With a little over 24 hours until the NFL Draft, the St. Louis Rams front office isn’t giving much away about their draft day plans. Aside from admitting a few areas of interest, General Manager Les Snead and head coach Jeff Fisher were coy during their pre-draft press conference. The duo could head into Thursday evening with a plan similar to that of last year, as the team has many of the same needs. Or they could take the “best available” approach, taking whoever may be the highest on their board at the time. Of course, there is nothing stopping them from trading up or down either. You’re guess as to what they will do is as good as mine and anyone who claims to know with 100% certainty what will happen needs their head examined.
Before I make my suggestions I want to revisit and rank the needs the franchise has going into the draft.
1. Wide Receiver – After losing both Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson during free agency the Rams must pick up at least one wide out to pair with Chris Givens. The acquisition of Jared Cook earlier this year helps, but St. Louis needs to put more weapons around Sam Bradford.
2. Safety – This need rivals wide receiver as the teams biggest. The Rams currently have only two safeties on their roster. Both starters from last year are gone. Craig Dahl signed with San Francisco during free agency and Quintin Mikell was a cap casualty. The Rams MUST get a safety in this draft.
3. Linebacker – James Laurinaitis is a stud and Jo-Lonn Dunbar is a quality starter on the outside but the Rams could use someone on the inside. Having an additional linebacker on the roster would provide depth and flexibility on the defensive side of the ball.
4. Offensive Guard – With the acquisition of Jake Long and the shift of Rodger Saffold to the right side, the Rams have solid bookends on their line. Scott Wells, if healthy, is a pro bowl center. The only thing missing from the St. Louis offensive front is a quality guard on the left side.
5. Running Back – The franchise’s all-time leading rusher, Steven Jackson has moved on to Atlanta leaving second year backs Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead to carry the load. Richardson showed that he can be a serviceable back before tiring out towards the end of the year. Pead is a question mark. He was expected to be the backup last season but lost that job to Richardson. The uncertainty behind Richardson is reason enough for St. Louis to consider drafting a running back.
The Rams have three picks in the first two rounds and a total of eight selections to address those needs. Here are five scenarios I think make sense for St. Louis.
Scenario 1: Mami Dolphins select WVU WR Tavon Austin at 12 and the New York Jets take Texas SS Kenny Vaccaro at 13.
The Dolphins signed Mike Wallace earlier this year but Miami could be in the market for a wide receiver since Davone Bess is going into the final year of his contract. The Jets, meanwhile, just sent Darrelle Revis to Tampa Bay putting them in the market for secondary help. If this scenario plays out, the Rams might take UGA LB Alec Ogletree or Alabama OG Chance Warmack at 16 and then select Tennessee WR Justin Hunter, his teammate Cordarrelle Patterson or Clemson WR DeAndre Hopkins at 22. I think Miami has more pressing needs than wide out and so I think that this scenario isn’t that likely to play out.
Scenario 2: The New York Jets draft WR Tavon Austin at 13; Carolina selects SS Kenny Vaccaro at 14.
I think this is a far more likely scenario. The Jets need a lot of things, including wide receiver and Austin would help their offense immensely. The Panthers meanwhile allowed opponents to complete 47.2 percent of their passes of more than 20 yards downfield last season, the worst mark in the NFL. Carolina needs help at safety. Again, if this plays out I think the Rams take UGA LB Alec Ogletree or Alabama OG Chance Warmack at 16 and either Tennessee WR Justin Hunter, his teammate Cordarrelle Patterson or Clemson WR DeAndre Hopkins at 22. I think this scenario would be dictated by the Rams board and my gut tells me they go LB or SS at 16.
Scenario 3: The New York Jets select WR Tavon Austin at 9, Miami Dolphins take WR Justin Hunter at 12, Panthers select Hopkins at 14.
If you see a run on receivers in the 1st round it makes it more likely teams might reach for the best available. If this scenario plays out, I think the Rams would consider taking the other Tennessee WR Cordarrelle Patterson but would ultimately take SS Kenny Vaccaro with the 16th pick. The 22nd pick then becomes very intriguing for St. Louis. If the run on wide outs continues, the Rams could select Cal’s Kennan Allen here. If the run ends I think the Rams might hold off on a wide receiver and target either Alabama OG Chance Warmack, North Carolina OG Jonathan Cooper or UGA LB Alec Olgetree. I don’t think you’ll see a run on receivers like this so early in the draft, however it is something to consider.
Scenario 4: Carolina Panthers select SS Kenny Vaccaro at 14, Tavon Austin is still on the board at 16.
This is a no-brainer. If Tavon Austin falls to 16 the Rams take him without thinking twice. He’s the top wide out in the draft and they need to put more weapons around Bradford. After taking Austin, the Rams address a different need with their 22nd pick, taking either LSU FS Eric Reid, FIU SS Jonathan Cyprien or FLA SS Matt Elam at 22. I think there is a very good chance this scenario plays out.
Scenario 5: Jets select Tavon Austin at 13, Carolina selects MO DT Sheldon Richardson 14th, SS Kenny Vaccaro still available.
As highlighted above, it’s safety first on defense for St.Louis. If their top wide out isn’t available and Vaccaro is I think they take him 16th. After upgrading their secondary the front office targets an offensive upgrade with the 22nd pick, specifically a wide receiver like Tennessee’s Justin Hunter, his teammate Cordarrelle Patterson or Clemson’ DeAndre Hopkins. M This is also a very possible scenario for the Rams come draft day as both of those selections would fill needs.
To summarize, the Rams have several options to consider depending on what happens in front of them. I think they likely target a wide receiver and a safety in the first round. If they feel they can wait to take a wide out in the 2nd round they might go after a linebacker or guard with the 22nd pick. Depending on what they do at 22, the Rams might try to beef up their backfield in the 2nd round. Alabama running back Eddie Lacy would be a great pick up if he falls to 46. Rounds 3-7 will be used to fill whatever needs haven’t been addressed, I’d expect to see an additional linebacker and wide receiver/kick returner picked up by St. Louis in the later rounds.