Why the St. Louis Rams won the 2013 NFL draft
The 2013 NFL Draft was not one that was defined by the star power at the top, but rather by the depth of prospects that will turn into worthwhile starters for years to come. Two teams in my eyes had far and away the best drafts of this year: the Baltimore Ravens, St. Louis Rams, and San Francisco 49ers. All of those teams did an excellent job of filling need areas with great players.
The Ravens did a fantastic job of replacing departed veterans with promising prospects, and the 49ers added many great players at key positions that won’t be forced to start, but what I saw from the Rams was extremely impressive. The Rams made moves with both of their two first-round picks and got players that are perfect fits for their system. With their remaining five picks, St. Louis picked up a couple of guys that I think will be long-term starters in this league, and very good ones at that.
When I think of the top general managers in the league over the past few years, four names come to mind who have developed their teams into powerhouses: Seattle’s John Schneider, Baltimore’s Ozzie Newsome, San Francisco’s Trent Baalke, and Atlanta’s Thomas Dimitroff. With this draft, Rams general manager Les Snead may have put himself on track to join that elite category.
Let’s take a look at each of the Rams’ picks to see how they will impact the team in 2013:
Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia (First round, 8th overall) – It was no secret leading up to the draft that the New York Jets wanted Austin, so Snead and his staff made the decision to move up into the top 8 however possible. Luckily the Bills were looking to trade down to find their quarterback of the future, allowing the Rams to slide one pick ahead of the Jets and snag Austin. Anybody who watched Austin play at West Virginia knows the Percy Harvin comparisons are legit. As Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote Monday, the Rams plan to use Austin in multiple offensive positions all over the field.
“They showed me all the positions that I did when I played for Coach (Dana) Holgorsen,” Austin said, referring to the West Virginia head coach. “They’re going to use me in the backfield. Coach Fisher talked to me about special teams, and I’m definitely a slot receiver. So, they definitely have a plan for me.”
In my opinion, the Rams did more than just replace departed receiver Danny Amendola – they got a significant upgrade.
Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia (First round, 30th overall) – The Rams let Dimitroff’s Falcons slide in to select cornerback Desmond Trufant, who did not represent a large need for the Rams. Snead should be thankful that the Minnesota Vikings who ended up with three picks between the Rams’ original pick at 22 and their actual pick at 30, did not take one linebacker. The 6’2″, 242-pound Ogletree played inside linebacker at Georgia, but figures to play opposite outside linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar with James Laurinaitis manning the middle. Seeing the impact that oft-troubled cornerback Janoris Jenkins had in his rookie season with the Rams, I have little doubt that Ogletree will be able to keep his head on straight under Jeff Fisher. The Rams have made great additions to their defensive line and secondary in recent years, but the linebacking group around Laurinaitis remained fairly lackluster. That won’t be the case anymore.
T.J. McDonald, S, USC (Third round, 71st overall) – In their deal with the Bills, the Rams were able to move from pick 76 to 71 in the third round, and they used that pick to acquire McDonald, an uber-athletic yet raw safety. While McDonald is very far from a finished product, he may get a chance to start as Darian Stewart is the only other safety on the roster with any significant experience. Quintin Mikell may come back at a lower salary, but for now it looks like McDonald will have the chance to improve in game action in 2013.
Stedman Bailey, WR, West Virginia (Third round, 92nd overall) – After drafting Austin, the Rams decided to go after his college running mate. Unfortunately, the Rams and Geno Smith’s team, the New York Jets, won’t meet again until 2016. While Austin may be the better all-around receiver, Bailey is no slouch either considering he made 41 touchdown catches in 39 games at West Virginia. Between the two West Virginia rookies and second-year receivers Brian Quick and Chris Givens, plus tight ends Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks, quarterback Sam Bradford really has no excuse for mediocre play this year.
Barrett Jones, OC, Alabama (Fourth round, 113th overall) – Jones is probably a second-rounder based on talent, but injury concerns are very real. A team leader at Alabama, Jones could push veteran Scott Wells for the starting job sooner rather than later. While Jones isn’t freakishly strong like his college teammate Chance Warmack, he is an extremely smart offensive lineman who has experience playing all over the line. Because of his skill set and his size (6’4″ and 306 pounds), Jones probably fits as a versatile interior lineman who could push for a starting job at guard this season opposite Harvey Dahl.
Brandon McGee, CB, Miami-FL (Fifth round, 149th overall) – McGee is probably the lone player from this draft class who doesn’t have a legitimate chance to start in 2013. With Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins holding down the outside corner spots and youngster Trumaine Johnson also pushing for time, McGee will probably only factor in sub packages and special teams this year. McGee only had three picks in four years at Miami, but he is a willing tackler and is a physical player for his position.
Zac Stacy, RB, Vanderbilt (Fifth round, 160th overall) – Stacy is, to me, the steal of the Rams’ draft this year. If you want one late-round rookie who could possibly have an Alfred Morris type of season, it would be Stacy. In fact, if you want to compare Stacy’s scouting report to Morris’ report from last year, you’ll find a fair amount of similarities between the two. Stacy actually performed better than Morris at the combine, performing notably better in the bench press and 3-cone drill, and running a 4.55 40-yard dash to Morris’ 4.67. But with both of these players, the combine wasn’t a true testament to their ability.
Stacy dealt with injury problems his first two years at Vanderbilt, but then ran for 1,100 yards against SEC defenses the last two years, which is no easy task. He is a powerful downhill runner who doesn’t go down easy. I remember watching the Music City Bowl in December, which pitted Vanderbilt against North Carolina State (I started out watching more for Mike Glennon). Stacy operated largely out of a Wildcat-type set, and even so the NC State defense had a hard time stopping him.
Stacy finished that game with 107 yards rushing and a score on 25 carries, and I was convinced that this guy would find a spot somewhere in the NFL. He just so happened to land with the Rams, who after cutting Steven Jackson are in need of a workhorse back like Stacy. The Rams ranked 19th in rushing offense last year with Jackson and Daryl Richardson doing most of the work, and I think they could do better than that with Stacy in tow.
The St. Louis Rams didn’t add the most high-profile draft picks, nor did they accumulate the most talent. But thanks to a general manager with a distinct vision of how to move the team forward, a couple of big free-agent moves paired with the draft additions of a few major contributors should make the Rams an attractive sleeper in 2013. And oh, by the way, they still have two first rounders in the 2014 draft thanks to the RG3 deal with the Redskins, and there seem to be many top quarterback prospects on the way. It won’t be long before the NFC West is (at least) a three-team race.
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Down and Distance Columnist Joe Ray – @jpray_SK