The Rams' Top 10 Draft Boomers
This is a countdown of the best players ever selected by the Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams. Mind you, we are dealing exclusively with players taken by the organization on draft day.
Greats such as Dick "Night Train" Lane, Marshall Faulk and Kurt Warner are not eligible for inclusion, because they were acquired via a trade or free agency acquisitions.
You might be surprised by who makes the cut and who did not.
No.10 Eric Dickerson - Running Back, SMU
Selected: 1983, 1st round, 2nd overall
Southern Methodist University
Tenure with Rams: 1983-1987
Jersey Retired: Yes
Elected to the Pro-Football Hall of Fame: Class of 1999
One of the organization's most celebrated draft-picks, Dickerson was the second overall pick in the 1983, immediately after John Elway. In a move many still doubt was necessary, the Rams traded up with Seattle from No. 3 to No. 2 to acquire his rights.
As we all know, the 1983 draft is one of the most celebrated in NFL history. It featured no less than six future Hall of Famers, including Elway, Dickerson, Bruce Matthews, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino, and Darrell Green.
Guess who was the AP Offensive Rookie of the year? It was Dickerson. His Dickerson's 1,808 yard, 18 touchdown performance powered the Rams turnaround from 2-7 (strike shortened 1982 season) to 10-6 in 1983. This performance was recently celebrated as the No. 2 ranked rookie campaign by NFL Films.
He would top it the next year, setting the NFL's single season rushing record at 2,105 yards, a record which still stands. That year was recently celebrated as the No. 2 all-time single season performance by NFL Films. In just five short years, Dickerson would become the Rams all-time leading rusher.
He was elected to the Pro Bowl six times. He was elected All-Pro five times. as was picked for the 1980's All-Decade 1980s team. At one point, he was third on the league's career leading rushing list behind only Walter Payton and Jim Brown. He was elected to the Pro-Football Hall of Fame in 1999.
It's hard for me to speak of Dickerson. To this day, I am smoldering over how things ended. If we had simply been willing to pay the man, we would have had both Dickerson and Jim Everett in the same backfield for years. They would have been teamed with both Henry Ellard and Flipper Anderson. Olympic gold-medalist Ron Brown was the No. 3 receiver. Don't forget about our all-pro offensive line of the 1980s either. This would have been a nasty collection of powerful weapons possibly sufficient to thwart the latter years of the San Francisco dynasty.
Instead, in a classic move that destroyed our future Rams owner Georgia Frontiere decided to trade Dickerson for a boat-load of draft picks. She 'participated actively' in the selection of the players taken with those picks. According to rumor, Frontiere had her personal astrologer compare her natal chart to those of our draft prospects. This was done in an effort to find players who were compatible astrological fits for her organization. The result was a slew of busted draft picks and a horrendous decade of futility.
When you hear many older fans insist with venom that Frontiere destroyed the Rams, despite the 1999 Super Bowl, you need think about Dickerson. Believe it or not, the hatred does not flow from the fact that she moved the football team. It existed long before that.
When you hear the hatred, you need to think of three players: Vince Ferragamo, Dickerson and Jerome Bettis. Dickerson was Frontiere's most unforgivable travesty, for old Ram fans. The decision to deal Dickerson was probably the single worst move in Ram-history.
No.9 Tom Mack - Guard, University of Michigan
Selected: 1966, 1st round, No. 2 overall
University of Michigan
Tenure with Rams: 1966-1978
Jersey Retired: No
Elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame: 1999
Tom Mack is one of the most obscure Rams in the Hall of Fame. The left guard is not often a position that commands attention. Mack commanded enough attention to make him the second overall selection in 1966.
The story becomes even more unlikely when you realize that he was drafted with head coach George Allen's consent. This was a coach who famously hated the draft and rookies. Mack was one of only two rookies to make the 1966 squad.
Almost unbelievably, Mack started most of his rookie campaign after injuries forced him into the lineup. He was the starting left guard for the next 12 years. Allen was quoted many times saying that a rookie couldn't do anything but make mistakes. Ideally, an NFL roster would be composed entirely of veterans, and there would be no rookies. Mack was so good, he made Allen break his own rules.
