Shane Gray provides special Rams commentaries on 101sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @ShaneGmoSTLRams.
Round 1 (6) Sammy Watkins, WR
Following a mock trade with the Atlanta Falcons – a team that recently expressed open interest in potentially trading up, which possesses intense interest in defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and one with distinctive ties to St. Louis Rams general manager Les Snead – St. Louis selects the top wide receiver on the board in Clemson’s Sammy Watkins.
Some may suggest that Watkins has no chance of being on the board at No. 6, but many draft analysts suggest otherwise. CBS Sports’ Rob Rang, for example, had Watkins going seventh to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as of April 1. In short, any and all of the following prospects could realistically go ahead of the aforementioned receiver: quarterbacks Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and David Carr; DE Clowney, outside linebacker Khalil Mack; and offensive tackles Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews.
At 6-foot-1, Watkins has plenty of size to thrive in the NFL, particularly when considering his loaded skill set. If you don’t think so, please refer to the resumes of former All-Pro six-footers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, among others.
The Rams utilized a No. 1 overall pick on quarterback Sam Bradford in 2010. The St. Louis front office insists that Bradford is their man going forward. With that said, it makes sense to provide him with the top pass-catching weapon on the market.
With a run game that looks ready to roll behind starting back Zac Stacy and a defense that should excel under the tutelage and aggressive approach of Gregg Williams, the Rams can help ensure that they are as well-rounded as possible by equipping their quarterback and passing game with a prospect who has Pro Bowl written all over him – one who is being lauded by some notable draft evaluators as the top receiving prospect since Julio Jones.
Some may balk at this selection, but when your top returning wideout caught only 40 passes (albeit in a run-heavy offense and with a backup quarterback much of the year), it seems within reason that the receiving corps continue to be fortified. Yes, the Rams are young at the position and do possess some nice talent there, but passing on Watkins when considering the lack of proven commodities in place seems silly, especially with the likes of Clowney and Robinson off the board already.
As for free-agent acquisition Kenny Britt, his one year deal worth just over $500,000 in guaranteed money equates to a prove-it-or-move-on contract. Those types of deals do not and should not impact the top end of the first round and a team’s big board, and won’t impact that of the Rams. ESPN’s Nick Wagoner served up an excellent column dealing with this topic here.
With St. Louis entering year five of Bradford’s tenure, it is time to arm him with the best option available at receiver and find out once and for all if No. 8 is the quarterback the Rams’ brass believes that he is.
Alternate selection: Jake Matthews, LT
Matthews has probably the highest floor of any player in this draft class and, thus, the lowest bust potential. St. Louis head coach Jeff Fisher maintains a long relationship with the Matthews family, and the Rams have shown obvious interest in the former Texas A&M standout.
In addition to his pick-and-play ability at left tackle, Matthews is well-equipped to start and succeed at right tackle or either guard spot.
Round 1 (13) Justin Gilbert, CB
Many would suggest that Gilbert will not get out of the top 10, but some of the nation’s most highly regarded draft evaluators – such as Pete Prisco of CBS – currently have the explosive cornerback falling to or beyond the 13th selection.
Gilbert is the class of the draft in terms of athleticism in the secondary and may fall behind only Clowney in ranking the draft’s best overall athletes.
Gilbert’s combination of elite size, acceleration, speed, fluidity and leaping ability is top-tier. His propensity for press coverage is a perfect fit for Rams defensive coordinator Williams’ aggressive approach.
In today’s era of historic passing proficiency, it is perhaps more essential than ever that teams slow down opposing passing games. Thus, Gilbert’s experience at Oklahoma State in the pass-heavy Big 12 is certainly a positive on the resume after regularly competing against highly effective air attacks.
Alternative Selections: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S or Taylor Lewan, OT
Round 2 (37) Ryan Shazier, OLB
Via the Falcons, the Rams add a player on whom they have done their due diligence throughout the pre-draft process, with the latest hint of interest coming in the form of a pre-draft visit to Rams Park.
CBS Sports is among those that have Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier potentially dropping to the early portion of the second round. If he falls this far, you can bet St. Louis will strongly consider adding another elite playmaker to its defensive lineup.
At 6-1 and 237 pounds, Shazier is slightly undersized at outside linebacker, but his possession of perhaps the finest athletic tools of any player at his position in the draft more than makes up for any concerns regarding size.
Boasting rare 4.38 speed (pro day time) and a just-as-rare 42-inch vertical, his overall athleticism is off the charts.
