The St. Louis Rams have plenty of areas that need attention this off-season, but the most long-standing and visible among them is their lack of an elite pass-catcher for quarterback Sam Bradford. Their current woeful state could get even worse if the team allows Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson to walk in free agency.
Thankfully for the team, however, they’re well situated for the NFL Draft with two first-round picks that they can use to fill a long-neglected need in the passing game.
But who will they target? The Rams have the luxury of picking both at No. 16 and No. 22 in the upcoming draft thanks to their decision to trade their No. 2 pick last season to the Washington Redskins for a veritable king’s ransom of picks. That gives them some flexibility to address multiple needs in a draft that is rich with depth, but not necessarily can’t-miss superstars.
That means that the Rams won’t have to reach for a pass-catcher at pick No. 16. Most projections have the top wide receiver, Cordarrelle Patterson of the Tennessee Volunteers, off the board by the time the Rams get their first selection. Without another highly-coveted receiver rated in the mid-first round area, St. Louis can turn their attention to fixing their offensive line by picking an offensive tackle, such as D.J. Fluker of the Alabama Crimson Tide or Lane Johnson of the Oklahoma Sooners.
That puts the onus on the team to find an impact receiver with their second pick in the first round at No. 22. The obvious choice for the Rams would be wide receiver Keenan Allen of the Cal Bears, who possesses elite size and the potential to be a great pass-catcher at the NFL level. However, there are other teams in need of help in the passing game as well that could snatch Allen off the board before St. Louis comes back around (the Chicago Bears could certainly use another weapon across from Brandon Marshall at No. 20).
If that were to happen, St. Louis might look to the talented pool of tight ends in this year’s draft to answer their pass-catching need. They’ll likely have their pick between Zach Ertz of the Stanford Cardinal, Tyler Eifert of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish or Gavin Escobar from the San Diego State Aztecs. Each brings a tall, strong frame to the position with soft hands and the ability to make plays in space, a la Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans Saints or Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots.
And as Bradford continues to develop as an NFL-passer, having the security blanket of a tight end over the middle would help take a lot of the pressure off and give the Rams an answer for defenses bringing quick pressure with blitz packages. And as the Patriots, Saints, Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons, among others, have proven, a great pass-catching tight end is a valuable commodity in today’s NFL.
So the Rams have options. As the NFL Combine ramps up this week, they will get an opportunity to really break down what they can do with their two first round picks. If they’re hoping to finally address some of their pass-catching woes, though, this would be a nice draft to do it.