Mack never missed a game, logging 184 consecutive starts. He was elected to 11 Pro-Bowls and earned four All-Pro nods.
Contrary to popular myth, Mack never played at Michigan with Dan Dierdorf. Mack was a full-cycle ahead of Dierdorf, who was drafted in 1971.
No.8 Merlin Olsen, Utah State
Selected: 1962, 1st Round, No. 3 overall
Tenure with Rams: 1962-1976
Jersey Retired: Yes
Elected to the Pro-Football Hall of Fame: Class of 1982
Of course, Merlin Olsen passed away just a few short months ago, so we are all familiar with his achievements. He was the AP Defensive Rookie of the year in 1962. Merlin was selected 14 consecutive times to the Pro Bowl. Only Bruce Matthews can boast that many elections.
He was a 6 time member of the All-Pro team. He was a member of both the 1960s and 1970s NFL All-Decade teams. He was elected to the NFL's 75th anniversary All-Time Team.
He is on the short-short list of who is the greatest defensive tackle of all-time. The other two guys mentioned are Mr. Cowboy Bob Lilly, and Mean Joe Greene. Olsen was a charter member of the Fearsome Foursome, one of the greatest defensive lines ever assembled.
Why so low on the list? You have to remember, he was the 3rd overall pick in the entire 1962 draft. Much was expected of him.
It is remarkable that Merlin became the #3 pick in the NFL draft. Evidently, he was a late bloomer. During his youth in Utah, he could not make a team--any team--in High School. That would soon change... Enough that he won the Outland Trophy at Utah State, and was selected by the Rams as the #3 pick overall in the entire draft. 34 years have elapsed since his retirement and we're still looking around for his replacement. We might have gotten one this year, but we passed.
Olsen was arguably just as successful after his retirement as he was before. He went on to success with several hit television series, for which he won Emmy awards. He was an outstanding color commentator for decades with NBC. He covered many Super Bowls with his long-time partner Dick Enberg. He won several Emmys for that work also.
He was also a humanitarian and kind to his friends. Shortly after Merlin's death, Rossey Grier appeared on the NFL Network and told of how Merlin had financially supported Lamar Lundy in the last years of Lamar's life. Lundy died in 2007. He suffered from a plethora of health problems. He had been incapacitated by diabetes, Graves Disease, myasthenia gravis, heart disease and cancer. As his body failed him, Merlin kept him afloat financially. This was one of many gestures Merlin made to his friends.
No.7 Elroy Crazylegs Hirsch
1st round Pick (pick 5), 1945 NFL Draft
University of Michigan
Elected to the Pro-Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1974.
Played 9 years for the Rams 1949-1957
His jersey number was never retired. It is not currently worn by any member of the team.
Elroy Leon Hirsch was selected by the Rams in the first round of 1945 draft, 10 rounds ahead of his partner and fellow HOF receiver Tom Fears. He was the first, first rounder taken by the newly minted-Los Angeles Rams, and he was selected as a halfback.
Interestingly enough, Hirsch had played for both the Wisconsin Badgers and the Michigan Wolverines. He lettered in four sports while at Michigan: Football, Basketball, Baseball and track. He was inducted into both the college football Hall of Fame and the Pro-Football Hall of Fame in 1974.
Why so low? He was a first round pick, after all. Much was expected.
Hirsch spent his first three years with the Chicago Rockets of the AAFC, a time he described as an injury plagued nightmare. He joined the Rams in 1949, where head coach Clark Shaughnessy (the inventor of our modern passing game) outfitted him with one of the first molded plastic helmets as a precaution against injury. He had suffered a fractured skull playing against the Cleveland Browns in the AAFC. The descendants of that padded, molded plastic helmet are now the industry standard helmet we see today.
That wasn't his only innovation. Shaughnessy made Hirsch the first full-time "flanker" in football history; a post that had neither been seen nor named before. Prior to Hirsch, three backs would line up behind the QB, in the classic T formation. Shaughnessy took one back and split him out wide, inventing the classic two-back "pro-set". Shaughnessy wanted a receiver with running-back skills; a guy who could run for great yardage after the catch. Sound like a familiar wish?
