With the 2013 Draft process in full swing, and with all but two teams eliminated from the playoffs, the vast majority of NFL fans have entered Eternal Optimist Mode. This blissful state, often accompanied by unrealistic expectations for the following season, is further heightened by the prospects of finding a starting quarterback in the 3rd round (Russell Wilson, anyone?) and dream scenarios of a pick swap-meet that flips a 2nd rounder for two 3rd rounders and a 1st in next year’s draft.
With two 1st round picks this year (their #16 and Washington’s #22) and in 2014, Rams fans do have plenty of reason for optimism. With that in mind, I offer up my dream scenario for this April and next.
My dream starts off around pick #12 this April. To my surprise only one QB is off the board, Geno Smith to the Eagles at #4, and road-grading guard Chance Warmack is still out there. To no one’s surprise though, Mel Kiper’s hair is perfectly styled as usual. Eternal minutes tick away as the Bucs, Panthers and Saints each ponder their picks. Finally, the Rams are on the clock at #16 and set a land-speed record in turning in their card. Warmack, complete with his size youth-medium jersey, has fallen to the Rams.
Ho-hum, nothing unusual so far, but my dream has just begun.
Every year there are dramatic risers at the Senior Bowl, from Ryan Tannehill and Von Miller in the past two years to Philip Rivers in 2004. At this level, many players have similar skills, but it takes head-to-head competition in front of the scouts for them to elevate.
One example this season might be Eric Fisher, the tackle from Central Michigan. Fisher was already tentatively projected as a first round player, particularly with blue-chip tackle prospects Taylor Lewan and Jake Matthews opting to wait until 2014. He might even have slipped down to the Rams at 16. But after a dominating day against some highly-regarded defensive end prospects in practice, Fisher's stock has bubbled up to a potential top-five pick.
With that said, though, a trio of other players are turning heads in Mobile, and may be worthy of strong consideration by the Rams.
If you're looking for draft value, the Senior Bowl is often a place to find it. By its name alone, you know exactly what it is, and what it isn't. The Senior Bowl isn't a collection of the most obscenely explosive talents in football -- those players almost always leave school as soon as they are able. But it is an assemblage of players who have refined their skills in four years of college competition, who are as fully developed as a college prospect can be.
The electric underclassmen will have their time to shine in the NFL Combine, a month from now, and their names will surely float up draft boards. This week belongs to the savvy veteran, the well-honed tools, the patient and man-strong.
If you have a young team like the Rams that is ready to compete, it may make sense to stock up on players that are near-professional caliber in their development, particularly in the value rounds (3-5). Here are three that caught my attention that will be worth paying attention to this week.
Holding two picks at the turning point of the first round, who will the Rams target? No one knows, of course, but something approaching a consensus is emerging among the mock draft community.
I surveyed a dozen mock drafts that have been released in the past week, and two players have been mocked to the Rams more than any other: Alabama guard Chance Warmack and Cal receiver Keenan Allen. Each has been mock-drafted for us five times. Meanwhile, Texas safety Kenny Vacarro (four times) and Alabama tackle DJ Fluker (three) have been popular selections as well.
Of these players, Warmack is perhaps the least likely to be there for us. Somehow, the wide-girthed guard has managed to make quite a brand of himself, even going so far as to try to ignite "Warmacking" as a national trend. No mock draft has him slipping past the Rams; seven of the twelve I surveyed have him as a top ten pick. (The legendary Cowboys personnel evaluator Gil Brandt has him going fourth overall to the Eagles.)
While Warmack is the star, the consensus around Keenan Allen's position at the head of the receiver class may be the most subject to change. In each of the drafts that mocked him to us, he was the first WR off the board. But other receivers such as Cordarelle Patterson, DeAndre Hopkins, Robert Woods or even Tavon Austin will be knocking on the door, once Combine numbers come in and the tape-grinders have their say.
Here's a chart of picks by position, and the table of each mock's picks for us, after the break.
Our resident master of media, Tim Shields, has been producing fantastic video breakdowns of key Rams plays all season long. Now, he is branching out once again, this time into sports radio.
This Sunday evening, after the playoff games are over, I will be joining Tim on his new radio show (tentatively titled "Shields of Dreams") at KZOW 91.9 FM, Waldorf University Radio. Listeners outside the greater northern Iowa area can and should stream the show here: http://kzowfm.com/listen/.
This will be the second ever edition of Tim's radio show. Last week's guest list included Kent Anderson, the Waldorf football team head coach, the legendary Joe McAtee (3k) of Turf Show Times, and NFL agent Jim Wyatt. If you didn't get a chance to hear it, and that's likely as the live stream was out of commission (it's since been fixed), you can listen to the archived audio here.
For the team with the worst record in professional football just a year ago, playmakers are definitely in high demand for the St. Louis Rams. With no real “elite” prospects at the wide receiver position and the Rams having more pressing needs at other positions, I would not be pleased if the Rams took a receiver in the first round. There is one playmaker though that the Rams should seriously consider taking after day one of the 2013 NFL draft.
Denard “Shoelace” Robinson
It is almost impossible to watch the above video and not wish to have that kind of athlete on your football team. No I’m not saying to trade Sam and run the pistol option to keep up within our division; you need a quarterback who can accurately throw the ball for that to succeed and Robinson has already acknowledged that he doesn’t have the best arm out there. Robinson will play receiver in the Senior Bowl despite not being very polished, catching only three passes in his career, but his elite speed and athleticism should prolong his longevity in the NFL. Having that kind of talent can make you a very versatile player anywhere outside of the trenches.
One area that Robinson can come in and immediately contribute is in the return game. According to Football Outsiders, the Rams are dead last in starting field position with 23.72 as their LOS/Dr (represents average starting line of scrimmage per drive). That number should have been higher if we used WR Chris Givens or CB Janoris Jenkins more in the return game, but risking two starters to injury is something you should only do when the time calls for it. Robinson has exceptional ball-carrier vision and can make something out of nothing which should help the Rams have better starting field position.
Following yesterday’s news that the Jacksonville Jaguars hired Gus Bradley, Rams fans can finally rest assured that Sam Bradford will not have his fourth offensive coordinator in as many years, and that Brain Schottenheimer will remain as the Rams' OC. With Schottenheimer returning to the Rams, you can bet that the playbook will be expanded and should see a much more evolved offense that will do just more than keep games close.
To have a sense of what we might expect to see in the 2013 season, we take a look at the personnel that Schotty had during his tenure with the New York Jets. We have a tall possession receiver in Brian Quick (Edwards/Plaxico), a speedster who can evolve into a #1 threat with Givens (Holmes), a stable of veteran and young backs with the Jackson/Richardson/Pead trio (Tomlinson/Greene/Mcknight), and a Tight End showing some hands with Lance Kendricks (Keller). But who is our Brad Smith?
Well, Bob, here we are again. It’s the end of the year, and we’ve got guys whose contract with the Rams is up. It’s a fun time, isn’t it? I mean, fun for us, not so much for these guys who just spent five months getting the you-know-what beat out of them every week, and now they have to prove to us that they’re not too old or too beat up for us to pay them to do it again. But hey, it’s a part of life in this career. Don’t hate us for thinning the herd. We’re like lions. Or sharks. Nice sharks. Totally necessary to the ecosystem.
So, Danny Amendola? Here’s an interesting case. Really had three seasons in one this year. Let’s bring him in.