The St. Louis Rams made a bold move to move up and select West Virginia WR/KR Tavon Austin.
Super Bowls aren’t won in April, but the St. Louis Rams took a giant step toward getting the chance to play in February with the 2013 NFL draft. Both Super Bowl XLVII participants, the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers, are known for drafting very well.
The Rams are earning that reputation, too, and it’s not just because of what happened on draft day.
St. Louis used the draft as intended in today’s NFL: a piece of the offseason personnel improvement opportunity puzzle.
Entering the offseason, the Rams had eight picks—also known as not enough to fill all of their roster holes.
Les Snead realized that the market for proven pass-catchers and blindside protectors would most likely be tapped by the time his club was scheduled to make its first pick at No. 16 overall.
He got out in front of the problem by signing Jake Long and Jared Cook in free agency.
Three other tackles will count more than $10 million against their respective teams’ caps this year, and one of them is Doug Free.
That probably won’t last.
In terms of average salary, Long is the NFLs eighth-highest paid left tackle. He trails two franchise-tagged guys, but the fact that only eight players received the tag in 2013 speaks to the value of the position.
Sure enough, on Day 1, the draft’s consensus top three offensive tackles were all claimed in the first four picks. Four were gone in the first 11.
Of course, St. Louis had already made a selection at the No. 8 spot: West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin.
The Rams needed more production from pass-catchers last year, when Danny Amendola (team-leading 63 receptions), Brandon Gibson (51; second) and Steven Jackson (38; fifth) were all on the payroll.
With significant question marks surrounding every top wideout in this year’s iteration of the draft, they walked away with the nation’s leading draft entrants in the receptions department. Austin and Stedman Bailey each reeled in 114 passes in 2012 at West Virginia, only trailing USC sophomore—and Biletnikoff Award winner—Marqise Lee.
But not before they signed former Tennessee Titans tight end Jared Cook to roam the middle of the field.
Linebacker Daryl Smith visited with the Rams in early April, but never agreed to terms with them. As it turns out, they seem to have had other plans for that starting outside ‘backer position: rookie Alec Ogletree.
By securing Austin with the No. 8 pick and Ogletree with the No. 30—neither being slots that St. Louis previously possessed—Snead shaped the remainder of his second draft.
Gone were the second- and seventh-round selections with which he entered the fray. Along with them departed the opportunity to make moves to select a safety like Jonathan Cyprien (No. 33 overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars) or select Kentucky guard Larry Warford outright.
Instead, the first of the Rams’ two third-rounders was spent on USC safety T.J. McDonald—much to Jeff Fisher’s delight—and the second was used to get Bailey.
Everyone knew that St. Louis needed a safety (if not two), and the Rams managed to snag one with their first pick on Day 2.
As for their need at guard, they secured an accomplished Alabama interior lineman to take care of business on Day 3. Chance Warmack’s name had been associated with the Rams in various mock drafts long before April, but they would instead end up with his collegiate teammate, Barrett Jones.
It would be no surprise if all five of their picks are starters in their first or second year.
In the fifth round, St. Louis chose the first Miami Hurricane of the 2013 NFL draft—Brandon McGee.
If the goal with this pick was to find another immediate impact player on the offensive or defensive side of the ball, McGee’s was a curious selection. The Rams have some talent at cornerback, although adding one for depth purposes would be a necessity at some point.
Barring injury, McGee’s early contributions may not come on either side of that equation—but he should make an impact on special teams.
Armed with two sixth-round picks (their own and one from the Atlanta Falcons as a result of the trade down to get Ogletree), Snead and Fisher were able to trade back into the fifth round for one more guy that they were “really, really jacked about.”
Vanderbilt running back Zac Stacy, a stark physical contrast to the slighter Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson. He’s two inches shorter than they are, but outweighs each by about 20 pounds.
Snead told the Associated Press’ R.B. Fallstrom that “from start to finish,” he was “very pleased” with his draft class because “each player fits a role, each player was coveted.”
Of course he’s going to say that. He’s the GM.
But with so many targeted moves to acquire the players that St. Louis ended up drafting—only their fourth- and (first) fifth-round selections were their own from start to finish—it’s easy to believe him.
St. Louis (7-8-1) was as close as you can get to a .500 team in 2012 without actually hitting that mark.
With a draft class of seven potential impact players, the Rams seem to be destined for a winning record if the new guys perform well in their roles as envisioned by Fisher and Snead.
They haven’t had a winning season since 2003.
Their current leadership assumed control of a 2-14 team just two seasons ago.