8 Playmakers the St. Louis Rams Can Add to Their Remade Offense
After Steven Jackson and Danny Amendola departed in free agency, it's no secret the Rams will be looking for playmakers to replace their production. St. Louis has eight picks in total, with two coming inside the top 25.
Mock drafts, from top talent evaluators, have Jeff Fisher and Les Snead snagging at least one wide receiver in the first round. Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has also mentioned that the organization really likes a particular running back on day two of the NFL draft.
It's obvious that a few new playmakers will be added to the Rams roster before the start of the 2013 season. So let's take a look at eight of the most intriguing wide receiving and running back prospects the draft has to offer.
Adding Chris Givens and Brian Quick to Brian Schottenheimer's offense last season was a big step in the right direction. The moves aided quarterback Sam Bradford's development by giving him a downfield threat in Givens. Once Quick starts to grasp the offense a little bit better, things should take off for him as well. The learning curve from Appalachian State to the NFL has been a bit steep for the former second-round pick.
However, the Rams shouldn't settle in now that they have Givens, Quick and Jared Cook. They need to keep progressing and add even more talent. With two first-round picks, giving Bradford another wide receiver with dynamic playmaking skills seems logical.
At No. 16, St. Louis would be wise to focus in on Cordarrelle Patterson. Patterson is a former junior college star who burst onto the scene when he joined the University of Tennessee in 2012. One year into his tenure at Tennessee he was named All-SEC first team after scoring 10 total touchdowns in 12 games.
Patterson was a multitalented threat when he was on the field. He scored at least one touchdown as a punt returner, kick returner, receiver and running back. Dane Brugler of CBS Sports says he is a mix of Dwayne Bowe and Nate Burleson as a player.
Despite the player comparisons, his 4.42 speed and 37" vertical should be enough to entice Les Snead and Jeff Fisher.
Losing running back Steven Jackson in free agency may prove to be a big blow to the Rams if they can't find a proper replacement. Jackson brought so much more than statistics to the organization. Sure, he rushed for 1,000 yards in eight straight seasons, but his presence and unprecedented leadership in the locker room will be equally missed.
Which means St. Louis will be looking for a back who has similar size and leadership qualities. It's not known whether the club wants SJ39's replacement to be a veteran or a rookie, but if the salary cap and overall theme of the team mean anything, it will be a rookie.
Coach Fisher already has a scatback in Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead, so BCS Championship Offensive MVP Eddie Lacy would be the perfect complement to both second-year players. Lacy is an underclassmen who declared for the NFL draft after having one of his biggest games on the nation's biggest stage.
His athleticism and ability to shed tacklers won't propel him into the first round, yet it will be enough to have teams lined up in the second round. It's hard to say whether or not Lacy will slip past teams like the Bengals or the Jets, but if he does, the Rams would be hard pressed to pass him up with the 46th pick.
The loss of Danny Amendola to the New England Patriots could easily spell trouble for the Rams offense. They now have a void in the slot that is unlikely to be filled by any wideout currently on the roster. Austin Pettis occasionally filled in when Amendola was out due to injury, but his performances were less than ideal.
The newly acquired Cook will be expected to occupy the slot in certain situations, but St. Louis would be at its best if they found a player who solely manned the slot. In the first round of this year's draft, elite slot prospects aren't exactly a dime a dozen, so the Rams will have to make a play at West Virginia's Tavon Austin at the end of the first round.
He is considered the top collegiate wide receiver in terms of slot play. Scouts love the fact that Austin is an explosive, quick-twitch athlete. He has no problem reaching top speed in a matter of seconds, and his straight-line speed is second to none.
As a senior for the Mountaineers, he hauled in 114 passes for 1,289 yards and scored 12 touchdowns. His numbers were naturally inflated due to the offensive scheme he was in, but that doesn't take away from his overall ability as a receiver.
Experts believe he could go as high as 16 and as low as 22. If you're St. Louis, it doesn't matter if he goes at 16 or 22, all that matters is the fact he will end up in a Rams uniform regardless.
If Lacy is snatched up before the 46th pick, Snead and Co. will need to reevaluate their draft strategy at the running back position. There isn't a back who holds the same value as Lacy, so waiting to select a halfback until the third or fourth rounds seems like the most sound option.
Reaching for a player a round too early never ends well, especially if the prospect doesn't pan out. Plus, this year's draft has a ton of value in the middle rounds at running back. Andre Ellingson and Montee Ball may end up getting drafted before Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell, yet Bell is the closest thing to an SJ39 clone this draft has to offer.
He stands in at 6'2" and weighs 230 pounds. Like Jackson, the underclassmen has thick hips and a well-built frame. He will easily make defenders pay for meeting him one-on-one in the hole and seemingly always falls forward when going to the ground.