Shazier is much more than an athletic freak, however, as he posted a Big 10 conference-best 143 tackles last fall. He can cover sideline to sideline, drop into coverage and blitz the passer – all while possessing a top-tier motor to boot.
With Shazier and Gilbert in the fold, an already explosive and talented defense is juiced up with two of the most athletic and highest-ceilinged defenders to come out this spring.
Round 2 (44) Gabe Jackson, OG
With Rodger Saffold re-signed at guard and expected to swing to left guard after playing right guard last year, St. Louis fortifies the right guard position with the huge-yet-nimble Jackson of Mississippi State.
Jackson is proficient in both run and pass blocking, qualifying as a pick-and-play day one starter. He is very stout in both his lower and upper body, and moves laterally much better than most men his size.
Jackson’s ability to excel as both a powerful run blocker in the Rams’ smash-mouth ground attack and as a terrific pass protector makes him a long-term upgrade over Harvey Dahl at right guard – and a long-term fixture on the St. Louis offensive line.
Round 3 (68) Terrence Brooks, FS
Again from Atlanta, St. Louis rounds out the back end of the secondary by nabbing Florida State free safety Terrence Brooks to pair with impressive second-year strong safety TJ McDonald.
Brooks, although slightly shorter than prototypical at 5-11, possesses 4.4 speed and a 38-inch vertical to help make up for any height-related problems that might otherwise arise. And with the 6-3 McDonald across from him, any height concerns should be largely dismissed.
Being a cornerback-turned-free safety, Brooks is highly capable of sliding down to cover the slot when needed.
Brooks seems to be an exceptional fit, as he loves to hit, plays with physicality and also owns some nice hands to garner interceptions – something that he should have plenty of opportunity to do considering all the pressure that Rams pass rushers figure to apply within the relentlessly aggressive, downhill attack of Williams.
Round 3 (75) Kelcy Quarles, DT
The Rams – with Robert Quinn, Chris Long, William Hayes and Ernie Sims – are loaded with potent pass rushers at defensive end.
St. Louis could use a little more pressure from the inside, however, and the addition of South Carolina defensive tackle Quarles should go a long way to help provide just that.
Last season, the first team All-American and first-team SEC selection finished second nationally at his position with 9.5 sacks. He excels at shooting the gap and beating his defender with quickness and power. Quarles shows exceptional burst off the ball and projects as a three-technique DT here in the Rams’ 4-3 system, although he is capable of playing either spot inside.
Quarles possesses a strong bull rush and holds up well against the run when he stays disciplined. Known as a hustling defender, he should fit in well as a member of the defensive line rotation this fall and flash plus-rated pressuring abilities in passing situations.
Round 4 (110) Ja’Wuan James, OT
Ja’Wuan James, a four-year starter at right tackle for Tennessee, is projected to be a left tackle convert in the pros by many highly revered draft analysts. James is known as a highly competitive, cerebral player with good, quick feet in pass protection and a powerful drive in the run game.
With James’ vast experience on the right side along with his suitable makeup to transition to the left, he makes for a great mid-round addition for the St. Louis offensive line.
If starting left tackle Jake Long is slow to return from injury to open the season, James should be more than capable of stepping in and filling the void in the interim. In fact, numerous draft experts from the likes of nfl.com and CBS Sports view him as a pick-and-play rookie starter.
If right tackle Joe Barksdale falls to injury or simply falters following a breakout season in 2013, James could step in there as well.
At the very least, James will add premium depth at left and right tackle, something particularly valuable with Long seemingly becoming more fragile in recent campaigns and the relative inexperience of Barksdale.
Round 5 (153) David Fales, QB
San Jose State quarterback David Fales seemed to better his stock at his recent pro day, improving on the major knock that some teams had on him during evaluations: limited arm strength.
In terms of collegiate production, Fales was outstanding, as only he and fellow draft prospect David Carr threw for over 4,000 yards in both 2012 and 2013.
The “football junkie” is known for his leadership qualities and touch, completing nearly 73 percent of his passes two seasons ago.
Most encouragingly, Fales is terrific at progressing through reads and finding the open man swiftly. His pocket presence is terrific, and he possesses nice maneuverability therein. Pre-snap, he does a great job in reading coverages and making any necessary adaptations.
Fales is experienced both under center and in the shotgun, a good thing for a quarterback stepping into offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s current system.
