St Louis Rams: Which 2013 Draft Prospects Should the Rams Already Be Scouting?
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The St. Louis Rams possess two first round selections in the 2013 NFL Draft thanks to the historic trade that saw the Washington Redskins move up to grab the Rams No. 2 pick and the rights to Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Robert Griffin III of Baylor University.
Armed with two first round selections, St. Louis general manager Les Snead and head coach Jeff Fisher will be able to use those picks in any number of ways to help obtain additional elite level talent.
Nobody knows with absolute certainty what Rams positions will possess the greatest need following the coming campaign.
None of us know, for example, if a late round pick or undrafted free agent (or two) might arise to become a surprisingly great player and help vault a position that looked to be one needing further fortification to one of strong depth and good overall quality.
By the same token, none of us know for sure which NCAA prospects will play their way to a greater or lesser draft stock by next April during the college football season, at the 2013 NFL Combine, during Senior Bowl week or at a team's pro day.
All we can do is take a look at where things stand now and make projections based off of what areas look to be likely need areas for St. Louis and what players look to be heading towards bright NFL futures.
With all that said, the following is a look at several prospects that show promise and potential to make an impact at positions where additional help may still be most beneficial following the 2012 season.
For the sake of clarity and organization, I have broken the following slides down position by position.
Offensive Guard: Barrett Jones, Alabama
Nick Saban with Barrett Jones
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As one member of a St Louis Rams message board that I frequent enjoys saying, "we still need a left guard."
It is too early to tell if that indeed proves true. The Rams have several prospects at the position including two with at least some starting experience (Bryan Mattison and Quinn Ojinnaka) and a massive rookie who can move bodies (fifth round pick Rokevious Watkins.)
If the Rams, however, do not find a bona fide starting left guard this season, they will likely look to next year's draft for help. If that ends up being the case, my favorite 2013 early round guard prospect is Garrett Jones of Alabama, who projects as a first rounder.
Jones is a versatile prospect who looks to be a true NFL talent at either tackle or guard.
Jones is 6'5'' and 310 pounds and has good physical tools. Most importantly, he would seemingly translate to a Jeff Fisher offense very well considering his impressive run blocking skills.
I also like the fact that Jones transitioned to left tackle last season after starting for two years at guard and held up very well as a pass blocker on the edge. If he can pass protect in space in the tough SEC he should be able to do so in tighter areas at the next level.
There is not a more versatile offensive lineman available anywhere. In fact, Jones may switch to center in 2012, according to this report.
My others to watch at the position include Jonathon Cooper of North Carolina (round one to two), Wisconsin junior Travis Frederick (round one to two) and Arkansas junior Alvin Bailey (round three.)
Outside Linebacker: Sean Porter, Texas A & M
Sean Porter (No. 10) nflnext.blogspot.com
This is a position that certainly looks to have been upgraded in the offseason. The Rams have added three solid free agent veterans: Rocky McIntosh of the Washington Redskins, Jo-Lonn Dunbar of the New Orleans Saints and Mario Haggan of the Denver Broncos.
Although nothing is set in stone, Dunbar is the likely starter on the weakside. The huge Haggan will likely play quite a bit on the strong side in running situations. McIntosh, a versatile player, will likely contribute some at both spots and take the field for Haggan in most passing situations.
Obviously, it is good news to see perhaps the best linebacking corps that St. Louis has had in several seasons coming together. On the other hand, Haggan will be 33 by the start of the 2013 campaign and McIntosh will turn 31 before the end of next season.
The Rams have added several young OLB's via a combination of the 2012 NFL Draft (Aaron Brown) and several undrafted free agent additions.
If one or more of these unheralded rookies steps up and looks to be a legit starter, then adding an early round OLB may not be necessary. As it stands, however, it could certainly be beneficial considering the advancing age of the aforementioned veterans.
Although there has been a trend away from taking outside linebackers early in the draft as the linebacker position has largely been devalued, the Rams have those two first round picks so taking an elite talent at OLB early could be an option.
It would seem most likely that, if St. Louis were to indeed use a first rounder at OLB that it would be the one that ends up being the second of two. If the Rams have any type of revival in 2012, then their own pick would not end up being a top 15 pick.
If my theory were to hold true, that would likely scratch Georgia's Jarvis Jones off of the list as he figures to go in the top 15. However, Texas A & M's Sean Porter, an elite talent and terrific athlete, could still be on the board for the Rams.
Porter, 6'2'' and 230 pounds, should continue to add size and is an aggressive defender. He is clearly at his best as a pass rusher and could make what looks to be a potent 2012 St. Louis pass rush all the more formidable in 2013.
Some other OLB options I like include Chase Thomas of Stanford (round two or three) and Illinois' Jonathon Brown (round two or three), a terrific athlete with exceptional potential and an elite ceiling.
Safety: Ray Ray Armstrong, Miami
Ray Ray Armstrong (No. 26, diving) palmbeachpost.com
By the start of the 2013 season, safety Quintin Mikell will be 33 and could, of course, be showing some signs of slippage by then.
Darian Stewart seems to be developing nicely next to Mikell after posting 84 tackles, three sacks and a pick last season. Stewart is just 23 and should continue to refine his craft and improve his play.
Even if Mikell continues to play at a high level, St. Louis could stand to add some better depth here. Craig Dahl returns but, in my opinion, was inconsistent last year and did not perform as well as expected.
As for 2013 safety prospects, the player that intrigues me most is Ray Ray Armstrong of the Miami Hurricanes.
Armstrong, a Merton Hanks like 6'4'' and 215 pounds, is a truly elite talent who has yet to fully realize his staggering potential.
