NFL St Louis Rams

5 NFL Draft Prospects Who Could be Instant Starters for St. Louis Rams

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5 Prospects Who Would be Rookie Starters for St. Louis Rams

5 Prospects Who Would be Rookie Starters for St. Louis Rams
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Contrary to what their 7-9 record in 2013 might make you think, the St. Louis Rams really do not have that many pressing needs in the 2014 NFL Draft. In fact, as they currently hold the second pick in the draft as compensation for Robert Griffin III two drafts ago, it is difficult to identify any particular position which is befitting of the Rams making such a huge investment in.

There’s a large contingent of national media members who have been mocking offensive tackles such as Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews to the Rams, based on an erroneous belief that the team is in need of multiple tackles. In reality, however, the team plans on getting left tackle Jake Long, who suffered a torn ACL and MCL, back early in the 2014 season. They signed him to a four-year, $34 million-dollar contract last offseason, so it doesn’t make sense that they would give up on him now, especially after he had a very good season.

On the right side (which isn’t really a position you spend the No. 2 overall pick on anyway, at least long-term) the Rams plugged in former Oakland Raiders third-rounder Joe Barksdale with very successful results. In his first full season as a starter, Barksdale received a 12.2 rating from Pro Football Focus, 30 points higher than another first-year starter at right tackle, 2013 No. 1 overall selection Eric Fisher. Seeing as the Rams also invested roster space in tackle Mike Person and kept 6-foot-9 developmental tackle Sean Hooey on their practice squad, it doesn’t seem like this should be the year that Jeff Fisher finally spends a first-round pick on an offensive lineman, at least at the tackle position.

Despite the opinions of some fans, who obviously don’t care that quarterback Sam Bradford set 2013 career highs in completion percentage and passer rating and was on pace to set them in passing yards and touchdowns before his season-ending injury, general manager Les Snead has made the media rounds and declared that Bradford will be the quarterback in 2014. Therefore, the possibility of the Rams spending their first pick on a guy like Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel or Blake Bortles is eliminated.

It may be more intriguing to see if the Rams go for an area where they already have accumulated quality depth, such as wide receiver or defensive line. Sammy Watkins and Jadeveon Clowney are two of the most exciting prospects in the draft, and while they wouldn’t necessarily fill needs, each of them would surely provide a nice boost on their respective sides of the ball.

I slotted Clowney to the Rams in my most recent mock draft, but nothing is for sure until the draft rolls around in early May. In the meantime, here are five players who would be a good bet to start for the Rams immediately if they were selected in this year’s draft.

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5. Cyril Richardson, OG, Baylor

5. Cyril Richardson, OG, Baylor
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The Rams may have holes at both guard spots this offseason, with starters Chris Williams and Rodger Saffold set to hit free agency and displaced right guard Harvey Dahl a prime candidate to become a cap casualty. If by any chance all three of them are no longer with the Rams in 2014, it’s possible that they could be forced to start a rookie at one of the guard spots.

Richardson, who until recently was considered by many to be the top guard in the draft this year, may fall to the the middle rounds after a subpar Senior Bowl performance, along with the fact that he’s been passed up by Zack Martin and Gabe Jackson. With that said, he put together a good performance this year and definitely has a chance at being a day one starter wherever he goes. Richardson provides a few qualities that Jeff Fisher likes in his guards: versatility, great size and immense strength. For this reason, it would not be too surprising to see the Rams take him if he’s still available in round three or four.

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4. Zack Martin, OG, Notre Dame

4. Zack Martin, OG, Notre Dame
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If the Rams trade out of the second overall pick, it’s conceivable that they could add another pick toward the second half of the first round. If they position themselves correctly, it might make sense for them to take Notre Dame’s Zack Martin, particularly if Saffold ends up leaving in free agency. Martin, who played left tackle for all four years with the Irish, seems to have an almost identical skill set to Saffold, as his overpowering strength projects him to be a more dominant player in the interior, but he can also shift outside and play a serviceable tackle if necessary. Martin would fit the profile of other guards Jeff Fisher has used, such as Quinn Ojinnaka, Harvey Dahl, Chris Williams and Saffold, who have spent extensive period of time as tackles.

Even if Saffold returns, Martin might be a nice luxury pick if the Rams end up with a late first-rounder. He would be an upgrade over current left guard Chris Williams, and he would be able to temporarily replace Jake Long and allow Saffold to concentrate on guard instead of having to fill in at left tackle.

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3. Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State

3. Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
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Shazier is pretty well-regarded across the board for his athleticism and ability to make tackles. There’s more disparity, however, regarding what his ability will be in the NFL. Some evaluators believe that Shazier can be an edge rusher in a 3-4 defense, while others think that his 6-foot-2, 222-pound frame make him a better fit as a traditional 4-3 linebacker. In the Rams’ case, Shazier would be a prime candidate to take over Jo-Lonn Dunbar’s role in the base defense.

While the Rams’ recent first-round investment in Alec Ogletree, as well as the fact that their right outside backer played only about 35 percent of the snaps in 2013, means that Shazier is not a realistic possibility as a first-rounder, he might be a nice pickup if he’s still on the board in round two. Seeing as Dunbar is a free agent and Ray Ray Armstrong is unproven from scrimmage, Shazier would have a good chance to immediately take over a starting role.

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2. HaHa Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama

2. HaHa Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
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Clinton-Dix would be capable of filling the Rams’ most pressing need at free safety. The team failed to bring in a second proven safety after letting starters Quintin Mikell and Craig Dahl walk following 2012, and it showed in 2013. Projected starter Darian Stewart got hurt in training camp and special teams ace Rodney McLeod had to take over his spot. When rookie strong safety T.J. McDonald went down in Week 4, Stewart was thrust into a starting spot again, and the safety position was exposed.

Clinton-Dix, meanwhile, is a player with the athleticism and hitting ability of a prototypical strong safety, but with the ball skills and playmaking ability of a free safety. He would not have much of an obstacle in getting into the Rams’ starting lineup, and he would be an immediate upgrade for their defense.

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1. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

1. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
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Seeing as they’ve drafted six wide receivers over the past three seasons, five of whom are still with the team, the Rams have higher priorities than the receiver position. But if they want a player who’s capable of starting from day one, Clemson’s Sammy Watkins would be a fine selection. He’s a dynamic player who can deliver an impact from all areas of the field, and he would likely be more consistent than players like Chris Givens and Austin Pettis, who were quiet for much of 2013. With that said, there’s a very good chance that the Rams will allow this group of receivers to continue to develop and instead target a different area with their first pick.