During the Rams stretch of high first round draft picks over the last few years, when they made their choices it was out of clear need. In 2008, they needed pass rush, and the choices were either Chris Long or Glen Dorsey. They made the right pick in Long. In 2009, they needed to replace the aged and injured left tackle Orlando Pace, and used the second overall pick on Jason Smith. The idea was right, but the player turned out to be wrong. In 2010, even though Ndamukong Suh was available, most experts in and outside of the league thought Sam Bradford was the top pick, and the Rams made the right choice there. In the last two years, a defensive end like Robert Quinn was necessary because of James Hall’s age, and last year the Rams didn’t have numbers at defensive tackle when they took Michael Brockers.
This year, as the try to continue building a program rather than a team for one year, the needs aren’t as clear cut. For the first time in a long time, the Rams won’t get any argument if they stick to their board and take the best player available throughout the draft. Here’s a breakdown…
At cornerback, even though the Rams have an excellent starting tandem in Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins, and a solid third corner in Trumaine Johnson, Bradley Fletcher is a free agent. After all of his injury issues and his fall down the depth chart, it would make sense for the Rams to get another corner.
At safety, Quentin Mikell played very well down the stretch. But Craig Dahl is a liability in pass coverage and Darian Stewart can’t stay healthy. Youngsters Rodney McCloud and Matt Daniels may ascend, but clearly the Rams can use some help at safety.
At linebacker, James Laurinaitis was signed to a long term contract, but Jo-Lonn Dunbar has only one year left on his deal. Strong side linebackers Rocky McIntosh and Mario Haggan are both older than 30 years old, and both unrestricted free agents. It would make sense, even if the Rams are bringing one of them back, to draft an outside linebacker to groom for both outside positions.
Up front, the starters are young and good. Among the reserves, William Hayes is a UFA and Eugene Sims is a free agent next year. They need to prepare a young end for the future. The Rams have exclusive rights to Jermelle Cudjo and like Matt Conrath, but could use competition at tackle, too.
On the offensive line, the Rams have a lot of competition, but you can never have too many good players up front. Center Scott Wells turns 32 on Sunday, and injured left guard Harvey Dahl turns 32 in June. It makes sense for the Rams to be prepared. Both players were hurt in 2012, and Rodger Saffold and Rokevious Watkins dealt with injuries too. Nobody should complain if the Rams add to their offensive line depth.
Same with the receiver position, where Danny Amendola is a free agent. There’s no problem trying to draft above Austin Pettis, Brandon Gibson, Chris Givens and Brian Quick. They can always do better, and many good wide recievers come in the mid to late rounds.
The Rams do need depth at tight end, and would do well to try and upgrade over what they have there.
Steven Jackson will be 30 years old, so getting another running back to compete would make sense. We don’t know if Daryl Richardson can be an effective every down, every week back, and Isiah Pead, while talented, still must prove himself.
And at quarterback, free agent Kellen Clemens is going to be 30 and really hasn’t done anything in the NFL. If the Rams are sitting in the third round or later and there’s a solid quarterback prospect available, they need to groom a backup. And with Sam Bradford having one guaranteed year left on his contract and a $14 million salary in 2014, who could blame the Rams for wanting to be prepared?
The point is that the Rams can take the best player available pretty much throughout April’s draft, and do the right thing. That’s what the best organizations do. That’s how you build a program. If you can say you’ve taken the best player available with every draft pick you have, then you’ve drafted well. I sense the Rams are going to do that in 2013.