The NFL Draft is a team’s foundation and the way it collects its primary building blocks.
Building through the draft is paramount to a team’s long-term success.
Free agency is simply supplemental. The bulk of a team’s roster and its critical components must be built through the draft. Teams can spend to the cap in free agency, but that doesn't guarantee success.
Just ask Dan Snyder in Washington.
The post ‘greatest show on turf’ years in St. Louis were a prime example of the draft’s importance: a team once loaded with talent slowly dwindled to a team largely devoid of talent after several unproductive drafts by Charley Armey and Jay Zygmunt.
The last two drafts, though, have already shown more fruit for the Rams than those registered towards the end of the Armey/Zygmunt era.
Billy Devaney, the Rams GM since December 2008, has steadily added talented players and key pieces through the draft including Sam Bradford, James Lauranaitus, Bradley Fletcher, Rodger Saffold, Jason Smith, and Michael Hoomanawanui. Another key piece, Denario Alexander, was added as an undrafted free agent.
Players like Bradford, Saffold, and Lauranaitus are the types of building blocks you must have at the foundation of a team. With a strong foundation, teams can build a formidable roster around those building blocks through the draft and free agency.
That’s where the Rams found themselves entering the 2011 draft.
They added another pass-rushing defensive end who surely has Steve Spagnuolo salivating. They were able to add three weapons for Bradford in the passing game. They added potential depth at safety and outside linebacker in late rounds.
With that said, it’s impossible to fill every hole through the draft, especially when there are many areas of need.
The Rams still had some sizable holes at places like backup running back and defensive tackle. One would hope and expect that those holes will be filled during free agency, however.
Did the Rams add enough building blocks and role players during this draft to significantly aid the team’s hopeful further development in 2011 and beyond?
The answer better be yes if the Rams expect to continue to improve.
With the NFL lockout lasting so deep into summer, rookies are already behind in comparison to other years. Because of that, it's possible that fewer rookies league-wide will have an impact in 2011 than in previous years, including those with the Rams.
As esteemed St. Louis journalist Bernie Miklasz likes to point out, a draft (or any individual players from a draft) cannot be fully and accurately assessed until the completion of three seasons.
This article is not designed to grade the class, but to attempt to logically assess why each player may or may not contribute to the Rams this season and what each player’s long-term future is likely to hold.
With that, let’s take a look at the St. Louis Rams 2011 draft class. We will focus on potential 2011 contributions more so than long term prognoses, although that will be touched on as well.
Mike Mayock of the NFL Network has quickly become one of the most respected draft evaluators around, regarded now by many as the best in the business.
Mayock said that Quinn:
"Might be (the) most talented football player in this draft"
That’s some high praise.
Out of a very deep draft class, many draft evaluators regard Quinn as the best pass-rushing prospect of them all.
However, there were two major question marks surrounding Quinn.
One, he missed the entire 2010 season due to an off-the-field incident. Two, Quinn has a benign brain tumor.
Rams doctors, however, were comfortable with his medical condition moving forward, and the Rams jumped to grab their guy, taking him with the fourteenth overall pick.
They were also comfortable that his off-the-field issue was an isolated incident and felt comfortable in nabbing Quinn.
According to thetelegraph.com, Devaney said that:
"We had a good group of guys that we would have been happy with. It's kind of like (Rodger) Saffold was last year, the grade we had on Quinn was significantly higher than the other players in the pool, so it ended up being a really easy decision”.
If the Quinn pick turns out like the Saffold selection, the Rams are in business.
Doug Farrar of Football Outsiders says:
I did not see any other end this year with Quinn's combination of initial burst, quickness and strength around the edge, closing speed to the quarterback, and upper-body strength to use a variety of hand moves and simply bull-rush weaker tackles into oblivion.