In the end, Fales has all the intangibles – work ethic, vocal leadership, high character, toughness, team-first attitude, etc. – that a team could want. If he continues to improve upon the enhanced zip on the fastball that he displayed at his pro day, Fales could develop into a potential starter down the road, or, at the very least, a high-quality backup.
Round 6 (188) Isaiah Crowell, RB
A former SEC freshman standout, this running back ran into ample trouble at Georgia before transferring to Alabama State and earning all-SWAC first-team recognition in his two seasons there.
Crowell is one of the most talented running backs in this class, but his aforementioned off-the-field troubles and related concerns by NFL teams will likely result in the vastly talented halfback plummeting to the late rounds.
If so, when considering how the Rams have hardly shied away from players with previous character-related issues, Crowell could serve as a nice addition to the St. Louis backfield, fitting in somewhere behind starter Stacy.
Crowell possesses a fabulous upside and insists that he has matured since becoming a father and learning from the issues that plagued him at Georgia.
In round six, if St. Louis feels Crowell is worth the prospective risk, his talent suggests this move being a no-brainer for the Rams’ brass. If selected, one must hope that this Isaiah turns out better than the last Isaiah has to date (Pead).
Bleacher Report’s lead NFL writer Matt Miller offered this assessment of Crowell:
“Crowell has all the natural talent in the world,” Miller said. “He’s powerfully built with the legs needed to drive through would-be tacklers and pick up positive yardage. With his combination of size and speed, Crowell definitely fits the model of a franchise running back. In years past, he would have been a 20-carry bell-cow featured in a pro-style offense.”
Round 6 (214) Dontae Johnson, FS/CB
North Carolina State product Dontae Johnson possesses the size that teams love at 6-2 to go along with 4.4 speed and a near 40-inch vertical.
Depending on whom you talk to or what draft insider you glean from, Johnson could find a home as either a corner or a free safety at the next level.
Either way, Johnson would give Rams DC Williams an athletically gifted depth chess piece who could move around all over the secondary considering his experience at safety, corner and nickel back. Ideally, Johnson would develop into a nice free safety alternative – likely his best pro position outside of zone corner for a franchise that incorporates that type of scheme.
Johnson is another tough player who likes to lay the lumber, making him a nice fit in St. Louis. He also projects as a solid asset on special teams coverage units.
Round 7 (226) Henry Josey, RB
The former Missouri star looked to be nearly all the way back by the end of last season after suffering a catastrophic injury that tore every major tendon in his knee.
As the year progressed, Josey continually looked to have more burst, quickness and speed, ending the season with some long touchdown runs and a very solid 6.7 yards-per-carry average.
Behind Stacy, the Rams’ backfield is far from cemented. Yes, St. Louis likes Benny Cunningham as a power runner to complement Stacy, and third-year back Daryl Richardson could bounce back to his impressive rookie form after a turf toe-induced sophomore slump. But neither are locks to earn significant playing time. Thus, taking Crowell as well as Josey is possible, particularly with the three extra picks from the Falcons and the expectation that St. Louis totes the pigskin quite regularly in the coming campaign.
As for Josey, he has continued to round back into peak form during the offseason and could be a steal in round seven. In St. Louis, Josey would be a wonderful candidate for the change-of-pace/third-down back role, particularly if he is able to shore up his hands just a bit.
Round 7 (241) DeAndre Coleman, DT
California’s DeAndre Coleman is hard to peg as far as projected rounds go, with some suggesting as early as round fourand others insisting he last as late as round seven.
If he falls to the culminating round, Coleman would be a great third- or fourth-and-short run-stuffing presence or an asset in the rotation for any likely running down. Of note, he suffers from a hearing impairment in one ear.
Round 7 (249) Kadeem Edwards, OG
Small-school standout Kadeem Edwards of Tennessee State would serve as a long-term investment at offensive guard, bringing great size and some surprising athletic potential to the Rams. Edwards would likely be a practice squad player in year one but has some intriguing long-range potential.
Round 7 (250) John Brown, WR
Another small school stud, MIAA power Pittsburgh State product Brown possesses blazing 4.3 speed. With the last selection of a seventh round consisting of four picks and after being armed with added slots after the trade down with Atlanta, why not grab him?
Brown offers up big-play potential in the slot, creating daydreams of some matchup nightmares and track-star speed when in four- and five-wide sets opposite of fellow little man Tavon Austin.
Brown also offers up take-it-to-the-house abilities on special teams and could serve as a solid gunner on punt coverage.