It’s been a fun week for me meeting with different players, NFL personalities and friends. However, it hasn’t just been a social thing, there is serious work to do and here is what I’ve seen and what I believe could make sense for the Los Angeles Rams in the draft.
Say no to QB unless you can get value
Look, I get it. You like Sean Mannion a lot or don’t and of course, the Rams did add Brandon Allen mid-season to the roster. Hear me out, this organization has a new regime aside from a few coaches Sean McVay decided to keep. With that being said, McVay is going to want his own QB. I think when you look at the QB crop you can find some intriguing late round talent this season. During my two days at the practices, I’ve seen good things from Virginia QB Kurt Benkert on day one and Richmond QB Kyle Lauletta today on day two. I can’t imagine Luke Falk falling but if he did that would also be an option. The reason I bring this up is not to take anything away from anyone but simply give you an idea of who could be targeted if McVay wanted his own QB to develop behind Goff.
Quarterbacks are currency. Let us not forget how the Patriots traded away two potential franchise QB’s behind Tom Brady for assets. The Rams could do the same and there is no reason why they shouldn’t with three sixth-round picks slated to them at the end of the draft.
Body type does not matter when you can catch passes like Ballage
Kalen Ballage is a former Arizona State RB that was never really given a ton of opportunity. When you watch the film the one thing that sticks out is that Ballage goes down easier than he should. However, this week he showed that he is a quick cut back with the smoothest route running ability of the RB group and it’s gotten me to the point of wondering if he could fill the Chris Thompson role. Yes, Thompson is small but when you look at Ballage at 6-foot-3, he does the job just as well as a 5-foot-8 guy would. You instantly see guys like David Johnson, Derrick Henry, Jordan Howard and DeMarco Murray in his game.
It’s a little unorthodox but the Rams really could consider Ballage if he fell into day three as the guy to play behind Gurley. If he wasn’t such a good route runner with great hands I would say otherwise. However, I know what I saw, I saw pure dominance from Ballage in Mobile and he really looked like a man amongst boys in all of the RB drills even the special teams drill. You have to consider him.
Wide receiver is a question mark if Sammy Watkins leaves but there are “solutions”
There are solutions to a certain extent if the Rams let Sammy Watkins walk away in free agency and if they aren’t as high on Josh Reynolds to take over. I recently mentioned Jaleel Scott and what his big-bodied frame brings to the table. I saw the same body control that really intrigued me on his film but I saw him have a hard time separating at times and playing to his physical build. I would like to see more of a 6-foot-4 and 200-plus pounder dominating his man with physicality but I didn’t really see too much of that. Scott still would be a nice addition in day three if Watkins leaves.
Other options include guys like Penn State’s DaeSean Hamilton who has been great this week after being called up, Oklahoma State’s James Washington who has roasted the defensive backs all week for the most part, Colorado State’s Michael Gallup who is always able to create separation and has had a nice week as well and I would say D.J. Clark from LSU is a deep threat that could be Ted Ginn-like. Say what you will about Ginn, but that is not a bad thing if you have someone like that who can stretch the field.
Overall, the best fit would likely be DaeSean Hamilton, I think he is still a possibility in the early portion of day three, he’s someone that can win on the inside or the outside, he runs the smoothest routes in the WR group and has some great hands. Hamilton has really gone against the grain this week, receiving passes from QB’s that have been pretty inaccurate thus far. Hamilton seems to be the most intriguing and the best option but there are players here at the Senior Bowl that are worthy. You could also make arguments for J’Mon Moore from Missouri, Byron Pringle from Kansas State and Justin Watson from UPenn. It will be very interesting. It will also depend heavily on what the Rams do with Watkins.
Tight end isn’t a need but Mike Gesicki is quite the weapon
There is no way the Rams would go tight end again right? Well, I thought that but then the news comes out that the Rams have met with three tight ends at the Senior Bowl. The list includes Central Michigan’s Tyler Conklin, Notre Dame’s Durham Smythe and Ian Thomas from Indiana. If the Rams find this position such a need, maybe they should consider a trade down in the first to recoup a second round pick and draft either Gesicki or non-Senior Bowl TE Mark Andrews from Oklahoma.
Personally, I don’t really understand the need for a tight end right now, especially with the possibility of Jordan Reed being let go due to his health and inconsistency. Gesicki is so smooth with his route running, he’s got a great build for a big-play TE and has the speed and fluidity to play the position. His blocking is also not bad at all and he would be listed as my TE1 if I had to decide right now. Again, not saying drafting another tight end makes much sense.
