National Football League

The Rams’ Free Agency Silence Makes Their Draft Strategy Clear

With the NFL draft nearly here and with the Rams not really participating in free agency (as far as clear cut starters go), the direction for draft weekend has become pretty clear.

joe barksdale
Without resigning Barksdale, the Rams would have a gap at right tackle.

At the moment, the Rams don’t have a starting right guard or a starting right tackle. If they don’t re-sign Joe Barksdale to play right tackle, they need to draft another starter at that position…the fifth time in the last eleven years that they would have used a premium pick on an offensive tackle.

When a back injury ended Kyle Turley’s St. Louis career in 2004, the Rams had to find a bookend for Orlando Pace.

The Rams liked Oklahoma’s Jammal Brown, who went to New Orleans with the thirteenth pick overall and subsequently played in two Pro Bowls.

At number nineteen, the Rams took Florida State’s Alex Barron, who was a gifted athlete but suffered from the rap that he lacked intensity.

The scouting report proved correct. Barron was durable, but had a tendency to meander, and became a false start machine. He was, overall, a major disappointment who was traded to Dallas after five years with the Rams.

When Pace’s play fell off and he was released after the 2008 season, a replacement was needed. The Rams had suffered through a horrific ’08, and with the second pick in the ’09 draft took athletic Baylor tackle Jason Smith. They thought he’d be their left tackle for a decade. But in what was literally his first practice, the Rams decided he wasn’t an NFL left tackle and moved him to the right side, allowing Barron to move to the left. Smith started just 26 of 48 games in three seasons, playing in 29, and was traded to the Jets during Jeff Fisher’s first training camp three years into his career…which lasted just one more season.

With Smith’s inability to play left tackle, the Rams used the first pick in the second round in 2010 on Rodger Saffold. When healthy, Saffold has been a solid performer for the Rams…although he was moved inside to guard during the 2013 season and is projected as a guard now.

Of course, last year the Rams drafted the extremely raw Greg Robinson with another second overall pick, and he figures…like Barron, Smith and Saffold…to project as the starting left tackle for a decade. Robinson started inside at guard, with expensive free agent left tackle Jake Long on the left side, but when Long suffered his second ACL tear in as many years, Robinson moved to left tackle and Long was subsequently cut.

Greg Robinson
Robinson’s inexperience cost the Rams in 2014.

Robinson’s inexperience really hurt the Rams in 2014, and it would be a major mistake to select another “project” offensive tackle this year. They would be well served to take a player that’s polished, versatile and nasty. The two that seem to fit that mold in this draft are Iowa’s Brandon Scherff and LSU’s La’el Collins.

Scherff is a 6-5, 319 pounder that played left tackle his last three years in college after a freshman year at guard. Our former 101 ESPN teammate Rick Venturi, who has studied all of the offensive linemen in this draft, loves the Iowa product. “Scherff is a superior athlete with viciousness,” he says, and adds “Kirk (Ferentz, Iowa head coach) is a great offensive line coach, and those guys (from Iowa) are pro ready.”

Everyone seems to agree that Scherff is a plug-and-play guy, and the primary comparison, including Coach Venturi, his last year’s Cowboy first rounder, Zack Martin.

There’s a school of thought that the Rams would take Stanford’s Andrus Peat or Miami’s Ereck Flowers. But there are problems with both, not the least of which is that neither projects as a possible guard. Peat is the son of former St. Louis Cardinal Todd Peat. As a Stanford guy, he’s obviously smart. And he’s athletic. But there are comparisons to Barron, regarding his desire and willingness to compete on every play. Some regard him as soft, which isn’t a label you want attached to the tenth pick in the draft.

Flowers was a big, physical tackle at Miami, but doesn’t have Peat’s athleticism. If he had Peat’s athletic ability, or Peat had Flowers’ nastiness, you’d have something. But both are lacking.

The other intriguing prospect for me is Collins, who, like Scherff, played both guard and tackle in college. Collins was a mauling left guard during his freshman and sophomore years before moving to left tackle for his junior and senior years. Collins is exceptionally strong, is great in the run game, and Coach Venturi thinks is a four position guy, all except center.

Like Scherff (and the other two mentioned, for that matter) he has played in a pro-style offense under coordinator Cam Cameron for the last two years. Venturi says Collins is a “blue chipper and a nasty man,” and adds “I like Collins as a player much better than I did Robinson last year.”

Scherff is likely to be gone when the Rams come up at number ten, and Collins projects as a guy that will go between fifteen and twenty overall. If Scherff is gone and there’s a team that wants to come up to ten from something better than twenty, they should make a deal to trade down. Otherwise, they should simply reach for Collins and start fixing their offensive line right now.

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