By Jeremy Clements
The Short and Sweet Version
This was a classic example of a Jeff Fisher draft. One that was centered around building a tough defense while also addressing offensive needs. Michael Brockers was the best run-stopping defensive tackle in the draft. That could prove the be one of the smartest moves of the draft, considering that the Rams play in a division that features opposing running backs like Frank Gore and Marshawn Lynch.
Fisher also took calculated risks that could turn into huge rewards in corner backs Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson. They are both solid tacklers who have outstanding ball skills and are good against the run as well. Their skills will vastly improve a Rams secondary that was decimated by injuries last year. The Rams also picked up a few solid weapons for Sam Bradford. Running back Isaiah Pead will provide a great change of pace and also provide flexibility for the offense in third and short situations. Brian Quick has a unique mix of size and speed while Chris Givens has the speed to stretch the field. Quick has the potential to become an elite wide receiver similar to Terrell Owens while Givens should be a very solid No 2. wide out when the season starts.
When the dust settled, the Rams had drafted 10 players. 4 of those 10 have had off the field issues, meaning that Fisher will be heavily criticized if those players don’t develop due to their character. Fisher believes in building a competitive team in the NFC West and he is well on the way to making the Rams a legitimate contender in the division. After making a few solid picks and taking a couple gambles I think Fisher and Co. have earned a solid B+ grade for their first draft.
Pick by Pick Analysis
The St. Louis Rams front office entered the 2012 draft with a few goals, none bigger than getting an elite wide receiver. After watching Jacksonville orchestrate a trade to land the coveted Justin Blackmon, they decided to trade down, pick up and extra pick and pray that they could still land Michael Floyd. That plan didn’t work out either, but instead of panicking Jeff Fisher and Les Snead picked up the best run-stopping defensive tackle in the draft, Michael Brockers.
While he isn’t the “sexy” pick Brockers, will go along way to improving a Rams defensive line that was porous at times. He will work along side free agent signee Kendall Langford on the interior of a line anchored by Robert Quinn and Chris Long. I believe that Brockers has the potential to develop as a solid pass rusher and that the Rams defensive line looks similar to the New York Giants front four from 5 years ago with a few proven entities and tons of potential.
Entering the second day of the draft Fisher and Co had four picks to use. As many expected they selected a wide out at 33, in Brian Quick. He isn’t Justin Blackmon but he is tall, has above average speed and should develop into a solid route runner. It’s true that he is from an FCS school (Appalachian State) so he wasn’t exposed to many of the top secondaries in college football and he has shown trouble adjusting to tough coverage, but I’m willing to give him a chance. Quick’s size, speed and solid hands are similar to those of Terrell Owens, so if he develops as expected, Sam Bradford could be looking at one of the best weapons in the NFL.
I wasn’t shocked to see Fisher take Janoris Jenkins with the 39th pick. The St. Louis secondary was decimated by injuries last year and saying that depth is needed at corner is an understatement. Add to that the fact that Jenkins was first round talent who only slid into the 2nd round due to a few questions about his character. Jenkins was dismissed from Florida for numerous drug violations, but he rebounded after landing at North Alabama in 2011. He exhibited exceptional ball skills at North Alabama and earned Division II second-team All America honors. Simply stated, there is a ton of a potential here but he could turn out to be the second coming of Adam “Pacman” Jones, which means this pick is boom or bust.
Moving further along in the second round, after trading down from 45 to 50 the Rams snagged a solid running back in Isaiah Pead. He’s coming off of back-to-back 1,000+ yard seasons and possesses a great burst out of the backfield. He has great vision and accelerates fast, so he hits the hole hard. He will provide a great change of pace when compared to Steven Jackson and could find himself used quite a bit on 3rd down because he is good at catching passes out of the backfield. All-in-all a very smart and solid pick for that filled another need for the Rams while also giving Bradford another weapon.
Fisher went back to addressing the secondary with the Rams 3rd round pick, selecting cornerback Trumaine Johnson 65th overall. Johnson is another tough corner who plays one of the most physical games at the corner position. He is one of the most polished NFL prospects to come out of the Big Sky Conference in quite some time. He is a big, athletic cover corner who has completely dominated his competition to this point in his career. He has the speed and agility to run stride-for-stride with many NFL receivers but his height makes him a great asset to have in the red zone. Johnson also possesses very good ball skills and is a solid tackler. His bility to tackle shouldn’t be taken lightly either, since the Rams secondary missed a league high 66 tackles last season. With his size, ball skills and pure athleticism the Rams could have landed one of the biggest steals of the draft by landing him with the 65th pick.
The Rams had four more picks on the final day, starting with the selection of wide receiver Chris Givens. I love this pick. Givens has the speed that the Rams lack outside the numbers. He has the ability to cut in and out of routes on a dime, reads coverage well and is excellent at getting behind corner backs in Cover 2 and at making catches at full speed. He gives Sam Bradford a weapon similar to the Eagles Jeremy Maclin and should immediately become the Rams No. 2 receiver.
Fisher finally addressed the lack of protection in place for Bradford by drafting offensive tackle Rokevious Watkins from South Carolina in the 5th round. Watkins will likely play guard in the NFL because he lacks the speed necessary to protect the edge. He does however possess all the skills you want to see in a prospect. He has size and strength and also offers versatility after playing all four positions for South Carolina in 2011. He has a tremendous upside if coached properly and could provide the much needed protection that Sam Bradford needs.
The Rams addressed other needs with the final three picks, including picking up an outside linebacker in Aaron Brown. The Rams entered the draft with only four linebackers on the roster, so this was a major need. Brown had 108 tackles last year, 13 for loss to go along with 4.5 sacks and 3 interceptions. St. Louis hasn’t had a true force at OLB since London Fletcher and I’m not sure that Brown can develop into that. He lacks size but does provide much needed depth.
The most puzzling pick may have been the selection of Missouri Western State’s kicker Greg Zuerlein in the 6th round. Coach Fisher noted his success rate in kicks of 50+ yards last season (9/9) but I personally think this move was made to save cap space. The Rams were able to cut Josh Brown who underperformed last season going 21 for 28 on field goals last season, with five misses inside the 50 and one inside the 40. The move will save the Rams about $3M next season.
The Rams final pick of the draft was used to pick up another running back. I expect Daryl Richardson to end up on the Rams practice squad initially and perhaps compete and end up as the 3rd option behind Jackson and Pead.