Putting him on the other side of Chris Long will be huge, especially with Steve Spagnuolo overseeing the both of them. This is one of those times when I simply close the spreadsheet, watch him all over again, and wonder if I'm looking at the Defensive Rookie of the Year. Needless to say, I'm taking the over on this one.
Quinn’s assets include good burst and quickness off the edge. He possesses a plethora of moves and uses a variety of methods to beat his man.
Spagnuolo loves to collect pass-rushing defensive ends, and rotates several guys in and out along the defensive line during the course of a game.
A defensive end being drafted by a team with Spagnuolo is parallel to a linebacker being drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers: it's a dream come true.
Even with the QB-crunching duo of Long and Hall entrenched, look for Quinn to contribute this year. He'll be especially useful on third and long, when he can replace Hall on the right end as Hall slides inside and lines up at defensive tackle, as he has done in the past on passing downs.
In addition, look for Quinn to spell Hall on other downs, helping to keep the 35-year-old fresh and healthy for the entirety of the season.
Run defense will likely be Quinn’s biggest area of adjustment as he transitions to the NFL. Pro Football Weekly reported that the Rams do not expect to use Quinn regularly on running down this year. As he likely adds strength and weight in the future packing pounds on his current two hundred and sixty-five pound frame, he should become more adept against the run.
To note, of course, is that training camp will tell the tale, along with preseason play, and will go a long way in ultimately determining what situations he is used in, and how often he’s used in them, to begin the season.
-Chances to See Field in 2011: 10/10
-Projected Impact in 2011: occasionally very noisy (particularly on passing downs)
-Projected Long Term Impact: Boom (double digit sacks/pro bowl potential)
-Has Been Compared With: Brian Orakpo, John Abraham, and NY Giant Justin Tuck
(For a more detailed look at the Rams defense in 2011, among other things, go to: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/757083-st-louis-rams-4-things-fans-can-celebrate-on-the-4th-for-2011).
Initially, my reaction mirrored many of your reactions, according to various message boards: I hated the pick.
After all, I had my mind set on a running back or a receiver. If not one of those, perhaps a pick to fill another need at defensive tackle, safety, outside linebacker, or guard.
With that said, I began to later open my mind to the pick, and, looking further into it, liked it more and more.
The New England Patriots got 87 receptions and 16 touchdowns from young tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez last season. New offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, formerly the OC of the Patriots, reportedly plans to use his tight ends similarly to the Patriots of 2010.
As Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported,
"McDaniels wants to make use of two tight-end sets and is excited by the thought of putting Kendricks and Hoomanawanui on the field at the same time to exploit mismatches and create space for the outside receivers."
Anything that would create space for the outside receivers would have certainly been welcomed here in 2010, as receivers generally struggled to get consistent separation. Although the receiving corps looks to be improved going into 2011, we don’t have an Isaac Bruce or Torry Holt on the roster (that we know of), and any help in creating space and separation is certainly desirable.
As Michael Hoomanawanui said, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
“The proof is there...What New England's done with their tight ends, hopefully we can do that this year."
Opinions on Kendricks, and how we will be utilized for the Rams, vary widely.
Many have viewed Kendricks as a receiver pretending to play tight end. Some believe he is an H-back type. Others view his as a tweener, caught somewhere between being a true tight end and a true receiver. Still others think he will be fine lining up primarily in traditional tight end sets, like the similarly sized Shannon Sharpe did, who excelled in the pass game while proving adequate as a blocker.
Honestly, there's something to be said for all of these views. In all probability, he will be used in a myriad of ways for the Rams.
From aol.sportingnews.com, Devaney said:
"We think (Kendricks) will be a valuable (contributor) in this offense. He's really athletic. He's got great hands. Extremely smart. He can run. You can use him in a lot of ways—on the line, off the line, in the backfield. There's a lot of areas where we can use the guy."
When he does line up on the line, he will have to prove that he can handle blocking responsibilities against bigger defensive ends and, in some cases, bigger linebackers.