Talent wise, there is not a better prospect in regard to his combination of size, speed, aggression and athleticism. With the right coaching (and I feel the Rams defensive staff is as good as anybody's), Armstrong could be a steal as a projected second round selection.
Other early round safety prospects (some who admittedly may be safer picks) would include Eric Reid of LSU (round one or two), T.J. McDonald of USC (round one or two) and Robert Lester of Alabama (round two.)
There are some cornerbacks, interestingly, who are said to be strong contenders to move to safety at the next level. One of those is the vastly talented David Amerson of North Carolina State (round one.)
No matter how one slices it, the crop of safeties coming up next season looks strong and should present a great opportunity for St. Louis to bolster the position.
Offensive Tackle: Oday Aboushi, Virginia
Oday Aboushi (No. 72) hoosfootball.com
Offensive tackle is a position that really should clarify itself during the offseason. As the saying goes, the rubber will meet the road in relation to this position in 2012.
Jason Smith, the No. 2 pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, will need to play well to remain with the Rams in 2013 following his contract restructure.
Considering the amended contract and the fact that Smith would be due an $11.25 million dollar roster bonus next year, the big right tackle better have a big year if he wants to continue to reside in the Gateway City.
New offensive line coach Paul Boudreau has been working hard with Smith and it seems that he is responding. If the strong run blocker can become more consistent in regard to pass protection, Smith will begin to realize his sizable potential and likely receive a new deal from St. Louis.
On the left side, Rodger Saffold was one of the NFL's best rookie offensive lineman in 2010.
However, he struggled with multiple injuries during his sophomore season before landing on the injured reserve and was a shell of the player that impressed a year earlier, causing the Indianapolis Colts to publicly lament passing on him in the draft.
I fully expect Saffold to bounce back in 2012 and solidify himself as a very solid starting caliber tackle.
If I am proven correct, the only question going forward would be whether Saffold ends up, long-term, on the left or right side. If Smith falters or is not retained for whatever reason, Saffold could theoretically end up at right tackle next year.
If Smith does not prove to be the answer, the Rams will likely turn to the draft for reinforcements.
Historically, Jeff Fisher has not been one to select many early round offensive lineman. If that trend continues, that would take my favorite offensive tackle, Chris Faulk of LSU, off the board.
However, Virginia's Oday Aboushi is a very talented and athletic prospect who currently projects as a second round pick. Aboushi, 6'6'' and 310 pounds, quick and long, has the tools to be a nice left tackle at the next level.
Other offensive tackle options to watch include Jake Matthews of Texas A & M (round one or two) and Seantrel Henderson of Miami (round four to five.)
Tight End: Zach Ertz, Stanford
Zach Ertz (No. 86)
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St Louis currently has nine tight ends on its' official roster. The almost certain starter, Lance Kendricks, had a so-so rookie season, thus, it is not a certainty that he is the long-range answer, although hopes are high.
The eight remaining tight ends fighting for a total of three to four opening day spots include the often injured (Mike Hoomanawanui), some uninspiring veterans (Brody Eldridge, Mike McNeill and Matthew Mulligan), a part-time fullback (Ben Guidugli) and three undrafted rookies (DeAngelo Peterson, Jamie Childers and Cory Harkey.)
As it stands now, tight end is a position that looks like one that could very well be looked to for further help, particularly if consistent health continues to evade Big Mike (Hoomanawanui.)
If St. Louis looks to the draft next year, an intriguing prospect who could be around in round four is Zach Ertz of Stanford, a 6'6'' and 250 pound TE with some good athleticism and elevation ability. With elite height and a propensity for going up high for catches, Ertz could be a very nice target for Bradford in the red zone.
He also has enough size to develop into a good blocker along the line.
Other options at tight end that look to have promising NFL futures include Tyler Eifert of Notre Dame (round one), Joseph Fauria of UCLA (round one or two) and Jordan Reed of Florida (round four.)
Various Skill Positions: Wide Receiver, Halfback and Cornerback
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The Rams strongly addressed the running back, wide receiver and cornerback positions in the 2012 NFL Draft.
That said, each could again be targeted in 2013.
At running back, Steven Jackson will be 30 by the time the time next season kicks off and Isaiah Pead may or may not translate into the feature back that the Rams hope he becomes.
A couple of backs I like include Marcus Lattimore of South Carolina (round one) who looks to be a prototypical feature back and the versatile Joseph Randle of Oklahoma State (round two or three.)
At wide receiver, the Rams could once again need to add additional ammunition via the draft.
The Rams look set in the slot (if healthy) with Danny Amendola, Greg Salas and Steve Smith.
However, the outside spots are a little more suspect due to the fact that the best options there are rookies (Brian Quick and Chris Givens), injury prone (the talented Danario Alexander) or seemingly limited in overall starting potential (Brandon Gibson or Austin Pettis.)
With that said, the Rams could look to add a premiere talent like Robert Woods of USC (round one) or Justin Hunter of Tennessee (round one.) Some speedsters that might be appealing in later rounds include Florida's Andre Debose, Baylor's Tevin Reese, or West Virginia's Tavon Austin.
At cornerback, the Rams look loaded (if healthy) with Cortland Finnegan, Bradley Fletcher, Jerome Murphy, Josh Gordy, Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson.
However, in this pass happy era, a team can never have too many good corners.
Some very talented prospects there include David Amerson of North Carolina State (round one), Xavier Rhodes of Florida State (round one), Jonathon Banks of Mississippi State (round one) and Washington's Desmond Trufant (round two.)
What I like about next year's group of CB's is that several of them not only have terrific speed and skill, but also great size, as each of those listed above do.