Perhaps you’ve heard it’s Draft Week. After the NFL moved its annual selection meeting back, the league got an extra two weeks of draft discussion to the point of saturation. With the second and 13th picks, the Rams control this draft. What will they do? I don’t know. What should they do? That’s easy. I’ve been saying it for months. What the Rams should do is select Clemson’s Sammy Watkins with the second pick in the draft, and then take a safety – either HaHa Clinton-Dix of Alabama or, if he’s gone, Calvin Pryor of Louisville – with the 13th pick.
The Rams had 22 touchdown passes last season (tied for 20th in the NFL), 14 of those by Sam Bradford before he went down with a knee injury in the team’s seventh game. In the last nine games, Kellen Clemens tossed eight. Watkins is a guy who makes his quarterback better, and more explosive. In 2012, Chris Givens set a rookie record with 50-yard catches in five consecutive games. Givens didn’t have a single 50-yard grab last season. As a matter of fact, the Rams as a group finished last in the league in 40-plus yard receptions with five. Tavon Austin had two of those (both from Clemens on Nov. 10 in Indianapolis), and Brian Quick, Jared Cook and Givens each had one – all from Bradford in the first seven games. Beyond those five 40-plus yard plays, the Rams had only eight more pass plays that went more than 30 yards.
So of the Rams’ 13 longest pass plays last year, their 13 pass plays that were longer than 30 yards, tight ends caught five of them. They need more explosiveness from their wide receivers. It would be a mistake to count on Givens turning into a No. 1-type receiver after his 2013 regression. It wouldn’t seem Quick has reached the point where he can be counted on. Austin is explosive, but is only a 40-45 snap-a-game player. Austin Pettis isn’t explosive, and we just don’t have enough knowledge of Stedman Bailey. The Rams would do well to get a guy like Watkins, who had catches of 77, 64, 91, 48, 96 and 57 yards last season. At 6-1 and 211 pounds, his physique is reminiscent of former Big Red star Roy Green, who was powerfully built, dominated press coverage, sped past cornerbacks and had the hands to haul in imprecise passes.
As far as a safety, the Rams finished last year with 14 interceptions, just four from the safety position. Eight individual NFL safeties had four picks – as many as Rodney McLeod (two), T.J. McDonald and Matt Giordano (one each) combined. The Rams need more takeaways, and more picks. While the Rams were 20th in the category, Seattle had twice as many with 28. Kansas City had 21, and Cincinnati, Carolina and Arizona each had 20. Seattle’s Earl Thomas led all safeties with five interceptions, Kansas City’s Quintin Demps had four and Eric Berry had three, Cincinnati’s Chris Crocker and Reggie Nelson each had two, and Carolina’s Mike Mitchell had four and Robert Lester had three.
The most important Rams statistic from last season? They were 5-0 when they won the turnover battle, 0-5 when they didn’t and 2-4 when they were even. More takeaways from the safety position would lead to more wins. Clinton-Dix and Pryor have both been takeaway artists in college, and project to being those sorts of talents in the NFL.
Watkins and the safety are what I want. Most mock drafts have the Rams taking an offensive tackle at No. 2, which doesn’t mesh with Jeff Fisher’s history or current needs, but does fill a need in the not-too-distant future. Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews has the great bloodlines, with numerous prolific relatives in the NFL. Matthews also played a pro-style offense in his first two years under Mike Sherman.
Auburn’s Greg Robinson is more raw than Matthews; he doesn’t have near the experience, but does appear to have mauling power. Some regard him as the second-best prospect in this draft – but he is a prospect, and shouldn’t be expected to start ahead of Jake Long at left tackle right off the bat.
Some also have the Rams taking a cornerback with their 13th pick, like Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert or Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard. That fills a need for the Rams, too. If they can get the first cornerback in the draft, that would not be a bad thing.
The Rams are not going to take a linebacker like Khalil Mack of Buffalo or a quarterback. That would be silly. Mack wouldn’t play enough to be of significant impact – he’d be a situational pass rusher on second-and-long and third-down plays. While some national observers are buying the idea of Johnny Manziel to the Rams, I am not. Fisher isn’t going to all of a sudden change the plans he developed and executed for this team for two years by blowing it up with a new quarterback who would demand a new system. I believe what the Rams would like to do is trade down to the No. 6 or 8 area with Atlanta or Minnesota and get a bushel full of picks. If South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney is there, they should take him rather than trade him. And they shouldn’t trade out of a spot with a potential superstar receiver like Watkins to get a tackle. The need for an explosive outside receiver is just too profound.
I won’t be upset by anything the Rams do (because they aren’t taking Manziel), but I would like to see this franchise get to a point where it can score points to hang with Seattle, San Francisco and Arizona. The last time the Rams drafted a superstar was in 1999, when they took Torry Holt with the sixth pick. They can match that level of success this year.
Watkins would be my choice if I were in the war room on Thursday. But I have no idea if the Rams are thinking that way. And I’m not sure at this point they do, either.
Listen: NFL writer Chris Burke on arguments for/against Rams taking Sammy Watkins