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.