Of course, it won't be blocking that earns Kendricks a big second contract- it's his skill-set in the passing game that will always be his bread and butter. However, he could and needs to be solid as a blocker. His value will only be enhanced if he can show himself adequately there.
The Rams will likely use him off the line, too, a la Patriots receiving tight end Aaron Hernandez, who excelled in that role last season.
A best-case scenario, if used primarily in traditional ways as an in-line TE, would see Kendricks developing into a Shannon Sharpe type: a tweener in size who battles in the blocking game adequately but excels in the passing game.
Kendricks possesses good speed, (his best time being a 4.5 40), and quickness. Those attributes will help him get open against linebackers and DB’s.
With McDaniels wanting to put Kendricks on the field with Big Mike, look for him to make an impact as a rookie, assuming he picks up the offense and performs as expected in camp, while being utilized in a variety of ways.
-Chances to See Field in 2011: 10/10
-Projected Impact in 2011: Kendricks should be rather noisy in 2011. Look for him to contribute to the passing attack. Also, don’t be surprised to even see him (or Fendi Onobun) at wideout occasionally if the Rams go five wide, looking to exploit match-up problems against smaller DB’s in dime, quarter, and dollar coverages.
-Projected Long-Term Impact: Kendricks should be a staple in Rams passing game for years to come, averaging 40+ catches a year.
-Has Been Compared With: Dustin Keller, Aaron Hernandez, and Owen Daniels
(For a detailed look at fellow Rams tight end Fendi Onobun and his chances to follow the footsteps of fellow hooper to NFL tight end, please go to: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/762039-st-louis-rams-will-onobun-take-autobahn-to-stardom-like-gates-and-gonzalez).
Austin Pettis caught 134 balls while hauling in 24 touchdowns over the last two seasons. He is accustomed to making plays all over that famous blue turf of Boise State.
The Rams and Pettis both hope he makes defenses turn blue themselves while trying to cover him and the Rams receivers.
Pettis, along with round 4 pick Greg Salas, was selected primarily due to his soft hands, big body, and ability to get open in a variety of ways.
He can not only get open classically by attaining separation, he can also get open a la Michael Irvin, by using his size (6’3, 210) to post up, out-muscle defenders, and out-fight shorter, smaller, and weaker defenders for receptions.
From Billy Devaney via Bernie Miklasz and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
"There's all different ways that you spread a defense out. You can spread them out vertically and horizontally. Wide receivers don't have to be the ones stretching a defense all of the time. I think Josh used a great term in one of our meetings, about 'stressing' a defense. Not just stretching it, but putting stress on a defense. And that's what we're trying to do, just by adding players who are multi-dimensional."
Pettis is one of the multi-dimensional players that Devaney referred to.
In fact, he and Head Coach Steve Spagnuolo both made note of his impressive versatility.
From profootballweekly.com, Rams GM Billy Devaney said:
"(He is a) big receiver, a smart guy, who played all three positions (and) gives us a lot of flexibility. Plays outside, can play slot ... great hands. We think it's a good addition and another weapon in an ever-expanding arsenal."
Head coach Steve Spagnuolo, (also from profootballweekly.com), stated that:
"They used him in a lot of different ways, just like Billy (Devaney) said. When we watched him, he played inside, he played outside in the three-wide receiver sets. He's tough down in the red zone because he's a big target, which is a bonus."
Pettis is not known as a blazer, laying down a time of 4.56 at the combine. However, the 40 only goes so far in projecting a player’s career path.
Case in point: Anquan Boldkin, ran a pedestrian 4.8 40. Legendary Jerry Rice ran a 4.7 and T.O. ran a 4.6. So 40 times, in and of themselves, do not determine NFL success.
Boldin is of similar size to Pettis, who checks in at 6’1, 217. Both have good hands. Boldin separates more in quick bursts rather than straight line speed, and he uses his big body to his advantage versus smaller DB’s. Pettis hopes to do much of the same.
