NFL Team Report - St. Louis Rams - INSIDE SLANT
As the Rams concluded the 2013 draft, happy with the latest additions to one of the youngest rosters in the National Football League, there is one inescapable fact that helped the Rams be in the position they are right now: If it wasn't for the disastrous lockout-stained 2011 season, Jeff Fisher and Co. wouldn't have been in position to make the franchise-changing decisions that have occurred the last two Aprils.
It was a perfect storm, if you will, that began with the dismal 2-14 record the franchise experienced in 2011 following the hope of a 7-9 year in 2010. General manager Billy Devaney and coach Steve Spagnuolo were ushered out the door, with Fisher and general manager Les Snead following them inside.
There probably would have been the same departures had the Rams won even four games in 2011, but if they had, they wouldn't have had the second overall selection in the draft in a year where it was apparent there were two franchise quarterbacks available: Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.
With the entire free world knowing the Indianapolis Colts would take Luck, the Rams went about auctioning off that second selection to teams that would want Griffin. Cleveland and Washington were the most serious potential partners, and well before the draft the deal was struck: the Redskins got the second pick with the Rams acquiring Washington's sixth overall pick, a second-round choice and first-round selections in 2013 and 2014.
Suddenly, the Rams had a lot of chips on the table. They parlayed the sixth pick into another second-round choice, trading down to Dallas' 14th spot and selecting defensive tackle Michael Brockers.
Surely, last year's second round will be eventually defined by how well wide receiver Brian Quick and running back Isaiah Pead develop after disappointing rookie seasons. However, armed with three second-round choices, the Rams felt comfortable taking a chance on cornerback Janoris Jenkins. With one second-round pick, they don't choose Jenkins. They might not have with two. But the two extra choices made it a reasonable risk.
Which brings us to this year's draft. The Rams, like many NFL teams, were impressed with Tavon Austin, the do-it-all wide receiver from West Virginia. In some ways, it's not accurate to call Austin a wide receiver. He'll be in the slot, line up at running back and return kicks. Most everyone agreed he was the most dynamic playmaker in the draft.
Because of that, it seemed far-fetched that he would last to where the Rams had their first choice at 16th overall.
When Fisher was asked the Monday before the draft if there was a player worthy of exercising a trade up, he coyly replied, "Possibly." The question was how far would the Rams to go to get Austin.
We found out very quickly. Not taking any chances, the Rams pulled the trigger on a deal that also sent second- and seventh-round round picks (with a swap of third-round picks) to Buffalo for the eighth pick in the first round. It was an unprecedented move for a receiver smaller than 5-9. Since 1988, there have been 44 receivers selected in the top 15 of the first round, and only 10 of them were shorter than 6-0. None were shorter than 5-10. But a changing NFL made the deal make sense, provided Austin can stay healthy by avoiding most of the big hits that are part and parcel of NFL life.
Still, the Austin trade likely doesn't happen if the Rams didn't also own the 22nd pick in the first round, which provided them the opportunity to trade down and recoup some picks lost in the Austin deal. Snead's relationship with the Falcons helped because it was known Atlanta was interested in moving up from the 30th slot for a cornerback.
That's exactly what happened. The Rams moved from 22 to 30, while also sending a seventh-round pick in 2015 to the Falcons, and acquired third- and sixth-round picks from Atlanta. They used the No. 3 pick on Austin's teammate, wide receiver Stedman Bailey, and packaged the sixth-round choice with their own to move back into the fifth round for a second pick in that round for running back Zac Stacy.
Of course, with the 30th choice, the Rams took linebacker Alec Ogletree, who, like Jenkins in 2012, would have gone higher had it not been for off-field issues that included a DUI shortly before the Scouting Combine in February.
Outside linebackers are generally not difference-makers in a 4-3 defense, but Rams coaches believe Ogletree is special, similar to a guy that played for Fisher and assistant head coach Dave McGinnis in Tennessee: Keith Bulluck.
Of Bulluck, Fisher said, "There are a lot of similarities when you watch him on tape. Long arms, quickness, slippery, can take on, can tackle sideline-to-sideline. Very explosive player. That's a by-product of his safety background."
Almost eerie is that Bulluck also started out as a safety and was 6-3, 244 pounds. Ogletree is 6-21/2, 244.
Oh, did we mention that in 2000, Bulluck was the 30th pick in the draft?
Like we said, simply a perfect storm that should continue the Rams' ascension.
Concluded Fisher, "I feel great, going back to the beginning of the process. Les and his staff did a great job, just getting started and then we got the coaches involved. From top to bottom, it couldn't have gone better for us. We certainly took advantage of what we started last year with, with the Washington trade. Obviously, we're looking forward to continuing that next year. We feel like, not only through free agency, but also through the last three days that we've improved this football team with players that have played positions that create problems and help us to get better."
NFL Team Report - St. Louis Rams - NOTES, QUOTES
--Writing in Sports Illustrated Peter King related a story about what happened in the Rams' draft room after linebacker Alec Ogletree was selected in the first round of the draft.
Linebacker coach Frank Bush and special teams coach John Fassel gave each other high-fives, and Fassel said to Bush, "Can I have Ogletree for punt blocks?"
To which Bush replied, "Yeah, he blocked six punts in college. He's great at it."
After a pause, Fassel said, "Wait. I don't want him to block punts; I want to see Tavon (Austin) return 'em!"
