Thursday, June 16, 2011

KD's NFL Draft Grades - St. Louis Rams

Recently there's been a lot of fuss about AEG's attempt to lure one of 5 NFL teams out to Los Angeles. The Rams, who started in Cleveland, spent a good number of years in Anaheim and L.A., and are one of the 5 teams being considered to make the move. Personally, I feel like the Chargers, who were founded in Los Angeles, are the best team to move since it's the shortest trip, not counting the Raiders, and that the St. Louis Rams should be allowed to stay in the midwest and continue building upon an upstart young team. After all, their only Super Bowl title came in the Gateway to the West. There's also been much speculation that the Rams will be heavily in the market for Randy Moss or Sidney Rice once free agency starts to provide Sam Bradford with the elite weapon he desparately needs. Overall, I'm intrigued by what the Rams did during the Draft, and I think they'll get some good help from their class.

1st round, 14th overall) Robert Quinn - DE - North Carolina
Once considered the top player in the 2011 Draft Class, Quinn was suspended for the 2010 NCAA season along with a few other Tar Heels for improper conduct with an agent. Quinn's stock didn't fall too much as he still went in the top 15 picks of the Draft after blowing away scouts with a very impressive pre-Draft workout in Chapel Hill. At 6'4" 265lbs with long arms and club-like hands, and impressive athleticism, Quinn figures to be the premier pass-rusher the Rams are currently lacking.

How he fits in: Despite being away from football for a year, I'd be shocked if Quinn doesn't crack the starting lineup early on this season. The Rams have two outstanding talents in their front seven in strongside DE Chris Long and MLB James Laurinaitis. FS O.J. Atogwe is pretty underrated, but the Rams certainly need to add more punch on their defense. Quinn certainly does that and will compete with savvy veteran James Hall for the starting weakside DE position. Steve Spagnuolo is a master of a blitz-heavy 4-3 defense (see Giants over Patriots in the Super Bowl) and it wouldn't surprise me one bit to see him move Quinn all over the place to get him favorable matchups.

Outlook: Lots of rookies hit the proverbial "rookie wall" after about 10 games, and I expect Quinn might hit that wall harder than most having been away from football for so long. Let's be real, there's being in shape, and then there's being in football shape - two totally different things for those who haven't played the game. I'd imagine Quinn will get the lion's share of the snaps with James Hall spelling him when needed. Certainly I'd expect him to beat out reserves C.J. Ah You and George Selvie and Quinn could feasibly see time at OLB in pass-rushing situations. Overall, I absolutley love this pick, even if it takes Quinn some considerable time to get back up to speed; I truly believe he'll make a nice impact for the Rams and should garner some Defensive Rookie of the Year consideration.

2nd round, 47th overall) Lance Kendricks - TE - Wisconsin
All young QBs benefit from having good TE play and while Daniel Fells was pretty serviceable, along with Michael Hoomanawanui, the Rams still lacked that TE that could get down the seam and stretch the field. Kendricks gives them that option now, and while he's not spectacular in any one facet of the game, he does everything he has to do pretty well. At 6'2" 243lbs, there's some fullbacks in the league bigger than he is, but he's a willing blocker, and he's got pretty good body control when in open space. He compares pretty well with the Jets Dustin Keller, who has really helped Mark Sanchez, and I expect Kendricks to have the same kind of productivity for Sam Bradford. Kendricks caught 43 passes for 663 yards and 5 scores, good for a very impressive 15.4 ypc average. He'll have to work on his blocking skills to unseat Fells from the number one TE position.

3rd round, 78th overall) Austin Pettis - WR - Boise State
The Rams have a bunch of number 3 and 4 receivers on their roster, with Danny Amendola leading the way. However, Amendola belongs in the slot more than anywhere else. Laurent Robinson can't stay healthy, Mardy Gilyard fell behind in the playbook, and Brandon Gibson and Danario Alexander still have a way to go and have battled injuries, hence why the Rams are in the market for Moss and Rice. Pettis comes in and profiles as a #2 possession-type receiver. The best word to describe him is probably smooth, as he runs very good routes, he's got superb body-control and great hands. He's not overly fast and won't take the top off an NFL secondary, but he's smart and isn't afraid of getting physical at the line or over the middle. Very productive with 229 career catches for nearly 3,000 yards and 39 TDs for Boise State, and that should help him acclimate to the NFL pretty quickly.