As has been proven a thousand times over, combine numbers don’t necessarily mean much.
However, it’s of note that Pettis led all receivers and was second amongst all players in the shuttle posting a time of 3.88 seconds. This tends to indicate suddenness and explosion in and out of cuts, per Isaac Bruce, for example.
Both Devaney and Spagnuolo focused heavily on his versatility when discussing Pettis, which should bode well in helping him lock up a roster spot this season, and in aiding in increasing the production of a revamped receiving corps.
-Chances of Seeing Field in 2011- 8/10
-Projected 2011 Impact: Pettis could certainly make some noise assuming he has a good camp. Has a legitimate shot of being among the Rams regular rotation of receivers.
-Projected Long Term Impact: Pettis should at least solidify himself as a solid top-four receiver on the roster. He should be a plus rated red zone target and a player with the potential of becoming a starting level receiver.
-Has Been Compared With: Brandon LaFell, Marques Colston, and Kevin Walter
If Greg Salas picks up where he left off in college, the Rams will be in great shape. He tallied 13 catches for 214 yards and two touchdowns in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.
Obviously, though, as a round 4 rookie, the Rams aren’t expecting anything like that from Salas this year. Of course, they do hope he will contribute at some point.
Salas has been compared closely to Rams round 3 pick Austin Pettis.
Both are tall (Salas is about 6’1 ½) with size, have terrific hands, and have shown a propensity to get it done where it counts, even though both lack elite straight-line speed.
Salas is said to be a ruthless run-blocker and runs many routes with expertise, among other things.
Some have questioned the Rams selecting two receivers possessing such similar pedigrees. However, Rams GM Billy Devaney is a stickler for sticking to the team’s draft board.
Of the Salas pick (from ramsondemand.com), Devaney said:
“Honestly, this gets like a broken record when we say when our turn comes up we’re letting the board dictate the direction that we go, and that was the case again. We certainly weren’t sitting here saying, ‘It’d be great now to get another receiver.’ That wasn’t the case at all, but when it was our turn to make a pick, Salas’ name by far had the highest grade on it and there really wasn’t a lot of discussion.”
With that said, the Rams hope they added two productive receivers, regardless of their similarities. After all, two good receivers are two good receivers, regardless of whether they are similar or different in size, abilities, and style of play.
In many ways, Bruce and Holt were very similar, too. That obviously did not slow down the ‘greatest show on turf’ and it’s prolific offense.
Both players were 6’0 and about 190 lbs. Each possessed very good but not elite speed. Each ran world-class routes and had excellent hands. Neither were physical players, and, although they were more than willing to block, were known much more for their diving after the catch rather than breaking tackles.
Each player is likely headed for the Hall of Fame, so criticizing the Rams for drafting two similar receivers in Pettis and Salas just because they are very similar is irrational and foolish.
Salas will compete with a suddenly deep group of receivers and battle for a roster spot. Although the Rams seem to like his talent, he is far from a lock to land a spot on the active roster. It would not be surprising to see him begin the season on the practice squad.
If Mark Clayton is re-signed, Clayton is a lock. He developed great chemistry quickly with Sam Bradford.
Danny Amendola is also a lock after catching 83 balls last season and adding real value on special teams. McDaniels’ is said to think very highly of Amendola, according to Pro Football Weekly.
A healthy Avery and Alexander are likely locks as well. That leaves Salas to battle a slew of receivers including Brandon Gibson, Mardy Gilyard, Laurent Robinson, Dominique Curry, and fellow rookie Pettis.
If nothing else, that’s a large number of people to beat out.
Out of that group, the most likely to earn those final two spots appear to be Pettis and Gibson.
It’s possible the Rams keep seven wideouts, but that’s unlikely. The Rams often only activated four on game days last season. With greater depth, look for the Rams to carry five or six on game days, but seven is a stretch on the active roster and certainly on the game day roster.