Crazylegs did all that and more. In the year 1951, a championship campaign for the Rams, he hauled in 66 passes for 1,495 yards. He did that in 12 games. These would still be impressive numbers in a 16 game season. He averaged 22.7 yards per catch that year. In 1952 he would better that figure, averaging 23.6 yards per catch. These would still be considered outrageous statistics today. Not until Flipper Anderson, would anyone come close to those figures. Elroy specialized in catching a long ball and making it longer. He had sprinter speed and half-back elusiveness.
It was all part of the high-flying offense Clark Shaughnessy invented; the original Greatest Show on Turf.
According Hirsch page on the Pro Football Hall of Fame website, Crazylegs always remained humble. Throughout his career, and decades afterward, many experts insisted that Crazylegs Hirsch was the greatest receiver ever. He always replied "I'm just a busted-down, retread halfback who happened to get lucky." Nobody believed that, then or now, but they didn't doubt his sincerity.
6: Jack Youngblood
Selected: 1st Round, No. 20 overall, 1971 NFL Draft
Tenure with Rams: 1971-1984
Jersey Retired: Yes
Elected to the Pro-Football Hall of Fame: 2001
The Rams have good luck with the Gators. Herbert Jackson Youngblood III was born on 1/26/1950 in Jacksonville Florida. [Nobody dared to call him Herbert.] He was destined to be Gator, and a Ram. He is considered one of the greatest Gators and Rams of all time. They call him Mr. Ram and the Duke of L.A. He is a member of the ring of honor for both clubs.
Jack was elected to the Pro-Bowl 7 times. He was elected first-team All-Pro 5 times. He was the NFL defensive lineman of the year in 1975. He was the NFL defensive player of the year in both 1975 and 1976. He was elected to the 1970s All-Decade team. He was elected by his fellow Rams as the team MVP 3 times: 1975, 1976, and 1979. He was the Rams' perennial defensive captain. His induction into the Hall of Fame finally came in the year 2001. A 16 year wait made it a bit overdue
So why is he so low on this list? He was a first-round draft choice. Much was expected of him. He delivered, big time. However, he was not the same sort of draft-boomer that late-rounders like Deacon Jones and Tom Fears were.
Jack Youngblood was a classic tweener in an era before there were tweeners. At 6-4 and 247 pounds, Jack was smaller than a lot of defensive ends in his day. He was bigger than a lot of linebackers, even in our era. He was also stronger than most defensive ends, and faster than most linebackers. This made him a classic strength/speed/size nightmare mismatch opponent for most offensive tackles. His speed and his motor were what gave his opponents fits. This was true in both the passing game and the running game.
Although Jack had a stellar reputation as a pass rusher, he was equally stout against the run. That's saying an awful lot. Jack scored 151 sacks in his career. This would place him in 4th place on the all-time leader board, behind fellow Ram Kevin Greene... but... Deacon Jones would probably be first on that list bumping them both down. Suffering the same problem as Deacon Jones, sacks were not an officially kept statistic throughout much of Jack Youngblood's career. This is why he does not show up on the all-time sack leader board.
When you see footage of Jack sprinting around the corner sacking QBs like Roger Staubach, Jim Hart, Jim Plunkett, and Ken Stabler, you can't help but be impressed by his amazing speed. Today, you rarely see a defensive end come off the edge that fast and that clean. In many bits of footage, Jack Youngblood almost looks like Lawrence Taylor, sprinting into the backfield as an unblocked free runner. The difference is that Jack Youngblood always had a tackle in his face.
The only player I've ever seen who was similar to Jack was the one and only Charles Haley. As good as Charles was, and he should be in the Hall of Fame, he could not compare to Jack in the leadership department.
I still have hopes that young Chris Long will be our new Jack Youngblood. I am sure the organization does also.
When he was inducted into the Hall of Fame, the great Dan Dierdorf was asked, several times, to ID the toughest end he ever had to block. Without hesitating, he answered "Jack Youngblood". He said Youngblood gave him fits because of his strength, speed and elusiveness. Jack was also a practitioner of psychological warfare. Dierdorf recounted many times how Jack would go into a falsetto voice and start screaming at Cardinal QB Jim Hart "JIMMIE! JIMME! I'M COMMING TO GET YOU JIMME!" The real target was Dierdorf. Jack had one of his greatest days in a 1975 playoff win versus the Cardinals, playing against this fellow Hall of Famer.
