Where Smart Picks Go to Die
Today I’ll be writing about two events. The first was a Live Mock Draft hosted by the NFLDraftLounge. OPOC was asked to represent several teams in this draft, but I will focus on the St. Louis Rams (the team I controlled). The other writers will come out with their break-downs very soon (Jaguars and 49ers). The second is a break-down and comparison with the Rams’ actual draft.
I realized very quickly that drafting for the Rams came with a lot of pressure. The Rams are a very young and talented team who seem to be only a few pieces away from making some noise in the NFC. Last year the Rams boasted a strong, but at times vulnerable defense. The offense was great at times, but lacked play-makers outside of the Danny Amendola and Sam Bradford connection.
Evaluating what the Rams’ needs were coming into this draft, the first two were very obvious. The loss of Danny Amendola (signed with the Patriots) and Steven Jackson (signed with the Falcons) created holes at both receiver and running back. The key weakness for the Rams’ defense was their safeties. With Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins the Rams have the start to a very strong secondary. The Rams’ safeties did not play well during the year and 2 of them are not returning for the 2013 season. While the front 7 played extremely well for the Rams last year, they were still in need of a solid linebacker to round out their corp. James Laurinaitis and Jo-Lonn Dunbar combined for 256 tackles, 5 sacks, and 4 INTs. The remaining linebackers on the roster, however, only combined for 8 tackles. Finally, the addition of Jake Long in the off-season solidified the offensive line, but there is still a need for a solid guard.
So at the end of my evaluation, I felt the Rams’ needs broke down in the following order:
1) Wide Receiver – The Rams have invested a lot of money in Sam Bradford and he is running out of weapons. Amendola was his go-to receiver last year and now he’s gone. If Bradford is the franchise then the Rams must provide him weapons.
2) Safety – This really should be 2a and 2b. Safety is a massive hole in the Rams’ lineup. With two safety positions to fill, I felt that this was the second most important need for the Rams.
3) Running Back – See argument for receivers. Even if Bradford will be airing it out this year, every team needs balance. Combined the running backs for the Rams have a little more than 500 yards and 0 TDs between them.
4) Outside Linebacker – An inside linebacker would work here, since the linebacking corp in St. Lois if versatile and can play multiple positions. Adding another stud here would make for a dominant front 7.
5) Guard – Adding a quality guard quickly turns the offensive line from a weakness to a strength heading into the 2013 season.
With these rankings in my hand, I laid out my draft strategy. My big board was created and I thought I knew exactly who I would pick in every round with every pick.
Unfortunately, my strategy only worked for the first pick.
Tavon Austin miraculously fell to me at pick 16. I considered trading up (much like the Rams did in the actual draft) but from watching the conversations pre-draft, I felt like the people picking for the other teams weren’t as high on Austin as I was. I think he is exactly the Rams are looking for. He is an explosive offensive player who is a threat to score every time he touches the football. He can play outside, provide match-up problems in the slot, and can even cause some damage coming out of the backfield.
The second pick did not go according to plan. Alec Ogletree (who we valued high enough to grab, even though it filled the 4th most important need on our board) was off the board already, so we were targeting a safety. Kenny Vaccaro was our first choice at safety, but he went off the board fairly quickly. With pick 21 the Bengals took Matt Elam, the safety we had ranked 2nd. At this point I was stuck with a very difficult decision. Who do I value more? It was between Eddie Lacy (our board’s #1 RB) and Eric Reid (our board’s #3 safety). Without getting into tons of specifics, I felt that there was a bigger difference between Lacy and who we could get in later rounds than there was in Reid and who we could get in later rounds. With our second first round pick, we took Eddie Lacy.
With the two offensive problems addressed, it was time to look for defensive help. While I didn’t think Reid was the correct pick in the first round, I still felt that he was the safety for our team. I also didn’t think he would last 24 more picks for me to get him. With this in mind, I swapped 2nd round picks with the 49ers and gave up my fourth round pick and received another 7th round pick. With the 2nd pick in the 2nd round (34th pick overall) I took Eric Reid, S, LSU.
At this point I feel great about my picks. I have filled three of the biggest needs on the team with players that I feel could come in and make an immediate impact. In the third round I took Jamie Collins, an OLB from Southern Miss who has good size and speed and had 92 tackles (20 for loss) in his senior season. I thought he would be a great fit in this defense.
In the fifth round, there wasn’t a guard I felt worthy of the pick. Instead I drafted another safety, Earl Wolff from N.C. State. I had originally valued Wolff in the 2-4 rounds, so to nab him in the fifth felt like a steal. I finally drafted a guard in the 6th, taking Blaize Foltz from TCU. The 7th round never happened, but I was going after another WR, someone like Jasper Collins from Mount Union.
After it was all said and done, I felt that I had done the Rams organization proud. I got at least 4 players I thought could play immediately and good depth at some positions that needed it.
The Ram’s actual draft went a little differently, but I thought they nailed it on every level. My opinions about Tavon Austin have already been expressed, but to reiterate, I love the pick. And then to trade back and still pick up Alec Ogletree was a mix of luck and genius. Ogletree fits in very well with the St. Louis defense and has the chance to make an immediate impact.
I thought they might pick up Eddie Lacy who had fallen to them in the third, but instead the Rams selected T.J. McDonald, S, USC. McDonald is a hard hitting safety who can be plugged in right away and makes the defense better. With their second pick in the third round, the Rams shocked a lot of people in picking Stedman Bailey, Tavon’s WR teammate from West Virginia. Bradford now has no excuses. Between Austin, Bailey, and the talent they already have at receiver it will be on Bradford’s shoulder if he can’t get them the ball.
In the fourth, the Rams made a pick that I’m higher on than most. I believe Barrett Jones will be a solid NFL lineman for years to come. He also fills the immediate need of a solid inside guard for the Rams. Great pickup. Brandon McGee further solidifies the defensive secondary and brings great speed to the special teams.
With the final pick, St Louis traded every remaining late round pick to move up and get Zac Stacey, RB, Vandy. Stacy can be an explosive player, but I think there were better options in this year’s pool. With that being said, Fisher and company were very high on him and think he’ll make a great addition to their running back by committee.
My grade for the Rams’ draft: A. I think they upgraded at every key position (with the possible exception of RB). I believe this is the year this young Rams team makes a strong push for the playoffs.
Many thanks go to Brian Lamb and his staff for inviting us to the Live Mock Draft. It was a lot of fun and a great experience.