Salas may have his work cut out for him in earning a practice squad spot, let alone earning a roster spot and fighting to be activated on game days.
-Chances of Seeing Field in 2011: 4/10
-Projected 2011 Impact: Whispers from Salas, as it's likely to be a quiet year for Salas.
-Projected Long Term Impact: Salas looks to have the potential to be a solid possession receiver and a major third down target who could also pose a threat in the red zone.
-Has Been Compared With: Austin Collie, Eric Decker, and Hines Ward
From stlouisrams.com, Spagnuolo says Jermale Hines:
“…is one of those guys at that position where you need leadership, vocal, a smart guy that can handle things.”
“He’s like a small linebacker, he’s that big. He does give you some flexibility. He’s a good blitzer; you can use him in a variety of ways. The good thing is mentally he can adapt to all of those roles.”
As always, teams speak glowingly in regard to their draftees. It happens with virtually every player with every team.
So we always have to take these comments, though often sincere, with a grain (or two) or salt.
As for his measurables, he looks the part: Hines checks in at 6’1, 216. He has near prototypical size to play safety.
As for the often-overrated numbers, he’s very average in regard to 40 time, bench, vertical, and 3 cone drill.
As we all know, neither the measurables nor the numbers will tell the tale.
Former Colt Safety Bob Sanders earned the 2007 Defensive Player of the Year standing 5’8.
On the other hand, countless workout-warriors have run fast and benched like Arnold while later getting cut in camp.
Hines strength is run defense and tackling. He is good in the box. His perceived weakness is pass defense, both in man and zone coverage schemes.
Craig Dahl is probably the best returning safety on the roster. His strengths and weaknesses mirror Hines. The Rams need at least one safety on the field who is a plus player in coverage.
James Butler is better in coverage than Dahl, but continues to struggle with injuries that keep him off the field too often, essentially wiping out his 2010 season.
Veteran safety Michael Lewis is unrestricted and likely to walk. He missed most of the year with an injury.
The wild card may be second year man Darion Stewart. The Rams are said to like Stewart a bit, but it would be crazy to count on him at the moment.
The point is, considering the Rams issues at safety, Hines may have a better chance at seeing playing time than most round 5 players, particularly if the injury problems continue for Butler.
With all this said, look for the Rams to consider adding safety help in free agency before the season opens.
Daniel Manning would be a great pickup who is good in coverage. Quinten Mikell is good in run and pass coverage and was ProFootballFocus’ top rated safety in 2010. Michael Huff is another player who excels in pass coverage.
As for a second-tier option, the Jets' Brodney Pool would come cheaper and can play both safety spots.
Barring a free agent signing, Hines will likely have a chance to earn some playing time in 2011.
Of note, some scouts believe he could ultimately bulk up and move to outside linebacker. Given the Rams situation at the position, it cannot be completely ruled out.
-Chances of Seeing Field in 2011: 3.5/10
-Projected 2011 Impact: Highly variable, depending on health of safety Butler and what transpires in free agency. At this point, a loud whisper, a la Shaquille O’ Neal’s speaking voice, is possible.
-Long Term Projection: Hines could have a future considering his leadership skills and strong reputation as a tackler, especially if given the chance to play close to the line of scrimmage with regularity.
The first thing that jumps out about Mikail Baker is that he spent six years at Baylor due to injury problems. He was a medical redshirt in 2007 (collarbone) and was a medical hardship (knee) in 2009 after playing in three games.
The second thing that pops is his speed: he has lots of it, posting a 4.40 40 at his pro day and has reportedly run in the 4.3s in the past. He also flashed more of his explosive athleticism, leaping 38 inches, on his pro day.
Nelson has good size at close to 6' and 200 lbs.
His experience as a quality kick returner might aid Baker in landing a roster spot. He will likely need to contribute on special teams to land a roster spot with the Rams in 2011. Of that, (from ramsrule.com), Devaney said:
“He’s done it, yeah. He’s been a return guy. We’ll let him compete as a return guy, but even if he’s not a return guy, he’ll contribute in other areas on special teams.”
