards, when he left the Jets a few years ago. He had knee issues that have destroyed his career, but was still able to swing a 1 year $3.5M deal from the 49’ers. Regardless, I’m sure Rams execs were not too worried about free agents, as they had a whopping 11 picks in this draft, including two in the top 13.
The #2 Overall Pick:
With their big needs at WR, I was excited for the Rams to potentially take WR Sammy Watkins at #2, one of the best receiver prospects of the last decade. Instead they chose…OL Greg Robinson. I cannot stress the following statement enough: I do not understand this pick in any sense of the concept of building a team. Don’t get me wrong, I think Robinson is going to be a great player and worthy of a top 10 pick…at guard. Do you want the #2 overall pick to be a guard? Ok fine, he has a ton of potential to be a top OT, even LT, in the future. But if that’s where they want him to end up, why have they invested so much money in OT’s Jake Long and Saffold? The Rams have invested enough in Long and Saffold for the next 2+ years that it seems quite likely they will both remain at OT for awhile. Robinson will definitely be a big upgrade over the poor interior lineman the Rams sported last year, but Watkins would have been a MUCH bigger upgrade over the awful receiving corps Bradford and Clemens were throwing to last year. Furthermore, if the Rams knew they wanted Robinson that badly, why resign Saffold? Robinson was a virtual guarantee to be available at #2. The only explanation for this pick is that the Rams had Robinson as BY FAR the #1 prospect on their board, and I think the Zone Reads crew would question that as well, as we all preferred Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan. In general, we all agree that going with the “best player available” on your draft board is never a bad idea. However this pick is one of those few situations where it may be a bad idea, and definitely begs the question of whether the Rams fell head over heels in love with this prospect. In my opinion, this is hands down the worst pick in the draft, and it’s not because I think Robinson will be a bust or even a bad player.
The early to middle rounds:
Moving on, their second first rounder was spent on DT Aaron Donald. Donald has incredible burst off the snap, and will undoubtedly be a good interior pass rusher at the next level. The Rams DL is already stacked, so this seems like a luxury pick. However they probably got sniped by the Giants who took WR Odell Beckham one slot earlier, and Donald was very likely the best player available on their board. This is definitely a solid pick, and the Rams scary pass rush just became even more terrifying. With the 9th pick in the 2nd round, they opted to take CB/S LaMarcus Joyner. Joyner’s size is a definite concern at just 5’8” 184 lbs, but its probably the only concern. His instincts and physicality are impressive, and he should be able to contribute right away in a role similar to Tyrann Mathieu. This is a good replacement for the spot vacated by Cortland Finnegan. In the 3rd round the Rams took RB Tre Mason from Auburn, a strong and shifty runner with good acceleration. Concerns are that he wasn’t used as a receiver and is very poor in pass protection, meaning that whenever he is on the field, the defense will know that the play is very likely to be a run. He is fine value here, but with Zac Stacy showing workhorse potential as a rookie, this seems like another luxury pick. 4th round safety Mo Alexander has great physical tools, and very good blitzing ability. However he does not have much experience playing the position, and as a result it’s tough to project his long term contribution. He’s raw and needs to be coached up, but the potential to be a decent safety is there.
The late rounds:
With seven picks in the final two rounds, the Rams had a lot of flexibility to take some gambles. The highlight of these picks was taking DE Michael Sam in the 7th. He is undoubtedly good value there, as his talent is closer to the 4th or 5th round, but one has to be worried about his desire to do a reality tv show, and then to back out of it after taking some heat; I’m uncertain that he is 100% focused on football. CB EJ Gaines in the 6th seems like a decent pick, but he is unlikely to contribute any time soon. QB Garrett Gilbert in the late 6th is somewhat of a head scratcher, as he does not seem to have any potential beyond a backup. He displays good pocket presence, but arm strength and accuracy are definite question marks. Unfortunately there is no film on the rest of the Rams 7th rounders (OT Mitchell Van Dyk, CB C.B. Bryant, C Demetrius Rhaney) so I cannot comment on those picks.
WHERE ARE THE RECEIVERS??? This was widely accepted as one of the deepest drafts at receiver in quite some time, and the Rams had one of the worst sets of receivers in the league. QB Sam Bradford has already displayed a fear of throwing the ball downfield, so why not give him some help? 11 picks and NOT ONE receiver? The only skills player they used a pick on was RB Tre Mason, and he adds virtually no value to the passing offense. Are the Rams that confident that Kenny Britt will solve all their problems, and Tavon Austin will blossom into a star? I am highly skeptical, as no Rams WR exceeded 40 catches or 600 yards last year, with TE Jared Cook leading all categories with 51 catches 671 yards and 5 touchdowns. The only logical explanation for this draft is that the Rams plan to ground and pound their opponents to death, and pass no more than 20 times per game. Even if that is their plan, does it really stop you from gambling on one or two receivers? The Rams did come away with some solid players in this draft (Robinson, Donald, Joyner) but I expected quite a bit more for a team with 11 picks, two top 13 picks, and the crop that was available at the top and depth of this draft. This is just a terrible job by the Rams front office this offseason, as there are teams that improved more with fewer picks and worse draft slots.
Grade: F- (I would give them a worse grade if I could)