Do the Rams have the best players available?

Rams General Manager Billy Devaney has been with some outstanding scouting groups and been a part of championship organizations in the past. While never completely running a show until now, Devaney has been a guy that has run drafts and been a scout for Washington, San Diego, San Francisco and Atlanta.

In the two drafts he’s run with the Rams, we must note that this year he appears to have hit the jackpot with middle linebacker James Lauranaitis and cornerback Bradley Fletcher. First round picks, second overall choices Chris Long and Jason Smith, present real concerns for Rams fans.

Along with players the Rams drafted, the performance of Will Witherspoon and DeSean Jackson of Philadelphia last night should raise a red flag. Witherspoon wasn’t able to make plays after a shoulder injury last year, and in his last eighteen games as a Ram he had one sack, one interception and one forced fumble. In his first game in Philadelphia, ‘Spoon had a sack, and interception and a forced fumble. Is his lack of success in St. Louis a result of the way he’s utilized by coaches, or by his surrounding talent? Either way, we know he can still play.

While the Rams said they wouldn’t have traded Witherspoon unless it was for a player that could step right in, Brandon Gibson…the player the Rams got for him…couldn’t step in ahead of Tim Carter on Sunday. Carter had a galling drop and a miscommunication with Marc Bulger on Sunday that prevented the Rams from scoring a TD. Are the GM and the coaching staff on the same page when it comes to judging players? This situation would lead you to believe they aren’t.

In the 2008 draft, Donnie Avery was taken by the Rams 33rd overall as the first receiver taken, selected fifteen spots and five receivers ahead of the Eagles’ DeSean Jackson. To be fair, Devin Thomas, Jordy Nelson, James Hardy, Eddie Royal and Jerome Simpson were all receivers taken ahead of Jackson, too.

Jackson, who scored two TD’s against Washington, has played in 23 games and has 83 catches, five touchdown grabs and two rushing scores. Jackson averages 16.1 yards per catch. In addition, Jackson is a return man for Philly. Of course, the Rams have had a need for a punt returner for two years…and Jackson has averaged 10.0 yards per return with two touchdowns so far in his career.

Avery has played in 22 games for the Rams, with 74 catches, five TD receptions and a rushing TD, averaging 12.7 yards per catch. He also has a rushing TD. Although Avery’s receiving numbers rival Jackson’s…and on a better team would likely match them…Jackson’s return element makes you wonder why the Rams didn’t take him?

Of course, the Rams first round pick in Devaney’s first draft, Chris Long, hasn’t had a sack in a year, since October 26 of last season against New England. In fact, his only big play in a calendar year is a forced fumble vs. Chicago last November 23. While Long…with four career sacks…is approaching bust status, it’s hard to blame Devaney. Quarterback Matt Ryan was on the board, but Marc Bulger hadn’t even started his new contract yet. Glenn Dorsey and Vernon Gholston have been worse than Long, and nobody thought linebacker Jerrod Mayo or tackle Ryan Clady were logical choices at number two. Long was the only one.

The tackle the Rams DID take appears to be a concern. In the last ten years, eight offensive tackles have been taken with top-five picks. Of those, Jake Long of Miami, Joe Thomas of Cleveland, D’Brickashaw Ferguson of the Jets, Leonard Davis of Arizona and Chris Samuels of Washington started sixteen games at left tackle in their rookie year. Robert Gallery of Oakland played in every game, starting fifteen of them at right tackle, and Mike Williams…drafted as a right tackle by the Bills…started fourteen games there. He was hurt for games against Miami and Detroit. Presumed left tackle Jason Smith has yet to start a game at that key position, and will play the fewest games of any top-five tackle in the decade.

Obviously, Smith is having trouble getting on the field even when he’s healthy, for a team that went 2-14 last season. That’s alarming. In recent years, teams that have drafted left tackles high and given them a lot of money have played them at left tackle.

This year, with Bulger having struggled for two years, the Rams could have made an argument to select quarterback Mark Sanchez. In their last four drafts, the Rams have now passed on potential franchise quarterbacks Jay Cutler, Ryan and Sanchez.

The entire story is still, obviously, yet to be written. But I think it’s fair to wonder if the Rams talent level is where it should be.