As the Rams get ready to head to Green Bay to start the second quarter of their season, it’s interesting to compare how their 0-4 unit was built in comparison to how the 5-0 Super Bowl champions were put together.
The Rams will start a dozen veteran free agents that played for other NFL teams and two trade acquisitions Sunday at Lambeau Field. On offense, the middle of the offensive line–Jacob Bell, Jason Brown and Harvey Dahl–all arrived as free agents. So did wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker and tight end Billy Bajema, while wideout Brandon Gibson was acquired in a trade. Only tackles Rodger Saffold and Jason Smith, quarterback Sam Bradford and running back Steven Jackson were drafted by the Rams, while fullback Brit Miller was an undrafted free agent that began his career with the 49ers.
On defense, end James Hall was a trade acquisition, while tackles Fred Robbins and Justin Bannan, outside linebackers Ben Leber and Brady Poppinga and safeties Quintin Mikell and Craig Dahl were free agents, along with cornerback Al Harris. Defensive end Chris Long, middle linebacker James Laurinaitis and cornerback Justin King were drafted by the Rams.
The Packers are a different story. Their entire offensive line, all of their wide receivers, their tight end and their quarterback were all drafted by Green Bay. Running back Ryan Grant came in a trade with the Giants, and fullback John Kuhn was picked up on waivers from Pittsburgh.
The Packers’ defense features two free agents: former Ram Ryan Pickett up front, and former Raider Charles Woodson at cornerback. The other nine Packers defenders were either drafted by Green Bay, or were undrafted free agents.
Perhaps most alarming for Ram fans is their franchise’s apparent inability to hit on draft choices after the second round. Justin King, a former fourth rounder, is the only Rams starter drafted in the third round or later. Even if the Rams were 100 percent healthy, they would have one starter–Bradley Fletcher–drafted after the second round. The Rams have had success in the first and second rounds. Long, Laurinaitis, Smith, Saffold, Bradford and Jackson were drafted in the first or second round. The Packers have seven such players starting.
The difference in the two franchises appears to come after the second round and in the undrafted free agency areas. While the Rams will have those 12 free agents and two trade acquisitions, the Packers will have 11 players acquired after the second round or in undrafted free agency.
While the middle of the Rams’ offensive line is comprised of free agents, the Packers will have ’09 fourth rounder T.J. Lang, ’04 seventh rounder Scott Wells and ’08 fourth rounder Josh Sitton in the middle of theirs. The Rams will start free agent Bajema at tight end. The Packers will start ’08 third rounder Jermichael Finley. The Rams will start free agent Sims-Walker at wide receiver, and the Packers will go with former seventh-round pick Donald Driver.
On defense, where the Rams will start seven unrestricted free agents, the Packers will start six players acquired after the second round that have never worn another NFL team’s jersey. Defensive end Jarius Wynn was a sixth rounder in ’09, linebacker Desmond Bishop was a sixth rounder in ’07, linebacker Erik Walden was an undrafted free agent last year, as was safety Charlie Peprah. Cornerback Tramon Williams was undrafted in ’06, and safety Morgan Burnett was a third rounder last year.
All told, the Packers will start 19 players that have only played in the NFL for them. Only Pickett, Woodson and Kuhn have ever worn another team’s jersey in a regular-season game. The Rams will suit up eight players that have only played in the NFL for the Rams, and 14 that have come from other teams.
There’s obviously more than one approach to winning. The Patriots in the early part of this decade used free agency liberally to build their three-time Super Bowl Champions. But the current champs, the 5-0 squad that the Rams face on Sunday, are built from within. And they couldn’t be more different than the Rams.