2014 NFL Draft: 2nd-3rd Round Options For St. Louis Rams
Salary Cap Issues Make NFL Draft A Focus For The Rams
The St. Louis Rams have glaring weaknesses on their defense. The primary cause for concern lies within the secondary where they have struggled to build a consistent duo at the safety positions. T.J. McDonald looks to be a solid player heading forward while Rodney McLeod's play left a lot to be desired. St. Louis could look to pick up Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with their second pick in the first round. He is the runaway winner for top safety in the draft.
The second biggest issue comes from the cornerback position where Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson have the top two spots locked up for next season. Cortland Finnegan's hefty price-tag of $10 million is definitely a detriment to the Rams' salary cap issues for such poor play over his two seasons in the Gateway City. Releasing Finnegan frees up a lot of room that would allow St. Louis to retain Rodger Saffold to help solidify the line.
Kendall Langford's $6 million salary for 2014 wouldn't be out of line if he produced at a top DT level. Instead, he has struggled to create pressure on the pass rush and really hasn't done a lot to help the Rams' run defense. He does well against the worst competition only to struggle against any of the better guards or centers in the league. The Rams can't afford to do much with the space they have against the salary cap, so releasing or restructuring contracts will be their only hope of re-signing key pieces or being able to make a splash on the free agent market. They will have to hit the mark during the draft grabbing quality players to fill in right away.
Risk vs. Reward
Zach Mettenberger was a having his breakout season leading his offense's passing attack with improved decision-making and accuracy. He was a big question mark heading into the season, but his pre-injury performance had erased many doubts. Mettenberger's stock had risen to a possible late first or early second round pick. Instead any team willing to take a chance on him will have to do so while he rehabs from a torn ACL. The Rams have the benefit of knowing who their starter should be for at least two seasons until 2015 when Sam Bradford's deal is up. That leaves two years for Mettenberger to learn and prove himself ready to take over an offense. Even though Mettenberger was having a great year it was only one season. He did show the big arm and ability to complete passes downfield.
>Other options include Jimmy Garappolo, who is a small school product. His level of competition was subpar, but he dominated and displayed NFL level talent. Garappolo has a quality arm and the quickest release of any quarterback in the draft. He should be available when the Rams pick in the third round, but QBs are never guaranteed to last with teams desperate for a QB.
Derek Carr is a legit first-round prospect two should be gone after round one. His bowl game did a lot to dismantle the stock he had built up all season. If he fell into the second-round St. Louis would be smart to grab him given the chance. Two years is a lot of time for a QB to perfect his footwork and learn an offense.
Replacing Jo-Lonn Dunbar Won't Be Easy
With Jo-Lonn Dunbar's deal expiring he should be an easy re-sign for St. Louis on a modest level deal for two years. Dunbar lost four games to a suspension in 2013, but he didn't produce at a significant level upon his return. A cheap deal could easily be done for a player that needs to re-prove himself. The Rams could search in the draft for a replacement to save money.
Christian Jones played some defensive end this season, but he fits as an outside linebacker with pass rushing ability. He is a fast, athletic playmaker that could produce at the next level against the run. He is athletic enough to drop back and help in coverage, but after playing on the line during this season he might fit better in a 3-4 defense.
Carl Bradford is a 6-foot-1 243-pound linebacker who is an excellent pass rusher and run defender. He gets into the backfield well while shedding blocks. He tallied 55 tackles, 18 tackles for a loss, 8.5 sacks, four passes defended, three forced fumbles and one interception this season. Bradford has the ability to become a solid linebacker in the NFL, and he could go in the second or third-round.
Jonathan Brown was one of the best tacklers in college tallying an astounding 119 tackles, 15 for a loss, four passes defended, one interception, one forced fumble and four sacks. He isn't the biggest name out there, but he is strong and athletic. He might be the one linebacker on this list to fall into the third-round or possibly later.
It's A Longshot, But Timmy Jernigan Could Fall To Day 2
Timmy Jernigan could have been an easy second-round pick, but thanks to his BCS Championship Game performance teams have taken notice of the DT. The Rams would have to let go of Kendall Langford to really have interest in spending their second-round pick on Jernigan. It would save money and give them another young stud up front. Langford's deal could be restructured and he could serve as a mentor to the younger Jernigan, but that really hasn't been a plan for most of the Rams' young group. Usually they are thrown into the fire because they are an automatic upgrade over the player that was in place.
Jernigan's season turned heads, and scouts have started to rave about his abilities and potential. That is a situation that could pay off big for him or lead a team down the wrong road in drafting a young player based on hype and potential that may never be reached.
St. Louis Must Upgrade At Corner
Cortland Finnegan missed most of the season and under-performed after signing a five-year, $50 million deal. Unless St. Louis believes that he can step up his play then he should get cut this offseason. He isn't capable of producing like a $10 million player should so it is time to move on.
Kyle Fuller is coming out of a secondary producing machine and should be well prepared for the NFL. He is quick for his size and physical on the outside. He could afford to make more splash plays after only grabbing two interceptions this season while defending 10 passes. He is 6-foot which is good for today's NFL where receivers are only getting taller and stronger.
Jason Verrett is a smaller corner at 5-foot-10, but the Rams really need a slot defender more than they need an outside coverage man. He keeps tight coverage in man allowing little separation and is quick. Verrett will slip into the late second or third-round mostly because of his size limitations which fits perfect for St. Louis to capitalize on.
One of the most hyped products before the season has become an afterthought to most scouts after a poor season of dismal results. Loucheiz Purifoy was held above any other corner before the season mostly because he is a superior athlete by any standards. He was exposed this season by doing too much guess work and is now thought to be the second best corner on his own team. He should fall into the second-round and possibly the third if teams don't believe in him to adjust to the NFL.
Safety Is a High Concern
The St. Louis Rams have been battling poor safety play for years. T.J. McDonald performed well after shaking off the rust from a fractured leg later in the season. Rodney McLeod wasn't the worst safety in the league, but he was definitely not the best either. If they cleared salary space they could find a cheap option in T.J. Ward who is a run thumper and not the worst option against the pass. I don't think the Rams are really wanting to go out and spend money on out of house options, instead choosing to bring back pieces and fill holes with the draft.
Craig Loston is a 6-foot-2 safety that can deliver a hit. He did receive the added benefit of playing on one of colleges best defensive units which shouldn't count against him, but realistically it has to. He recorded 55 tackles, one pass defended and three interceptions this season. He is a good athlete that could potentially step in right away for a team and produce at a decent level only to get better with experience.
Dion Bailey produced better numbers this season with five interceptions, 58 tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss and six passes defended. His ability to play against the pass is more than just a need in St. Louis. The Rams struggled defending deep passes all season long and continuously got burned deep. Bailey's ability to cover ground in the secondary would be a huge lift to the defense.
St. Louis Isn't Likely to Spend a Pick On WR, But...
Davante Adams did a lot for Derek Carr's draft stock this season by repeatedly reeling in jump balls. At 6-foot-2 he is a viable outside receiver and red zone threat against any corner in the NFL. It was hard to judge his speed against the lesser talent he faced all season, but he could go up and high point the ball with the best of them. After spending four picks on wide receivers during the last two drafts St. Louis really shouldn't be in the market for one, but if you can upgrade anywhere then you should. Adams has the potential to be a threat to anyone's job except Tavon Austin on this team after catching 122 balls for 1645 yards and 23 touchdowns this past season.