4th round, 112th overall) Greg Salas - WR - Hawaii
The Rams went to the receiver well again, and tabbed another ultra-productive guy in Hawaii's Greg Salas. Salas is cut from almost the exact same cloth that Austin Pettis is and probably more competition for Alexander, Gilyard, and fellow rookie Pettis at the possession receiver spot. Salas, like Davone Bess at Hawaii and Emmanuel Sanders at SMU, now with Miami and Pittsburgh respectively, are products of the June Jones spread offense, and Salas notched two 100 catch, 1,500 yard seasons for the Warriors, vaulting himself up draft boards. A former running back, he's physical off the line and uses his 6'1" 210lbs frame very well. He'll have to learn the nuances of an NFL offense, but like Bess and Sanders, he comes out as a very solid route runner.

5th round, 158th overall) Jermale Hines - S - Ohio State
St. Louis, like the Lions before them, is a team with a lot of holes, so talent can help pretty much anywhere. Veterans James Butler and Michael Lewis gave way to youngster Craig Dahl by the end of the year, and he's not someone you really want to start in your secondary. O.J. Atogwe will be back off injury, but behind him there's really not much available. Hines played SS for the Buckeyes and brings more size and athleticism to the Rams lineup. Hines is 6'1" and 219lbs and is a very sure tackler. He's very much a liability in coverage, and profiles as an in the box, 2-down safety at the NFL level. That's not necessarily a bad thing as the Rams have some better coverage guys on the roster, but they could certainly use his run-stopping prowess on defense. He should compete for a starting gig, even as a 5th round prospect.

7th round, 216th overall) Mikail Baker - CB - Baylor
Baker's a project player at corner for the Rams. He was primarily a kickoff returner early in his career in Waco, he started the final 9 games of the 2010 season after suffering a season-ending knee injury 3 games into the 2009 campaign. Baker came to the Bears as a wide receiver and didn't make the transition to the defensive side of the ball after receiving a medical redshirt after breaking his collar bone in 2007. Baker's an experienced player and Baylor's all-time leading kick returner, but that probably won't help him much in the Rams secondary as he's a major project that could take a few seasons on the practice squad to get him up to snuff in an NFL defense.

7th round, 228th overall) Jabara Williams - LB - Stephen F. Austin
The Rams linebacking corps, aside from James Laurinaitis, isn't much to write home about. The other two starters, Larry Grant and Na'il Diggs, also former Buckeyes are solid, but are aging, especially Diggs. David Vobora's got experience, but you really don't want to have to start him. After that Chris Chamberlain, David Nixon, Curtis Johnson, and Bryan Kehl...well, you get the picture. Williams falls right into that category as well, as he's another project player for Spagnuolo. A 6'1" 228lbs, more athlete than linebacker, Williams will project to the weakside behind Grant and Vobora. He'll have to show something special teams to stick.

7th round, 229th overall) Jonathan Nelson - CB - Oklahoma
Again, another project here. A one-year starter for the Sooners, Nelson racked up 5 career INTs and 9 PBUs in 17 starts for the Sooners. He possesses decent size at 5'11" 188lbs. He should compete for a boundary corner spot as a rookie and may bring something to the table on special teams as he's a pretty solid tackler. He's decent in run support and has a knack for making big plays at big times. Overall though, there's just not enough of a body of work to get an accurate read on how he'll transition to the pros. Oklahoma DBs are all over the NFL map, so Nelson may stick onto a roster somewhere, even if it's not in St. Louis.

Overall Grade: B
The Rams draft class is pretty top-heavy with Quinn, Kendricks, and Pettis likely to start as rookies. Salas will likely have some sort of role on the offense, but after that only Jermale Hines has the potential to be a starter down the road. Spagnuolo's a defensive guru and might be able to find uses for the latter end of the draft class in Baker, Williams, and Nelson. The Rams accomplished their goal of adding some weapons for Sam Bradford, but they could've used help in the secondary and another running back to spell Steven Jackson; though they're rumored to be at the top of the list for Darren Sproles. The first 3 picks really make the grade, and if Robert Quinn turns out as good as they expect him to be, this class could help get the Rams to the top of the NFC West.

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