Shane Gray provides special Rams commentaries on 101sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @ShaneGmoSTLRams.
The St. Louis Rams completed the 2013 NFL draft this past weekend and – for a second consecutive season – it appears that St. Louis general manager Les Snead and head coach Jeff Fisher were wildly successful in selecting prospects who will fortify the roster of the Rams.
Briefly, the following things stood out to me regarding the Rams’ draft:
-St. Louis got more athletic:
The Rams got noticeably more athletic for the second straight draft. In particular, the Rams attained more speed and athleticism at wide receiver, outside linebacker and safety.
Specifically, St. Louis picked up three of the more athletic players in the draft at their respective positions: receiver Tavon Austin, linebacker Alec Ogletree and safety T.J. McDonald.
Austin, who went to the Rams at No. 8 following a bold and aggressive move up from No. 16, has been clocked in the 4.28 40 range and finished first in the NFL combine’s shuttle drill, a measure of short-area quickness and explosion. In short – no pun intended regarding the almost 5-9 receiver/returner/ball-carrier – Austin has both top-end speed and elite quickness, a rarified combination.
In the 6-2, 245-pound Ogletree, the Rams obtained an outside linebacker who possesses the speed and agility to keep up with inter-division quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick. Ogletree is an exciting athlete who adds additional playmaking ability to an already explosive defense.
Finally, St. Louis added the 6-3 McDonald, a versatile player who lined up against slot receivers, played solid deep coverage and added physical run support at USC. McDonald, who boasts a 40-inch vertical leap and 4.5 40 speed, will be a towering, physically imposing presence in the defensive backfield. For teams trying to go deep on the Rams, try getting a jump ball over McDonald. That will be a tall task, literally.
McDonald will likely team with Darian Stewart to give the Rams a younger, more athletic pair of starting safeties in 2013 as compared to recent editions of the secondary.
-Addition of Ogletree sets stage for front seven to become elite:
St. Louis was set at six of seven front-seven spots, with Chris Long, Michael Brockers, Kendall Langford, Robert Quinn, James Laurinaitis and Jo-Lonn Dunbar returning.
The only thing missing from potentially fielding one of football’s finest front sevens was a suitable complement across from Dunbar at outside linebacker.
With Ogletree in place, the Rams have what they need for this group to step out and become of the league’s best.
-The Rams were creative in meeting two offensive line needs:
The Rams were in need of both an offensive guard and an offensive tackle, particularly when considering the potentially shaky future of veteran offensive tackle Rodger Saffold.
So, what did the Rams do to meet their needs at two offensive line positions?
With one round-four selection – Alabama offensive lineman Barrett Jones, the Remington Award winner as the nation’s top center – the Rams added quality depth at every position along the line, save left tackle. In addition, Jones cannot be ruled out of the mix at left guard this season. Furthermore, St. Louis added the eventual successor to Scott Wells. In Jones, the Rams grabbed a cerebral center who will have no trouble making pre-snap adjustments for the offense.
With one move, the Rams added depth across nearly the entirety of the line and secured a future starter in round four. You can hardly beat that. That is smart, shrewd drafting.
-St. Louis was smart in adding the type of running back it did:
At running back, St. Louis was able to nab Vanderbilt’s Zac Stacy in round five, a player who could provide balance to the Rams’ rushing attack.
Unlike the smaller Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson, Stacy is capable of running over defenders for tough third-down pickups. He’s the power back whom the Rams may have been lacking, depending on what becomes of another big back the Rams have on the roster, second-year man Terrance Ganaway of Baylor.
In terms of his height, build and running style, Stacy reminds me of Emmitt Smith. Yes, Emmitt Smith. ESPN’s Todd McShay says Stacy has the best vision and patience of any running back in the draft, two of the key attributes that made Smith so great.
Now, am I saying Stacy will become Smith? No, not by any stretch. I am not saying Stacy will ever be a Hall of Famer, or even a starter, for that matter. But, at the very least, he looks like a good third-and-short back who could really complement both Pead and Richardson in a change-of-pace role.
-The Rams are set to spread out and speed up the offense:
When one evaluates the current comprisal of the Rams roster after the alterations made in the offseason, there is but one common-sense conclusion in regards to the team’s offensive plans: It plans to run some wide-open, fast=break, spread-out, hurried-up, up-tempo, full-speed, catch-us-if-you-can offense in 2013.
Pre-draft, St. Louis acquired tight end/hybrid Jared Cook, a player with elite speed for his position and the athletic ability to make big plays deep. He will sometimes play off the line, and this mandates that the Rams run more spread offense to do so. The Rams spent a lot of money on Cook, who will best serve the Rams on passing down. Thus, expect St. Louis to throw more often this fall as compared to what we have been accustomed to in recent seasons.
During the draft, the Rams added two receivers who played in the spread collegiately at West Virginia and who will primarily play in the slot with St. Louis – the aforementioned Austin and third-round pick Stedman Bailey. Both are smaller players who are best suited to play in space. Both could see the field together in four- and five-wide sets.
In addition, St. Louis fortified the offensive line by adding four-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long. Long has been a very good run-blocker during much of his career, but the Rams primarily brought him in for his pass protection skills and ability to protect the blind side of quarterback Sam Bradford.
Finally, the only running backs the Rams drafted a season ago – Pead and Richardson – seem ideally suited for a wide-open, spread attack. In the spread, these speedsters will be able to find holes to burst through, giving them a chance to get to and through the second level for big plays.
Simply put, expect St. Louis to break out the track shoes this fall based upon the above and the overall makeup of its offensive talent.
All that said, don’t expect Jeff Fisher to completely abandon his roots and lose all sense of offensive balance. Don’t expect him to go the route we have seen from the likes of Andy Reid and the Philadelphia Eagles, for example.
The Rams will still run the ball and still try to run some power at times with Stacy and/or Ganaway. But, it seems clear that this offense will be much more diversified, multidimensional, explosive and – if it wants to succeed – more creative, too.
-Unlike many teams, St. Louis met every positional need:
Most important of all, perhaps, the Rams met every positional need.
Entering the draft, the Rams could stand to add depth and/or starters at wide receiver, outside linebacker, safety, offensive line, cornerback and running back.
Unlike other organizations, St. Louis went out and addressed each of these needs and doubled up at wide receiver, the area that perhaps needed the most in the way of reinforcement and bolstering.
It seems like a given that franchises would address their key needs via the draft, but as we see when looking around the league or at some Rams drafts of days (thankfully) gone by, that doesn’t always happen. We should not take for granted the smart approach St. Louis took in adding players where it needed them most.
Not only were the Rams aggressive in making moves to get who they wanted, but they were also brilliant in not outsmarting themselves and playing the role of the cute geniuses, sticking to selections that will help the Rams in the areas that needed the most assistance.
It is that combination of boldness to make aggressive moves, and the intelligence to make those moves for players who fit what the Rams want to do at positions where they need players to do it, that makes Snead and Fisher one of the best in the business through two years of drafts.
With the league’s youngest roster and two more first-round picks coming in 2014, the future looks mighty bright in the Gateway City.