National Football League

Rams Get Their All-Purpose Man

As the Rams awaited the draft on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and collected intelligence from around the league, they started to get worried about what would happen if they stood pat with the 16th pick. They knew the Jets were interested in their top choice, Tavon Austin, at No. 9. They also got word that the Jets were interested in Mizzou’s Sheldon Richardson at No. 13. The two really good guards were going to be gone, and the Saints were hot for Kenny Vaccaro, the safety from Texas.

If the Rams were going to get a player they really liked, they were going to have to move up to get Austin. The precedent for such a trade into the top 10 had already been set when the Rams traded down eight spots last year with Dallas and received a second-rounder in return, and then Miami traded up nine spots with Oakland this year, giving the Raiders a number two. So, the Rams decided to be bold and go get their guy in Austin, moving up eight spots and sending their second-rounder, a swap of third-rounders and a seventh to Buffalo for the eighth pick.

The Rams’ intel was correct. If they had stayed at No. 16, they probably would have been looking at a lesser receiver, DeAndre Hopkins of Clemson, and the linebacker they wound up getting at No. 30, Alec Ogletree of Georgia. And for all of the talk about this draft being about picks 10-50, if the Rams had the 14th pick in the second round, what would they be looking at?

Most player ranking services have the second round loaded with lesser receivers than Austin, quarterbacks, linebackers, defensive linemen and the middle of a huge crop of quality safeties. They already have their receiver and linebacker, they didn’t even study QBs for this draft, any defensive linemen they get will be for depth and development, and there are so many safeties they can get one later.

The Rams were able to replace the second-rounder they gave up to Buffalo with Atlanta’s third-rounder, plus replace their seventh with Atlanta’s sixth in a trade down from No. 22 to No. 30 overall. And they got Ogletree at No. 30, whom they considered a top-15 player in this draft.

The Rams’ brain trust believes they can get a running back in the middle-to-late rounds. Their pattern is to take offensive linemen middle-to-late to develop them. They can get a safety who will start in the third or fourth round of this draft. Then they can draft for corner and more linebacker depth in the later rounds. I said I wouldn’t have traded the number two, but after having the projection explained to me that way (and with the knowledge that they got their man in Austin), I feel great about the trade.

As far as Austin is concerned, we’ve seen this movie before. Way back in another lifetime, with another franchise, the St. Louis Cardinals featured a 5-9, 185-pound dynamo named Terry Metcalf. While Metcalf was much more a running back than receiver, and Austin is more of a receiver, the point is that they’re both incredibly versatile. Howard Cosell would always refer to Metcalf at “Mr. Versatility” in the Monday Night Football halftime highlights, and indeed his 1975 season of 2,439 yards is still 12th all-time in the NFL in all-purpose yards (816 rushing, 378 receiving, 285 punt returns, 960 kickoff returns).

In his senior year at West Virginia, Austin was second in all of college football with 2,760 all-purpose yards. He had 598 rushing, 1,259 receiving, 165 in punt returns and 738 in kickoff returns to average 230 total yards per game. As you can see here, the similarities between Metcalf and Austin are striking.

Right now, this looks like a sensational move for the Rams. Anyone who listens to “The Fast Lane” knows he was my favorite player in the draft. The Rams surveyed the landscape, looked at what was ahead of them in the second round, and made a sound move in trading up. Even though they’ll watch round two on TV, they’ll be able to fill their specific needs with their two third-round picks, a fourth, fifth and two sixths. It’s been a loooong time since the Rams have had a player as explosive as Austin, and explosiveness is what the NFL is about in 2013. I can’t wait to see him perform.