Of course, Jack is best known for playing on fractured left fibula during the 1979 playoffs. His leg was fractured during the course of a playoff victory over the Cowboys in Dallas. They taped up his leg in the locker room and returned to action. He was instrumental in both that victory and the NFC Championship the next week. He played at a high level in Super Bowl XIV against the Steelers. He even played in the Pro-Bowl a week later. For this, NFL Films recently elected his 1979-80 playoff-run as the #1 gutsiest performance in NFL history. You can see the video here:
The Gator Ring of Honor is a pretty exclusive club. Only Danny Wueffle, Emmitt Smith, Jack Youngblood, Steve Spurrier and Wilber Marshall have been inducted. Soon, a fellow Jacksonville kid named Tim Tebow will be joining him in the Gator ring of honor. A great Ram defensive end named Kevin Carter was never elected to this club. Alas, would it were that Tebow might have joined Jack Youngblood in the Rams' ring of honor also.
5: Jackie Slater
Selected: 1976, 3rd Round, No. 86 overall
Tenure with Rams: 1976-1995
Jersey Retired: Yes
Elected to the Pro-Football Hall of Fame: 2001
Slater was elected seven Pro-Bowls and named All-Pro 3 times. His 20 years in the league is third longest career in NFL history. His 20 years with one team is only matched by Darrell Green of the Redskins.
Slater is viewed as a bridge between eras in more ways than one. He blocked for 24 different quarterbacks, 37 different running backs, seven different 1,000 yard rushers.
When he was drafted in 1976, he was one of the largest offensive linemen ever seen at 6-4 and 277. When retired 1995, he was one of the smallest tackles in the league.
Slater was known for his technique and his work-ethic. Although he was one of the largest and most powerful men in the league at the start of his career, he polished his skills to the point where he rarely needed to overwhelm an opponent with raw force. This skill kept him alive and well in the league as his physical stature shrank relative to everyone else. He was able to handle larger players like Reggie White when few others could. During his epoch, the right tackle was never a position of doubt for the Rams.
Slater was the leader of one of the great offensive lines in history. It is forgotten fact, but the Rams routinely put 3 and 4 starters on the NFC Offensive line in the Pro Bowl during the 1980s. Slater, Dennis Harrah, Dough Smith, Kent Hill and Irv Panky were frequently elected to the Hall of Fame. This was the line that allowed Eric Dickerson to rush for 1808 yards as a rookie and set the NFL's single season rushing record at 2,105 yards in 1984. This was the line that allowed Jim Everett to enter the league and thrive, even as a rookie. This was the line that permitted Charles White, formerly a Heisman-winning NFL bust, to win the rushing title in 1987... the year after the Rams traded Eric Dickerson. Incidentally, Dickerson's productivity decreased sharply from 1,821 yards to 1,011 without the Rams line, and Jackie Slater.
One of the great difficulties the Rams have suffered during the past 15 years is a great instability at the right tackle position. Ever since Slater retired, the Right Tackle has been a position has been a revolving door of one player after another, usually with weakness and inconsistency resulting. We all hope Rodger Saffold will end this epoch by locking down the right tackle spot for at least a decade.
No.4 Norm Van Brocklin, Oregon
Selected in the 4th round (Pick 37) of the 1949 Draft
University of Oregon
Elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1971
Played 9 years with the Rams, 1949-1957
The Rams never retired his number, and it is currently worn by Brandon Gibson
Norm Van Brocklin was a miserable son of a bitch according to a lot of people. Several have said he was the meanest guy they ever met. At the end of 2009, Pat Summeral said Van Brocklin was still the most gifted passer he ever saw throw the football. He must have been. Somehow, Van Brocklin convinced Head Coach Joe Stydahar to split starting time between him and established future Hall of Famer Bob Waterfield. This wasn’t because of his sexy good looks or charm either. For the Rams, it paid off. In the 1950 championship campaign, Van Brocklin finished as the NFL's top ranked passer, just one slot head of Waterfield.