The Rams are pretty solid at corner with Ron Bartell and Bradley Fletcher forming one of the best starting corner duos in football.
Second-year man Jerome Murphy is a lock for a roster spot.
There could be an opening for a fourth spot, with free agents such as Justin King currently unsigned.
With that said, Baker may be a long-shot to make the team.
Showing flash on special teams in preseason play is likely his best bet at securing a roster spot as a backup corner.
-Chances of Seeing Field in 2011: 2.5/10
-Projected 2011 Impact: Expect it be very quiet, unless he can land as a kick/punt returner and special teams contributor on kick coverage.
-Long Term Projection: You never know, but the odds are stacked against round 7 picks. If he can refine his coverage skills, he has the athleticism to make it in the league. If he proves he can succeed in the return game, he will make it at least in that regard, even if he doesn’t stick as a corner.
Later in round 7, the Rams nabbed Jabara Williams. Williams, an outside linebacker, will have a chance to compete for a backup outside linebacker spot if he is able to contribute on special teams.
When speaking of Williams, both Devaney and Head Coach Spagnuolo spoke in regards to special teams, primarily. If he is to land a roster spot, he will almost certainly need to show strong abilities there.
Some have questioned his size at just 225 on a 6’2 frame, but the Rams seem comfortable with it.
He ran a 4.58 40 at his pro day, and the Rams noted his speed when discussing him after the draft. He also showed explosiveness, jumping over 36 inches.
Interestingly enough, Williams played a little at running back during his freshman year, gaining 230 yards.
He amassed over 100 tackles during each of his last 3 seasons, so he’s been a productive player at the college level.
Williams possesses good athleticism to go with his speed. If he has added some size and strength, it should help him in his efforts at transitioning from college to the pros.
Williams will likely battle with Larry Grant, David Voboro, Chris Chamberlain, and Na’il Diggs for a roster spot.
Look for the Rams to address this position in free agency. Adding a starter in the process is very possible, if not likely.
Given the fact that outside linebacker is one of the Rams' thinnest and weakest positions, Williams has a better shot at landing a roster spot than some round seven selections might otherwise.
-Chances of Seeing Field in 2011- 1.5/10
-Projected 2011 Impact: Expect whispers, if anything, as Williams has a chance to land a backup outside linebacker spot given the team’s lack of quality depth there (if he is able to prove effective on special teams). Any appearances this year will likely be confined to special team assignments.
-Long Term Projection: If he can add size and strength, has the athleticism to play in the NFL.
Upon drafting Nelson, (from ramsrule.com), Devaney joked that:
“We didn’t want to get yelled at by (Sam) Bradford because we didn’t take an Oklahoma guy”
Unlike the drafting of two similar players, as the Rams did with their round 3 and 4 selections, the Rams drafted two very similar guys with their picks at safety with Nelson and the aforementioned round 5 pick, Hines.
Nelson, unlike Hines, has been said to have great range in coverage. Of the differences between Nelson and Hines, Devaney stated that:
“It’s interesting, we’ve got two different types of safeties, the Ohio State kid (Jermale Hines) and this kid (Nelson). Just styles, just the way it was, totally different kind of styles.”
Scouts primarily began taking note of Nelson during his strong senior season.
With the questions at safety, (as discussed previously in the Jermale Hines' section), Nelson should have a chance to earn a roster spot if can help with special teams.
-Chances of Seeing Field in 2011: 2/10
-Projected 2011 Impact: quiet for Nelson, but could provide safety depth and special teams contributions.
-Long Term Projection: Nelson could be a depth chart guy in the NFL.
Shane Gray is a long-time St. Louis Rams fan and covers the Rams year round. To check out the rest of his work, click: http://bleacherreport.com/users/582932-shane-gray