Sunday, May 29, 2011

2011 NFL Draft: St. Louis Rams

The last in this series for the NFC West, it's time to take a look at the St. Louis Rams draft class.

Now the Rams came into this draft in pretty good shape after last year. They narrowly missed out on the playoffs in 2010, thanks to a much improved offense under the leadership of rookie QB Sam Bradford. The addition last time around of OT Roger Saffold was also a handy little pick that helped set the Rams up for a more open draft this year. With their offense looking a lot more healthy, they could devote a bit more time to defense.

They went straight for the jugular with the first pick, taking Defensive End Robert Quinn from North Carolina, in order to find a foil to work opposite Chris Long and exploit opposing teams over attention to the left side.

But I have a funny feeling they whiffed this one. Stick with me on this. Quinn played pretty well in College. On tape he looked pretty good. He was quick. He was strong. He at times made some opposing offensive tackles look foolish. So what can we take from that?

Not a lot is my opinion. See, good luck finding any game tape of Quinn that has a date on it past say March 2010. That's not because the Tar Heels are jealously hoarding any film of their team from last season. Instead it results from the fact that Quinn didn't play a down during the 2010 season.

He was suspended after being found guilty of taking over $5000 in gifts from an agent, then lying to NCAA investigators about the matter. That means that Quinn has done nothing more demanding in the last 12 months than basic drills for a defensive end and has no recent experience on the field. That for me is a problem.

The NFL is the top level of football in the world. It demands the absolute best from every player. 12 months out of the game, even for a good player with natural physical talents like Quinn, may just be too much. But there is another concern as well that I just can't shake.

In 2009 Quinn had 11 sacks. 10 of those sacks came in games played at home, just 1 away. 8 of his sacks were picked up in three games. Six of them (over half) came in just two games, three in each. While that's still not to be sniffed at, my problem is the consistency. Will Quinn consistently pitch in with sacks over the course of the season?

I'm not convinced and that's probably the biggest complaint I have. Notching up sacks is great, but to be a great player and to contribute to creating a winning team, you have to be able to bring that heat game after game, putting consistent pressure on the quarterback almost every down. I just don't think Quinn brings that to the table.

In addition, his play against the run is very limited. Quinn appears on tape to be the kind of end who is more pre-occupied with getting after the QB and has a tendency to get man handled a little too easily in the running game. He often struggles to set the edge properly and keep containment.

Now remember again that all of this was during the 2009 season. He hasn't played since, so I can't see any of those factors improving. When you keep in mind that Ryan Kerrigan was still on the board (he went two picks later to Washington), then I don't see the case for taking Quinn. Kerrigan is probably a better outright football player and, all things considered, a much safer pick in the first round.

But let's move on, for we have another seven guys to cover. Next up is Tight End Lance Kendricks from Wisconsin and I like this pick a lot. While the Rams haven't exactly been short of tight ends, finding a really good one has been problematic. I think Kendricks may solve that problem.

The key feature is that he brings a lot of versatility to the table. He's very strong and this shows up consistently in game. His run blocking is very good and when he gets hit you can see him absorb the shock and continue on to plough over people.

His route running is good, which is handy given that new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is likely going to want to air it out on a regular basis. He has good hands and combined with that strength and run blocking I mentioned you can see Kendricks being a useful tool in and around the goal line, and also in short yardage. He gives the Rams offensive a bit of punch I feel.

To go with punch though, you also need a bit of finesse. The fine wine to match the stout bitter. Enter third round pick wide receiver Austin Pettis, Boise State. Not that the Rams needed a new receiver, given that they have about a thousand already on their books (that number may have been slightly exaggerated).

So, what's Pettis like? Honestly? There's good and there's bad. The good is his ball handling and concentration. If I wanted to get the ball to a safe pair of hands on third down or in the red zone, Pettis is the guy I would be looking at. He really does have a great eye for the ball.

The trouble is a) getting him open and b) getting him anywhere after he's caught the ball. Because Pettis lacks what I would describe as polished route running and his run after the catch skills are highly dubious. He just doesn't seem all that quick in pads.

That presents something of a problem. It's one thing to be able to make great catches, but if you can't get any separation from College defenders then it's not likely to get any easier at the next level. In addition, the ability to catch the ball and then immediately get tackled on short routes is of dubious utility.

Maybe their fourth rounder will fair better, wide receiver Greg Salas, Hawai'i.