He was elected to the Pro Bowl 9 times. He was All-Pro once. He was elected NFL MVP in 1960 with the Eagles. In contrast to Waterfield, Van Brocklin was a gunslinger QB. He went for broke very often. He was a high-risk and high-reward guy. When he was on, he was devastating. On September 28, 1951, he set a single game passing record with 554 yards. His record still stand to this very day. When Van Brocklin was off, he was devastating also. In the 1958 NFL Championship game, he threw 6 interceptions against the Cleveland Browns, on route to a 38-14 loss. He was a Brett Favre type performer, only better.
He tried his hand at coaching with the Minnesota Vikings and the Atlanta Falcons. Both tenures were marked sharp conflict with players, most notably Fran Tarkenton. He was known as a brutal coach; a guy who could really grind his players, not just rub them the wrong way.
No.3 Bobby Waterfield, UCLA
Selected in the 5th Round (pick 42) of the 1944 NFL Draft
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
Elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1965
Played 8 years for the Rams 1945-1952
His jersey was retired immediately when he announced his retirement
This UCLA Bruin from Van Nuys, was selected by the Cleveland Rams in 1944. He won the starting QB job immediately, and became the league's first-ever rookie to win NFL MVP honors. Not only that, he was unanimously elected to the All Pro team. As a rookie, he led the Rams to the NFL Championship. In that championship game, he threw a pair of touchdown passes (37 & 44 yards) that gave the Rams a 15-14 victory over the Washington Redskins. Not to damn bad for a 5th round draft choice.
This is why I believe Bobby Waterfield's rookie campaign has to be recognized as the greatest of all time. Today, we cannot imagine a rookie QB leading his team to the Super Bowl, or being instrumental in a victory there. We cannot imagine a rookie winning MVP of the league. We certainly cannot imagine a rookie drafted in the 5th round doing anything like this. To imagine something remotely similar this year, you would have to imagine Jimmy Clausen (pick 48) leading the Panthers to a Super Bowl victory, being instrumental in that victory, and being elected MVP of the league along the way. This still doesn't capture the essence, because all NFL teams passed on Waterfield at least 4 times during the draft.
In 1946, the Rams moved to Waterfield's native Los Angeles. He led the team to 3 consecutive championship games in 1949-1951. The Rams had two disappointing defeats, and then won it all in 1951. It was during Waterfield's time that Clark Shaughnessy developed his hurricane passing attack, using as many as 5 wide receivers. This was an offense decades ahead of its time. Waterfield was known for his ability to throw the football deep, and with great accuracy.
For seven consecutive years, the Rams were the highest scoring team in football. They put as many as 466 points on the board in a mere 12 games. Naturally, they were the most feared offensive unit in the league. They were the original Greatest Show on Turf. His page on the Pro-Football Hall of Fame site describes Waterfield as a brillant field general. He was also a great defensive back and place kicker.
He suffered the indignity of having to split time with Dutchman, Norm Van Brocklin, during the last several years of his career. The Rams rewarded him by bringing him back as head coach in 1960. He followed Sid Gillman, one of the greatest offensive minds in history. Regrettably, this did not go well. He coached in 34 games, and the Rams were 9-24-1 during that stretch. He was fired in 1962 with a winning percentage of 28.8%.
Contrary to popular rumor, he did not marry Jane Russell (one of Hollywood's classic bombshells) after he became the Rams' Los Angeles hero. She was his high school sweetheart. He married her when he was still at UCLA, in 1943.
No.2 Tom Fears, UCLA
Selected in the 11th Round (Pick 103) of the 1945 Draft
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
Elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1970
Played 9 seasons for the Rams 1948-1956
The Rams never retired his number, and it is currently worn by rookie phenom linebacker James Laurinaitis.
Tom Fears was one of the first Mexican American players in the history of the NFL. He was drafted as a defensive back out of UCLA in 1945, but did not début with the Rams until 1948 due military service during WWII. According to the legend, Fears made a couple of tremendous inception returns during practice, and they decided his ball skills were too great to be wasted on defense.
