The St. Louis Rams are in an enviable position in the NFC West. They have a franchise QB in place, and have fewer burning needs across the board than their three division rivals.
However, much of their starting talent is not of the above-average variety that gets teams deep into the playoffs.
The Rams do have a few holes to fill, but let’s start with their area of strength. Their defense revolves around James Laurinaitis holding court from the MLB position. Quickly becoming one of the better 4-3 MLBs in the NFL, Laurinaitis is emerging as the leader of this unit.
Right next to Laurinaitis is the Rams’ major issue. Na’il Diggs was solid prior to his injury, but the Rams have very little beyond him. Picking a true 4-3 OLB in round one would make a lot of sense, but it is doubtful a player will be available who is worth the pick at 14. Washington LB Mason Foster should be an option for the Rams in round three.
The defensive line came together in 2010, anchored by James Hall and Chris Long's combined 19 sacks. It would seem as though the Rams are set at DE, but Hall doesn't have many years left in him. C.J. Ah You and George Selvie both played well, but neither look like elite pass rushers at this point. Ah You was solid in third down play, but might be better served acting as a pass rush specialist from the DT position.
The Rams do need to upgrade the interior of the line. Gary Gibson gives the effort, but he is simply too small at 285 pounds to be paired with Fred Robbins. There is a lot of draft talent at the DT position, making this a distinct possibility. However, the lukewarm demand for 4-3 DTs in the 2011 draft may allow the Rams to find solid value later in the draft.
If available, St. Louis could use an elite DE who can rotate in with the unit and eventually become Hall’s replacement. The only question is if they will take someone in 2011 or wait until the ’12 draft. Steve Spagnuolo does like to draft pass rushers, so they may take one early in both drafts.
Another big need is replacing O.J. Atogwe at FS. He was a solid contributor for the Rams, but his price tag became too much for a coaching staff that doesn't value the position. While there doesn't appear to be much first-round talent at this year, the middle rounds should offer several quality players.
Should the Rams opt to go with defense in the first round, they will be challenged to find the player with the right fit. However, Missouri DE/OLB Aldon Smith is an intriguing option at 6'4" and 263lbs. His talent is definitely worthy of the 14th pick, but he is ideally suited as a stand-up end in a 3-4 system. It will be interesting to see if the Rams tag him as a third-round pass rusher and Hall’s replacement at DE, or even take advantage of his decent speed and size and use him at OLB.
Options at DT could be thin, but Illionis DT Corey Liuget and California DE/DT tweener Cameron Jordan should be available. I’m not a big fan of Liuget that high in round one, but he did have a good visit with the Rams.
Finding the right pick for the defense in the first round could very well put the Rams into position to win the NFC West and get back into the playoffs for the first time since 2004.