The St. Louis Rams will have to play three more games this season, and calling the remaining contests meaningless would be a disservice to the guys suiting up on each of those upcoming Sundays. Nonetheless, the games essentially have no meaning toward the 2013 campaign as the team has zero hopes of making the postseason, and the only thing that can happen with wins down the stretch is for their selection in the 2014 NFL Draft to drop.
Speaking of that draft, the main focus for general manager Les Snead and even head coach Jeff Fisher at this point has to be on finding weaknesses and repairing those issues in the offseason. Given the team’s precarious salary cap standpoint free agency is unlikely to be a realistic option, but the draft will afford the Rams a terrific opportunity to upgrade the roster at an economical price.
If the season ended today the Rams would hold the No. 12 overall pick courtesy of their own 5-8 record, but they would also have the No. 2 selection thanks to the Robert Griffin III deal with the Washington Redskins. These two picks will allow them to zero in on their two main problem areas and fortify the depth chart accordingly.
The value of the second pick is obviously quite high so St. Louis must be sure to land an immediate impact player at that spot. Clearly Jadeveon Clowney would provide that to a defense that has been anything but consistent this season, but taking him would be a bit redundant given the team already has pass rushers in Robert Quinn, Chris Long, and even rotational man William Hayes.
Obviously if Clowney is still available at the No. 2 pick there will be some potential trade interest with clubs like the Atlanta Falcons desperate for a pass rusher, but if the Rams have to stay put and pick offensive tackle has to be their top need. Florida State stud Cameron Erving has been skyrocketing up draft boards, and the ever-present Jake Matthews of Texas A&M remains a solid option as well.
Both have similar size at 6-foot-5 310-pounds, but what could separate the two is the fact that some scouts believe a lack of elite athleticism will limit Matthews to the right side of the line whereas Erving could man the left side with ease. Teams don’t often spend an early selection on a player that can’t play a premium position, and even though the Rams have Jake Long under contract you can never have enough line depth. Rodger Saffold will be a free agent and likely leaving in the offseason which would allow Erving to start out on the right side to get his feet wet before moving over to the left later on in his career.
As for the No. 12 pick, the Rams must emphasize getting better in the secondary. Veteran Cortland Finnegan is likely to be a salary cap casualty due to his ridiculous cap number, and Trumaine Johnson is best suited in the nickel role. Janoris Jenkins needs some help on his opposite, and a fast riser is Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard. He’s a fluid athlete with the potential to be a shutdown corner at the next level. Given the way the Spartans’ defense handled pretty much all comers this season, the secondary really proved its worth and established some value in terms of pro prospects.
Another candidate could be Oregon’s Ifo Ekpre-Olomu who is a very instinctual player with the ability to shut down guys lining up across from him. His best showing came in the Civil War battle with Oregon State stud wideout Brandin Cooks where he recorded 12 solo tackles with three pass deflections and added an interception for good measure. Adding him into the mix would be a huge upgrade to a Rams secondary desperate for help improving their porous pass defense.
These options are far from set in stone as fluid as the draft can be, but it would be a surprise to see the Rams’ potential needs change much from here on out. Look for the team to zero in on fixing a shaky offensive line and plugging holes in a suspect secondary during the draft. Completing these tasks could allow the Rams to really make that jump and become 2014’s breakthrough team.