--The Rams entered the draft with just three returning players at wide receiver. They added Tavon Austin in the first round and Stedman Bailey in the third round. Jared Cook was added as a tight end in free agency and running back Zac Stacy was selected with a fifth-round pick. Suddenly, there are a lot of potential offensive weapons.
On the new additions, coach Jeff Fisher said, "It creates opportunities for everybody else. It creates opportunities for Brian (Quick) and for Chris (Givens), Lance (Kendricks), and the running backs just because they are threats. They are going to create mismatches that are going to have to be dealt with defensively, which is going to open some other things up for us."
When asked if Austin will be used at times lined up as a running back, Fisher smiled and said, "Maybe. We'll see."
Of course, Austin told reporters of conversations he'd had with Rams coches. Austin said, "They showed me all the positions that I did when I played for coach (Dana) Holgorsen. They're going to use me in the backfield. Coach Fisher talked to me about special teams, and I'm definitely a slot receiver. So, they definitely have a plan for me."
Fisher also addressed concerns that quarterback Sam Bradford might have trouble finding the diminutive Austin in pass patterns. Fisher said, "It's not (an issue) when you're dealing with a quarterback like Sam. Sam's got excellent vision, he's got a quick trigger, and he's very accurate. That creates opportunities for a receiver with that kind of quickness and stature. A shorter quarterback's going to have a little more difficult time getting the ball to him on time."
NFL Team Report - St. Louis Rams - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
A closer look at the Rams' picks:
Round 1/8 - Tavon Austin, WR/KR, 5-9, 174, West Virginia
The Rams gave up a second-round pick to move up eight spots and take arguably the best playmaker in the draft. Austin will play in the spot, lineup at running, return kicks, and who knows what else.
Round 1/30 - Alec Ogletree, LB, 6-2, 242, Georgia
Slipped to the end of the round because of character concerns, Rams coaches see him as another Keith Bulluck, who played for several of them, including Jeff Fisher, with the Titans. He gets to the ball-carrier fast and aggressively.
Round 3/71 - T.J. McDonald, S, 6-2, 219, Southern Cal
He has played deep and in the box, and the Rams believe his versatility will fit the defense. Exhibits explosive athleticism.
Round 3/92 - Stedman Bailey, WR, 5-10, 193, West Virginia
Has excellent body control and simply makes plays. Bailey led the nation with 25 touchdowns last season, and in 226 career touches never fumbled.
Round 4/113 - Barrett Jones, C/G, 6-4, 306, Alabama
Everything you want in an offensive lineman. Physical and tough, plays through injuries and is so smart, he often helped with the game plan analyzing defenses with the coaches. Started 50 games at three different positions.
Round 5/149 - Brandon McGee, CB, 5-11, 193, Miami
Considered a late bloomer, developmental player, but he will get the coaching with the Rams. Has excellent speed. Was a team captain.
Round 5/160 - Zac Stacy, RB, 5-8, 216, Vanderbilt
Short, but strong, with great tangibles and runs tough. Will be just right for apparent Rams committee at running back. Was a team captain.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYERS: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (4)
--LB Mario Haggan was a solid backup and also contributed on special teams. Unless he gets a better offer somewhere else, he might return on a one-year deal.
--DT Trevor Laws never got on the field because of an injury suffered in training camp. He probably won't be re-signed.
--LB Rocky McIntosh added veteran presence on the strong side, but would only be back on a one-year contract.
--T Barry Richardson played better than outsiders expected on the right side, and was one of only two Rams offensive linemen to start all 16 games. The Rams will probably try to re-sign him, but it is also likely there be competition for the job.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--LB Justin Cole (not tendered as RFA) contributed on special teams, and might return for the minimum salary.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS (1)
--C Tim Barnes (tendered at $480,000) is a solid backup that could be brought back at the minimum salary.
--QB Kellen Clemens: UFA; $870,000/1 yr, $30,000 SB.
--DT Jermelle Cudjo: Potential RFA; $1.805M/2 yrs, $350,000 SB.
--DE William Hayes: UFA; $10.25M/3 yrs, $3.75M SB/$5.75M guaranteed.
--TE Mike McNeill: ERFA; $555,000/1 yr.
--S Darian Stewart: RFA tendered at $1.323M with no compensation; $1.323M/1 yr.
--G/T Chris Williams: UFA; terms unknown.
--TE Jared Cook: UFA Titans; $35.1M/5 yrs, $5M SB/$19M guaranteed.
--T Jake Long: UFA Dolphins; $34M/4 yrs, $5M SB/$20M potentially guaranteed/$12M fully guaranteed).
--WR Titus Young: Waivers Lions (subsequently released).
--WR Danny Amendola: UFA Patriots; $31M/5 yrs, $6M SB/$10M SB.
--S Craig Dahl: UFA 49ers; $5.25M/3 yrs, $700,000 SB.
--CB Bradley Fletcher: UFA Eagles; $5.25M/2 yrs, $1.6M SB/$2.35M guaranteed.
--WR Brandon Gibson: UFA Dolphins; $9.78M/3 yrs, $3M SB/$3.75M guaranteed.
--T Wayne Hunter (released).
--RB Steven Jackson: UFA Falcons; $12M/3 yrs, $3.5M SB/$4M guaranteed.
--S Quintin Mikell (released).
--TE Matthew Mulligan (released).
--WR Steve Smith: UFA Buccaneers; $715,000/1 yr.
--G/C Robert Turner: UFA Titans; $1.5M/1 yr, $250,000 SB/$250,000 RB.