Rams’ First Choice Proves Perplexing

I heard the name, and I was stunned. Michael Brockers? Are you kidding me? A run-stuffing defensive tackle, in the first round, to a team that went 2-14 and averaged 12 points a game?

That’s unbelievable. The Rams had the second lowest attendance in the NFL. A 15-65 mark over the last five years will do that to a fan base. Well, I can tell you, taking a run-stuffing (hopefully) defensive tackle who doesn’t get to the quarterback is no way to sell more tickets.

I hate to be a cynic, but there can only be two things at play here. Either this franchise is clueless, thinking it’s smarter than the rest of the NFL, or it simply doesn’t want to win so it’ll be easier to move after 2014. Why else would you make the move of trading down and taking Brockers? This is a passing league that’s driven by the quarterback. The formula for a winning team in this era is to get a quality quarterback, protect the quarterback and let the quarterback move the ball on offense. On defense, get to the quarterback and defend the pass with great coverage.

The last time teams resorted to the old-timey “run the ball, stop the run” formula and won in the NFL was in the early 90’s, when the great Emmitt Smith was powering the Cowboys, and they needed to stop the running games of the Redskins and Giants.

The last five Super Bowl Champions have been 19th, 18th, 21st, second and eighth against the run. If you go back six champions, the 2006 Colts were 32nd vs. the run.

Those same six teams were fifth, fifth, fourth, 17th, 21st and second in passing offense. The numbers suggest that it’s much more important to rank high in passing offense than in rushing defense if you want to win these days in the NFL. Somebody at Rams Park clearly hasn’t gotten that memo.

The Rams saw fit to A) trade out of a spot to defend the pass better with the selection of Morris Claiborne, or enhance the passing game by taking wide receiver Michael Floyd and B) take a run-stopping defensive tackle rather than a solid, all-around guard like Stanford’s David DeCastro.

Here are the players drafted as 4-3 defensive tackles in the first round in the last 10 drafts. Ryan Sims, John Henderson, Wendell Bryant, Albert Haynesworth, Dwayne Robertson, Jonathon Sullivan, Kevin Williams, Jimmy Kennedy, William Joseph, Tommie Harris, Marcus Tubbs, Travis Johnson, Mike Patterson, Brodrick Bunkley, John McCargo, Amobi Okoye, Adam Carriker, Justin Harrell, Glenn Dorsey, Sedrick Ellis, Peria Jerry, Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy, Tyson Alualu, Marcel Dareus, Nick Fairley and Marcel Dareus.

Of those 27 4-3 tackles taken in the first round over the last decade, eight were out of the league within five years. Sims, Robertson, Sullivan, Joseph, Tubbs and Johnson were all colossal busts. Of those who could have had five years in the NFL to this point, eight of 17 were out of the league within five years, and six of the 27 lasted three or fewer years with the team that drafted them. Of the 27, two (Harris with the Bears and Ellis with the Saints) have gone to the Super Bowl with the team that drafted them.

Henderson, Haynesworth, Williams, Harris and Suh all have gone to Pro Bowls, but those players all have provided significant pass rush in those seasons. There is no reason to believe that Brockers is going to develop into a pass rushing force. Essentially, the Rams have parlayed a 2-14 record and the second pick in the draft, so far, into a guy who mirrors what they signed in free agency in Kendall Langford. Langford was the 66th pick in the draft. Brockers was 14th, after the Rams had owned the second choice, and then the sixth.

The franchise has a significant investment in Sam Bradford. They used the first pick in the draft on him in 2010, and then gave him a six-year, $78 million contract with $50 million guaranteed. So far, in two years, they haven’t provided him with strong protection up front or reliable targets in the passing game. The Rams have wasted two years of his career already, and are headed to a third. There isn’t a receiver left in this draft who will walk in as the best on their roster. And there isn’t an offensive lineman left who clearly represents an upgrade over what the Rams already have. And they took a defensive tackle who will start and play, but hasn’t shown a propensity to get to the quarterback.

It’s wonderful that the Rams are going to try and stop the opponent’s running game. Perhaps they’ll cut down on the number of touchdowns allowed.

Maybe rather than going 2-14 and losing by an average of 25-12, they can go 2-14 and lose 17-12. That fires me up. I want to pay $65 a ticket for that. And when the Rams have two choices in 2014, they can trade up for Bradford’s replacement.