St. Louis Rams Mock Draft: Updated 7-Round Projections After Senior Bowl
Any mock draft—especially the St. Louis Rams' with their two first-round picks this year—will need a little updating after the meat market that is the Senior Bowl.
For the uninitiated: The Senior Bowl is an annual All-Star game that pits the top college football seniors (get it?) in the nation against each other so they can prove their mettle to the hordes of NFL scouts, front office executives and coaches in attendance.
The week of practice leading up to the game is considered to be of more value to talent evaluators than the game itself as the players from both the North and South teams are led by NFL coaches and their staffs. This provides an opportunity for the prospects to prove what they can do in an NFL-style practice against some of the top competition in their draft class.
The five days of practice brought to the fore many names that had been off most people's radars, some of them at positions of need for the Rams.
Let's take a look and see who impressed enough to work their way into the Rams' awareness.
Round 1.1—Lane Johnson
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After Taylor Lewan and Jake Matthews both decided to stay in school, it appeared there were only two offensive tackles worthy of first-round consideration—Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher.
Lane Johnson's dominant Senior Bowl practice performances have put him squarely in the mix.
The former high school quarterback continues to impress with his athletic ability. What stood out the most for me in his practice sessions in Mobile was his ability to finish. Johnson flashed a nasty side and worked his blocks to the whistle.
From Nick Chiamardas of ninersnation.com (don't hate, Rams fans):
Johnson was easily the best tackle on the South roster and solidified himself as a top-20 pick. He had great foot speed and ability to mirror all blockers, inside and out, and was rarely beat in one-on-one matchups.
Lillibridge goes on to state his belief that Johnson may have shown enough to be a top-10 pick. For Sam Bradford's sake, let's hope he is wrong.
Round 1.2—Matt Elam
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With Craig Dahl gone and (thankfully) not returning, the Rams have to add a safety this offseason—preferably, as always, through the draft.
If Lane Johnson is available at No. 16 (the first of their two first-round picks), the Rams have to snatch him up—right tackle being the more important of the two needs.
If that happens, Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro will likely no longer be on the board by the time the Rams' second first-round pick (No. 22) comes around.
That leaves either Florida's Matt Elam or LSU's Eric Reid as potential selections.
Reid's coverage skills are suspect at best—exactly what the Rams don't need after watching Dahl routinely get torched by receivers in 2012—but Elam has shown playmaking ability in all aspects of the game.
Elam was clutch for the Gators all year, but had a coming out party against LSU. He had seven tackles with a forced fumble that turned the game for Florida and took away a long pass play inside the Gators' 30-yard line.
Elam had some big plays to prevent some possible touchdowns against Texas A&M. He was huge against Tennessee with 10 tackles, one sack, one pass break up and an interception. The junior also had good games versus Georgia, Missouri and Florida State.
Elam has 65 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, five passes broken up, four interceptions and one forced fumble so far this season. He has been excellent in run defense, pass defense and laying out some massive hits.
Round 2—Wide Receiver
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The talent that is likely to be available at the wide receiver position in the second round of the draft is so impressive that Jeff Fisher and Les Snead won't be able to resist pulling the trigger on one of them.
Nor should they.
Baylor's Terrance Williams, Louisiana Tech's Quinton Patton, Marshall's Aaron Dobson, Oregon State's Markus Wheaton, Arkansas' Cobi Hamilton, Texas A&M's Ryan Swope and Tennessee Tech's Da'Rick Rogers all are wide receivers who could be available when the Rams make their second-round pick.
Hamilton and Williams stood out in Thursday's Senior Bowl practice.
Da'Rick Rogers brings elite-level talent and ability. Ryan Swope has great ball skills and isn't afraid to throw his weight around.
Sam Bradford needs more weapons. There will be plenty available in the second round.
Round 3—Outside Linebacker
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The third area of need for the Rams is strong-side linebacker. Last year's starter, Rocky McIntosh, played well at times but certainly left room for improvement.