I love Salas; this is my kind of football player. He's very fluid in all his movements, his route running has some high points and he has very good hands. But all that stuff pales into the background compared to his toughness and run after the catch ability.

At the risk of over egging the pudding so to speak, think of Wes Welkers run after the catch but combined with the toughness of a Hines Ward or Anquan Boldin. I just have so much fun watching Salas play, watching him absorb hits and bounce off tacklers.

He's just the kind of remedy that the Rams needed; a guy that can play underneath on some of the shorter depth crossing routes, while the rest of that corps stretches the field vertically and creates even more space for him to run.

When you factor in as well his middle round status, I think the Rams hit a winner here. Great pick. Damn them.

On to round five and safety Jermale Hines, Ohio State. Hines is someone I hadn't seen (re; bothered to look at) prior to the draft but have since. So what do I think of Jermale Hines? I think I resent him for the fact that I wasted a half hour of my life watching him run around not doing a lot.

I'm not saying he's bad. He's not the Mike Person of the safety world. But he doesn't make you jump out of your seat and shout "that's our guy!" either. His tackling, from a technical perspective, is pretty good. His pass coverage is a little random however.

It's like he's trying to look busy, but without knowing what to do. Against the run he often takes bad angles in pursuit and just generally he's kind of a run of the mill, practice squad type of guy. A wasted pick if I'm honest.

The Rams had no pick in round six due to a trade from last September, so it's on to round seven where the Rams ended up with three picks. The first of these went on Baylor cornerback Mikail Baker, who I can honestly say, hand on heart, I hadn't the faintest bloody clue who he was prior to the draft. I do now.

And I now know four things about Baker. He can run pretty fast in a straight line as a return man on special teams. He can run pretty fast in a straight line as a coverage man on special teams. He can tackle better than average for a corner. And his pass coverage is so, so.

You just get that impression that if he ran around with a sign round his neck saying "practice squad", then he wouldn't look out of place in the slightest. There is nothing caught on camera that suggests to me he will defy his seventh round selection and go on to be a pro bowler, or even just a dime package corner.

Maybe the Rams would have better luck with Jabara Williams, LB, from Stephen F. Austin University. I'll throw my hands up right now and say it; where and what the fuck is Stephen F. Austin University? More to the point, do they ever record their games? If so, can you send me one from 2010 to  If not, don't sweat it.

That just leaves us with one pick left and that is Jonathan Nelson, safety, Oklahoma. Now apart from having just the most ridiculously wide forehead you've ever seen, I don't get the interest in Nelson. What I saw was pure average. Again it bugs me because I think of all the players who went undrafted, some of whom are really pretty good, and instead they went with Nelson?

Even if a team could argue "well we have a need at safety" ok, you might have. But given the choice between taking another decent young receiver, or a promising young quarterback who could have been developed as a back up/insurance plan to Bradford, or a decent interior offensive linemen, or a crappy safety, surely you have to acknowledge that the crappy safety serves no use?

Maybe I'm being hard on Nelson. He's not a terrible football player. He's just, not a particularly good one either. Boring, non-impact player who barely got a sniff in despite being a pure first teamer. It just... I dunno, it just bugs me when teams take a player like this, who seems to have no discernable contribution to make, when guys like Chase Beeler are sitting out there in the uncertainty of free agency (whenever that starts).

Also, why is the spell checker highlighting "Discernable"? That's how it's spelt! I hate Blogger.

So that's your 2011 Rams draft class. Overall a few good players in there who might help out, but not really the draft I was expecting from the Rams. Having resolved many of their offensive problems last year I could live with them taking one or two offensive players this year, but using three of their first four picks seems dumb to me.

Also, while I do like Greg Salas, I do still have to question why the Rams felt the need to take two more wide receivers on top of their current crop. Maybe a guard or another tackle would have been useful? More to the point, why not invest some of those top picks trying to fix that defense and bring it up to par?

That's really what I was expecting from St. Louis, for them to put together a good defensive draft and make a run for the division title this year. I still think they are in with just as good a shot as anyone, largely thanks to being the only one of the four teams in the NFC West to have a decent QB.

But this was a missed opportunity to make a statement and perhaps put some bums in seats. I think they could have made the job a lot easier with more of a defensive focus. Rams fans will now be crossing their fingers I feel and hoping that their team can make a splash in free agency.

Next up is the NFC North, who all had pretty good drafts, and we start in the windy city with the Chicago Bears.

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