According to CBS Sports, he led the Big Ten in rushing as a junior while securing three 200-yard games. Not bad for a guy who was benched multiple times in prior seasons. The only thing that may turn the Rams off, is his attitude. He's a guy who enjoys being the bell cow, which may not fly with Coach Fisher.
Fisher has spoken openly about his "running back by committee" approach for some time now. His stance led to Jackson opting out of the final year of his contract and eventually moving on to the Atlanta Falcons.
St. Louis may have the opportunity to snag an offensive guard and a safety with each one of its first round picks. If this ends up being the case, it would be wise of them to make those moves as they are both bigger positional needs over wide receiver. Much like running back, the wideout position offers plenty of depth after the first round.
One of the biggest steals of this year's draft may come at the end of Round 2 or in the early part of Round 3. Da'Rick Rogers, formerly of Tennessee, has seen his draft stock shoot up since transferring to Tennessee Tech.
Rogers would have loved to stay a Volunteer for the remainder of his collegiate career, but he was suspended indefinitely after failing three drug tests in two years. The suspension forced him to transfer down a level in competition.
Yet the transfer down didn't hurt his confidence. He made the most of his second chance by catching 61 passes for 893 yards and scoring 10 touchdowns. Despite being game planned against weekly, Rogers was awarded the "Elite Wide Receiver Award" at the end of the 2012 season.
His best game at Tennessee Tech was against Southeast Missouri State. He set a school record with 18 catches and 303 yards receiving. It's also worth mentioning that Rogers passed 10 drug tests while attending school at Tech.
The Rams' top brass aren't scared to take a chance on guys with off-field red flags, so one has to assume the junior wide receiver would be in play if the timing was right.
Even though Marcus Lattimore is coming off knee surgery in back-to-back years, he is still one of the most coveted running backs in this year's draft. Prior to his first knee injury in 2011, he was named SEC Freshman of the Year and first-team All-SEC.
Those two honors alone had scouts yearning for more. In 2011, Lattimore was only able to showcase his skill set in seven games. In 2012, he was able to in nine games. A once promising collegiate career quickly turned into a muddled mess that can now only be rectified in the NFL.
On December 12, 2012, he announced his intentions to forgo his senior season and enter the NFL draft. His projected position right now is between the third and fourth round. Some believe that his stock is a little too high, but when the tape is turned on, he has all the tools to be an All-Pro tailback.
The only question that looms large is the physical condition of his knees. Also, are the Rams at a point where they can afford to gamble on a player of Lattimore's nature? I don't believe they are quite there yet. They have plenty of holes to fill on the roster, and it's not as if they have an overabundance of draft selections.
Eight selections is right around the league average based on the number of compensatory picks dished out during the offseason. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have 14 draft picks like the San Francisco 49ers.
But if St. Louis checks him out and they feel confident about his long-term durability, it's easy to see that he has the talent to make an impact in the league.
Quinton Patton, much like Patterson from Tennessee, burst onto the Division I scene in 2012. After spending three years at Coffeyville Community College in Kansas, Patton decided it was time to use his final year of eligibility at a school that would help him garner national attention from talent evaluators around the league.
As a member of Louisiana Tech, the 195-pound slot receiver scored 11 touchdowns while catching 79 passes. Patton earned First Team all-conference honors in the WAC, and the Bulldogs offense led the nation with 51.5 points per game in 2012.
His stellar senior season has positioned him to be an early day two pick. He doesn't quite have the same straight-line speed Austin has, but in the second round, the Rams could get more bang for their buck. He's quick in and out of his breaks and catches the ball with his hands away from his body.
Which is a big deal to some. His length in his arms and size in his hands allow him to do that with ease. It's also worth mentioning that he has experience as a punt returner—meaning he could step in as St. Louis' slot receiver and punt returner on day one.
Moreover, the word on the street is the Rams had a large contingent at his pro day on March 26. The large contingent included general manager Snead.
Stanford Cardinal running back Stepfan Taylor is one of the most decorated players to depart from the Pac-12 this season. He was named second-team All-Pac-12 as a junior. He was the team's MVP in 2012 and he holds virtually every rushing record at the university.
He holds the school record for the most career rushing yards, touchdowns and 100-yard rushing games. Not to mention he holds the single-game record for most rushing touchdowns scored. To finish out his collegiate career in 2012, Taylor rushed for his third consecutive 1,000-yard season and earned Rose Bowl Offensive Player of the Game honors.
At 5'11" and 215 pounds, he has the size St. Louis is looking for. With his draft stock starting to settle in the third round, Taylor would make a good addition to a backfield that is looking to add its third and final piece.
In terms of skill, his performance testing numbers from the combine won't blow you away. But he is one of those players that is faster, quicker and more agile on tape. He's not a workout warrior and his draft evaluation took a hit because of it.
Yet expect Taylor to be one of the most solid running back prospects in this year's draft. He may have already hit his ceiling as a player, but his experience and talent will shine through during his rookie campaign. The Rams should consider themselves lucky if they have the opportunity to draft him.