The Rams are on the clock for day 30 of Draftmas.
The 2016 season was not kind to the Los Angeles Rams. No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff struggled behind an iffy offensive line (as did RB Todd Gurley) and the Rams limped through the year as NFL’s worst offense with just 14 points per game. The defense was just below league average, but they couldn’t work miracles. A better offense would lift some of the burden off the defense and likely result in better play.
Todd Gurley (Photo courtesy: latimes.com)
Head coach Jeff Fisher was fired mid-year and now the young Sean McVay is in charge. He has a bright future and the presence of Wade Phillips as the defensive coordinator will help on multiple levels. The main mission for McVay, who is a bit of a wunderkind and did great work in Washington, will be to ensure Jared Goff becomes the franchise option. Goff was not good last year, completing 54.6 percent of his passes of 1,089 yards, five touchdowns and six interceptions. He never looked fully comfortable, likely due to a combination of a poor offense around him and Fisher’s strange decision to hold off on playing Goff early in the year. McVay will need to set up a system friendly to Goff, much like the Titans and Cowboys have done a fantastic job of doing with their young QBs.
Todd Gurley should be primed for a bounce back year, especially with the changes the Rams made on the offensive line. Andrew Whitworth, one of the better left tackles in the NFL, comes over from the Bengals. It was one of the best signings off the offseason: at a team-friendly price (compared to the rest of the OT market), Whitworth will provide a badly need blindside protector and veteran leadership. The rest of the offensive line will likely shake out as Rodger Saffold at LG, John Sullivan at C, Rob Havenstein at RG and Greg Robinson at RT. Havenstein and Robinson could flip spots, but the hope is Robinson locks down the RT spot after struggling badly on the left side. Sullivan isn’t a long-term answer, but he can be a stop-gap if the Rams select a young center in the draft. Maybe not for this year, but more OL help could be on the way if the unit doesn’t gel.
Weapons for Goff remain an area of concern. Tavon Austin has ability, but he’s on an unfriendly contract and the Rams have yet to use him properly. Robert Woods was signed to a big deal, but he never proved himself in Buffalo and that deal could look bad in a year or two. Pharoh Cooper has upside, but he’s not a legit No. 1 weapon. Getting that true No. 1 WR for Goff is a must in the near future. At tight end, last year’s fourth round pick Tyler Higbee might not be the answer. In a loaded TE class, the Rams should look for another option. Lance Dunbar will assume some of the third down duties at RB.
As mentioned, Phillips comes to town on the defensive side of the ball. The dirty little “secret” of Phillips vaunted defense is that it’s really just a 4-3 under with a defensive end standing up. So, Aaron Donald will still be one of the best 3-techniques in the NFL. How the rest of the defensive line fits is still up for grabs. Dominique Easley might be better as a 3-technique than a 5-technique or a 1-technique, so he might be relegated to backup duty. Michael Brockers could end up at either spot, but he’ll start somewhere. Where exactly he lines up most of the time might not be decided until after the draft.
The Rams overhauled the edge rusher spot, with Robert Quinn and Ethan Westbrooks the only notable players returning. Connor Barwin was a smart signing, as he’ll provide a veteran option. But a young piece or two is needed, especially if Robert Quinn can’t return to form. Alex Ogletree and Mark Barron should work as the two ILBs, but there isn’t much proven ability behind them.
In the secondary, picking up Kayvon Webster and Nickell Robey-Coleman were great moves. Webster, who knows Phillips defense, could break out as the No. 2 corner. Robey-Coleman will man the nickel role. That allows LaMarcus Joyner to assume free safety duties, as Maurice Alexander shifts to strong safety. Trumaine Johnson is back, for the time being, as the No. 1 CB.
Picks and Needs
The Rams have eight picks in the 2017 NFL Draft. They are without a first round pick as a result of the Jared Goff trade, which also cost them a compensatory draft pick in the third round. The extra fourth is a compensatory pick, while the sixth is via the Dolphins from the William Hayes trade. The seventh is from the Ravens as part of the Chris Givens trade, as the Rams’ original pick was swapped in the Hayes deal.
First round: (0)
Second round: (1) No. 37
Third round: (1) No. 69
Fourth round: (2) No. 112, No. 141
Fifth round: (1) No. 149
Sixth round: (2) No. 189, No. 206
Seventh round: (1) No. 234
These needs are in no particular order and are the top ones.
Wide Receiver – Tavon Austin has been inconsistent, while Pharoh Cooper hasn’t proven himself yet. Robert Woods is a No. 2, at best, so getting a legit No. 1 option for Goff is needed.
Tight End – It’s an amazing draft class for tight ends. The Rams should either add a legit No. 1 TE or a compliment for Tyler Higbee.
Offensive Line – I’ll group this together, since there are multiple needs. Whitworth and Sullivan are not long-term options, so young pieces will be needed at some point. In a bad tackle class, a center might be the route the Rams elect to go. A guard, even if it’s just a future backup, wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Defensive Line – Maybe it’s a true nose guard or maybe it’s another 5-technique. Either way, the Rams could use another piece alongside Brockers and Donald.
Edge Rusher – This might be the Rams’ biggest need. Robert Quinn is one keeper (hopefully: he’s had two down years in a row), but Connor Barwin isn’t a long-term option. Phillips’ defense is based on getting pressure. It’s a really good edge rusher class, so adding one early makes sense.
Cornerback – Kayvon Webster could have a breakout year and Nickell Robey-Coleman will man the slot, but Trumaine Johnson’s future is a question mark. He’ll likely get a year to see how he fits under Phillips, but there are no guarantees. With little reliable depth behind those three, another mid-round pick is needed.
Targets and Thoughts
Below are some potential targets for the Rams for each of their Day 1 and Day 2 picks.
Pick No. 37: Carl Lawson, EDGE, Auburn
Carl Lawson (Photo courtesy: profootballfocus.com)
If it wasn’t for injuries at Auburn, Lawson would likely be a first round pick. The production is there and although he’s a bit undersize, he should fit in the Rams’ system. He could be a part-time player in year one before replacing Barwin full-time once Barwin’s deal is up. There will plenty of edge options on the board here for Los Angeles.
Pick No. 69: JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, USC
The Rams have shown quite a bit of interest in the physical, productive WR from USC. He might not be a full-fledged No. 1 option, but he’s a very different player than Austin or Cooper. Concerns around his speed and separation ability (think Laquon Treadwell) could cause him to slide out of the first two rounds.
The Rams aren’t ready to truly contend next year. It’s a rebuild year, with the focus on Goff improving. Not having a first round pick doesn’t help, but the Rams can add a few pieces, on either side of the ball, as they continue their rebuild.
You can read all of the previous days of Draftmas here
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