5 Offensive Guards St. Louis Should Target on Day 1 or Day 2 of the NFL Draft
Seemingly, the St. Louis Rams have one starting position to fill on the offensive line.
Last season, left guard seemed like a rotating carousel of players that changed by the week. First it was Robert Turner; then it was Quinn Ojinnaka; then it was Shelley Smith, and finally it came full circle back to Turner.
Building a strong offensive line involves continuity. Something offensive line coach Paul Boudreau is hoping to finally achieve this season. With four picks in the first three rounds, St. Louis should have no problem finding its new starting left guard for the 2013 season.
Let's take a look at five offensive guards the Rams should be targeting on the first two days of the 2013 NFL draft.
Chance Warmack, Senior, Alabama
With two first-round picks, the likelihood of the Rams using one of those selections on a offensive guard is increasing by the day. Adam Schefter of ESPN, believes Alabama guard Chance Warmack could be in store for a bit of a slide on draft day.
Prior to Schefter's report, it was widely believed Warmack would go inside the top 10. Both the Arizona Cardinals and Tennessee Titans appeared to be suitors amongst teams in that range. Even though the news of a slide spells bad news for Warmack, it's music to the ears of St. Louis general manager Les Snead and head coach Jeff Fisher.
After signing Jake Long to a multi-year deal just weeks ago, there's still one glaring hole on the left side of the Rams' offensive line. And without question, there's no better player to fill that hole than the 320-pound first team All-American.
In college, Warmack took on the best of the best week in and week out in the SEC. His high level of play in college football's toughest division had scouts oohing and aahhing in 2012. Talent evaluators, like Todd McShay of ESPN, said the three-time national championship winner is the best guard prospect since Steve Hutchinson.
If that truly is the case, St. Louis should be sprinting to the podium on draft day. Potentially having one of the league's best offensive lines would ensure continued development of Brian Schottenheimer's offense.
Not to mention that it would surely make quarterback Sam Bradford feel more comfortable.
Projected Round: Round 1
Jonathan Cooper, Senior, North Carolina
If the Rams miss out on this year's top offensive guard prospect, they should immediately shift their focus to North Carolina's finest, Jonathan Cooper. Like Warmack, Cooper is considered one of the most talented offensive linemen in this year's draft.
The 23-year-old left guard was a four-year starter for the Tar Heels and consensus All-American in 2012. As a freshman, he registered a team-best 40 knockdown blocks, logged 579 snaps and earned All-ACC freshman team honors by the Sporting News.
The following season, Cooper's play increased as he played a team-high 875 snaps while appearing in all 13 games. And to no one's surprise, he managed to lead the team in knockdown blocks for the second straight season. Even though North Carolina went only 8-5, the sophomore offensive lineman garnered second-team All-ACC honors.
His junior and senior seasons were similar to his sophomore season in terms of snaps played, but from a performance standpoint, his blocking grades continuously rose. The Tar Heel coaching staff graded him out at an 88 percent efficiency rate in 2011 and a 93 percent efficiency rate in 2012, two of the highest numbers the school had ever seen.
If St. Louis is looking for a player who has shown productivity and durability from day one, then Cooper is definitely their guy. Missing only three career collegiate games due to injury is almost unheard of, which is exactly why he didn't have a single medical red flag at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Projected Round: Round 1
Justin Pugh, Junior, Syracuse
One of the few underclassmen in this year's offensive guard class is Justin Pugh of Syracuse.
The Pennsylvania native won't be mentioned in the same breath as Warmack and Cooper in terms of raw talent, but he is considered by most scouts and NFL observers as a fringe first-round prospect.
Despite playing left tackle at the collegiate level, it became more and more evident at the Senior Bowl that Pugh was better suited to the inside. The 6'5'' 307-pound road grader is highly regarded by scouts because of his impressive quickness and explosive first step off the ball.
As a run-blocker he's not overpowering, but he is very sound in his technique. He keeps his pad level low and shows a high-level of awareness when it comes to locating defenders. Not to mention his strong pulling ability should translate to the guard position quite nicely.
Even though the Orange averaged 187 yards rushing per game in 2012, the strongest asset to the team was its aerial attack led by quarterback Ryan Nassib. Nassib completed 62.4 percent of his passes, threw 26 touchdown passes and compiled a quarterback rating of 143.3.
So it's safe to say he should send Pugh a thank you card in the mail if he gets drafted in the first round. As a blindside protecter, he helped Nassib set school records in yards passing per game and touchdown passes for a season.
The Rams should consider pulling the trigger on Pugh with the 46th pick if they pass on Warmack and Cooper.
Projected Round: Round 2
Larry Warford, Senior, Kentucky
Larry Warford may not be a household name just yet, but give him time.
The 37-game starter from the University of Kentucky has been one of the drafts biggest risers since the NFL Scouting Combine. His numbers weren't off the charts, but his interviews were lights out.
According to Mike Mayock, it's okay that his numbers weren't through the roof. Teams see him more as a phone-booth guy; he's a powerful run-blocker who is a master at using his strength to his own advantage.
Despite having short arms, he uses his quick hands to get inside of the defender. Once he has the opposition locked up, it's game over. His strength becomes overpowering, which ultimately negates any reach advantage or lower body quickness the defender may have.
Going forward, Warford needs to improve on his technique as a pass-blocker. He tends to get stood up at times by quicker, more agile defensive linemen. If he were to lose a little bit of weight around his midsection, it may ultimately help his stamina and flexibility.
St. Louis already has a player similar to the All-SEC second-team member in Rokevious Watkins, so it's hard to say if they would use such a high draft selection on a war pig offensive lineman.
Projected Round: Late Round 2
Alvin Bailey, Junior, Arkansas
The last top-level offensive guard the Rams should keep their eye on is Alvin Bailey from the University of Arkansas.
Bailey, like Warford, is an impressive run-blocker who shows optimal strength and smarts when attacking the second level of a defense.
At first glance, one wouldn't peg Bailey as an athletic guard, but don't let his 312-pound frame fool you. He shows great first-step quickness off the ball and top-notch awareness when identifying defenders.
He won't do well in space, so he's best suited for a power-blocking scheme like Schottenheimer's. Keeping his weight at a manageable level may be a challenge because his weight at the NFL Scouting Combine was as low as I could find.
It's also worth mentioning that his pass-blocking ability isn't as strong as his run-blocking ability. Bailey shows balance problems when changing direction on the field. Quicker inside pass-rushers could pose major problems to the underclassman if they were to use a spin move on him.
The All-SEC second-team member wouldn't be ideal for St. Louis before the third round. Yet if he fell to them in the third, or if Snead moved back, he would provide great value towards the end of Day 2.
Projected Round: Round 3