Tom Fears is officially the first player in NFL history to line up on the line of scrimmage and away from the tackle. Thus, he is credited as the first wide receiver in NFL history. He showed his versatility by also playing tight-end, and defensive back.
During his first three years, he was the NFL's leading receiver. In 1949 he set the NFL record for most catches in a season with 77. He reset the record in 1950 84 catches.
His remarkable 1950 campaign also contained a historic game against the Packers where Fears set the NFL record for most catches in a game with 18. That record stood for a little more than 50 years. In the year 2000, Terrel Owens broke Fear's record with 20 receptions. (That was just broken last year by Brandon Marshall with 21.)
Strangely, Fears was only elected to the Pro-Bowl once (1950) and All-Pro once (1950). He was a member of the NFL's 1950s All-Decade team. He was under-appreciated because labored in the shadow of the great Elroy Hirsch.
Later, Fears would go on coach in the NFL, including 2 years with the Rams (1960-1961). He became a head coach in the short-lived WFL, and an executive in the USFL.
Fears was a lynch-pin in the Rams hurricane passing attack, brainstormed by Clark Shaughnessy. He was also a member of the Rams 1951 championship team. Not bad for an 11th rounder who started late due to military service.
No.1 David Deacon Jones, Mississippi Valley State
Selected in the 14th Round (Pick 186) of 1961 NFL Draft
Mississippi Valley State
Elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1980
Played 11 seasons for the Rams 1961-1971
The Rams retired his number in 2009
The Secretary of Defense was a charter member of the Fearsome Foursome, one of the greatest defensive lines in NFL History. He won All-Pro team honors for five consecutive years between 1965-1969. He was voted to 8 Pro-Bowls. He was twice voted the NFL's defensive player of the year.
The Los Angeles Times has referred to Jones as "The most valuable Ram of all time." He was voted the Rams' greatest defensive lineman by the teams' own alumni association. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1980.
He is the man who coined the phrase "quarterback sack". That is no joke. The term sack did not exist in the football lexicon before Deacon Jones. Deacon was recently recognized by NFL Films as the greatest pass-rusher of all times. You can see the video below. If they had counted sacks as an official statistic in his day, there is little doubt that Deacon Jones would be the NFL's all-time leader in sacks.
Like many other great defenders before him, he left a permanent mark on the game when the NFL banned the head-slap. This is known as the Deacon Jones rule to this day. Mel Blount, Lester Hayes, Night Train Lane, and Concrete Chuck Bednarik left similar marks on the game.
When you stop to think of what the Rams got for a 14th round draft choice, how can you chose anyone but Deacon Jones as the Rams' top draft-boomer of all time? We can only hope that one of the several developmental defensive ends the Rams selected this year will be like Deacon.
There are many other Rams who had to be considered when I made up this list. Great players, and future Hall of Famers such Orlando Pace, Issac Bruce and Torry Holt were all up for consideration. Other greats such as Leonard Little, who was a 3rd rounder in 1998, also got some consideration.
I wanted to include Henry Ellard on this list, but could not justify the decision
In the end, I could not justify bumping an existing Hall of Famer off of this list... Not even for a future Hall of Famer such as Orlando Pace.
As you may sum up from this list, the Rams have a deep and star-studded history. We have lot more than 10 Hall of Famers. We have drafted more than 10 Hall of Famers, and we will have more going in soon.
Hopefully, Marshall Faulk will be the next Ram to enter the Hall of Fame. He should be followed by Kurt Warner, Issac Bruce and Orlando Pace.
One of the things that makes this era so agonizing is our recent and devastating lack of success in the NFL Draft, and the deplorable lack of talent we now suffer from. Hopefully this will begin to turn around soon.
Hopefully, some of Billy Devaney's picks will start to show us some greatness soon. God knows we need it.
One thing is certain: We will not develop a star-studded Hall of Fame future unless we cease giving-up guys, and stop dealing them out around the league. Not all of our Hall of Famers are like Bobby Waterfield and Tom Mack. Some of them are like Jackie Slater, Jack Youngblood and Orlando Pace: They took a few years to develop.