The problem with taking a linebacker higher in the draft is that the strong-side backer comes off the field on most third-down plays.
With James Laurinaitis entrenched in the middle and Jo-Lonn Dunbar having solidified his hold on the weak-side backer position, the Rams are not likely to spend anything higher than a third-round pick on a position that will only be on the field in situations that are likely to produce running plays from the opposing offense.
Mizzou's Zaviar Gooden should be available in the third round. So could Florida State's Brandon Jenkins and Rutgers' Khaseem Greene.
Jenkins is the most pro-ready of the group—if he proves to be in good health after an injury-shortened senior season.
Gooden and Greene have flaws in their games, but if anyone can coach them up, it is Jeff Fisher and his staff.
Round 4—Tight End
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One of the truly great things about the Senior Bowl is that it gives players who have never received much national media attention a chance to prove what they can do to a large audience.
Rice's Vance McDonald did just that.
With Cincinnati's Travis Kelsey pulling out of the Senior Bowl because of injury, it gave someone like McDonald a chance, and he took advantage with some impressive catches on the first day of practice. He suffered some drops in subsequent days but not enough to dampen the enthusiasm about not only his performance on Monday, but his measurables as well.
If one were to construct a human being for the purpose of playing tight end in the NFL, the finished product would look exactly like McDonald. He is 6'4" tall with 10-inch hands, 34-inch arms and a wingspan of nearly 82 inches.
He's got the body, he's got the ability to make highlight-reel catches, all he needs is the consistency that will come with proper coaching.
UCLA's Joseph Fauria is another option, though at this point McDonald is the more capable offensive weapon and Fauria can't block to save his life. Fauria has potential as a receiver, but McDonald is the better play if he is still available in Round 4.
Round 5—Running Back Depth
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If Michael Dyer decides to play professional football in 2013, Jeff Fisher and the Rams will likely have no problem picking up the immensely talented back whose value has been deflated by the notorious and vaguely-stated "character issues."
If these rankings were based solely on football talent, Dyer would be one of the highest-rated backs. He was on his way to being a first-round pick before off-the-field problems derailed his career and caused him to transfer from Auburn to Arkansas State.
That scenario should sound incredibly familiar to Rams fans who watched Janoris Jenkins flourish under Fisher's tutelage.
If Dyer decides to return to school, there are other options at the running back position in the fifth round.
Pittsburgh's Ray Graham suffered a significant knee injury in 2011 and started 2012 at what the coaching staff estimates was about 90 percent. He got stronger as the season went on and finished with 1,042 yards and 11 touchdowns. His injury history may cause his stock to slip enough to allow the Rams to scoop him up in the fifth.
There is also Notre Dame's Cierre Wood (pictured) who averaged 6.5 yards per carry in 2012.
LSU's Spencer Ware and Michael Ford were unable to put up attention-grabbing numbers because of their team's "running back by committee" approach, but each carry the potential to be effective NFL running backs.
Round 6—Adding Depth
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Jeff Fisher likes to take offensive linemen late in drafts and develop them. Who could blame him when he has the likes of the preeminently successful Paul Boudreau coaching his big guys up front. Just look at what Boudreau was able to do with Barry Richardson and Robert Turner in 2012.
If they are unable to sign a free-agent guard in the offseason, and despite the imminent return of last year's fifth-round pick Rokevious (Rok) Watkins, the Rams may decide to add depth at offensive guard late in the 2013 draft.
TCU's Blaize Foltz tore his ACL in the 2010 season, which is the only reason why he may still be available for the Rams as late as the sixth round. If he is, the Rams will probably grab him.
Other options include Georgia Tech's Omoregie Uzzi and Florida's James Wilson.
Round 7—Mr. Nearly Irrelevant
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At this point, the Rams are probably going to go with the best player still on their draft board.
With Bradley Fletcher possibly leaving through free agency, the Rams may be looking hard at the cornerbacks left on their board.
Vanderbilt's Trey Wilson and Mississippi State's Corey Broomfield are two possibilities that may provide value in the seventh round.