Where do you look? Do you upgrade guard or prepare for the future at left tackle and or center?
Andrew Whitworth is 36-years old, John Sullivan is 32 years-old and Jamon Brown is a solid starter but could be upgraded. So what decision do the Rams make? Is there a wrong one? During an NFL Network interview at the Senior Bowl day two practices, Rams GM Les Snead said that he has seen no drop-off in Whitworth’s play and wouldn’t be surprised to see him play until he’s 39 like Julius Peppers. That is all nice and all but there is a possibility Whitworth suffers the unfortunate injury that Joe Thomas suffered this year or his play just randomly hits the fan like former Rams RB Steven Jackson after he went to the Atlanta Falcons. It’s not impossible. Insert Tyrell Crosby, a left tackle from Oregon that has looked very impressive this week in Mobile. He looks like the best OT by far and would offer the Rams the opportunity to replace Whitworth with someone who might be ready to play day one for the long-term. Brian O’Neil from Pittsburgh looked very good at tackle as well, there are guys there. Later value guys could include TCU tackle, Joe Noteboom. The question remains what position do you go, or do you try and press your luck with a fingers crossed type of year banking on an almost 37-year old Whitworth and almost 33-year old Sullivan.
With Sullivan, there is a good chance the Rams might like their in-house options. Austin Blythe and Jake Eldrenkamp would be the short-term options in my mind but could make adequate starters if called upon. When you look at what the offensive line veterans possess, it’s leadership and the ability to mentor these young guys. Still though, Mason Cole from Michigan would not be a bad bet at center, even if you wanted to bring back Sullivan for another year.
With that all being said guard is the most interesting. As good as Jamon Brown played last year, it’s still not guaranteed to be enough to retain his starting spot on the Rams top 10 roster in football. That’s where players like Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn, UTEP’s Will Hernandez and maybe even Humboldt State’s Alex Cappa who has been the talk among the draft circles. Cappa could play either right tackle or guard. Now, one issue that goes unsaid is Rob Havenstein at the right tackle position and trying to stifle speed rushers. Well, that comes to no avail. Havenstein is another solid player but if Brown’s job isn’t safe, let’s not assume Havenstein’s is. I actually was thinking of a scenario where the Rams move Havenstein back to guard, use Jamon Brown as their “sixth-man” and draft Tyrell Crosby to play right tackle and groom to eventually take over at left for Whitworth. The one guy I didn’t mention was Robert Saffold, the reason for that is because he might be the best offensive lineman on the team. He had a fantastic year and surprisingly stayed healthy for just about the whole season.
The Rams lack of a second-round pick will definitely test their limits of a potential draft pick on an offensive lineman that high.
Project with the rare upside or the NFL ready prospect with a limited ceiling on the EDGE?
UTSA’s Marcus Davenport has left me with more questions than answers but maybe I am just overthinking. Davenport is still raw and has immense potential but he still did struggle against that top notch competition when Alex Cappa literally tossed him too the ground. He’s a powerful athletic freak on the EDGE and the issue could clearly be that he is not a 4-3 DE type of player and can only stand up but even so, it’s not going to be a seamless transition. Tons of tools are possessed by Davenport but we need to be able to convince ourselves he can contribute at a high level this upcoming season and I don’t know how realistic that is. The same could be said for Oklahoma’s Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. I love the guy, he’s shown off a toolbox of pass rush moves but with Okoronkwo you are looking at someone that can be rather inconsistent and can be eaten up at times. Another thing, with the Rams, if they draft an edge rusher they are going to need to set the edge and help in the run defensive game. I am not confident yet, that Okoronkwo can consistently do that.
Now, going away from the Senior Bowl a little, I started to feel like Harold Landry of Boston College might be that guy that makes the most sense for the Rams. This is a team that is really going to have to “pay up” When QB Jared Goff, RB Todd Gurley and others start asking for contract extensions. We already know Aaron Donald wants to be paid. So, what does that tell me? The Rams might want to stick with a little bit of a “win now” approach since the future is not guaranteed. Landry is someone that can play day one and make an impact on a team that just went 11-5. While Davenport has a limitless amount of potential, Landry might be best for a team that might need to put a team together in a hurry that will make it at least until the big guys need to be extended.
While it could be straight up over-reaction, the question does make you wonder. Can you say with confidence that Davenport makes the Rams better right out of the gate in his rookie season or do they have to go with someone like Landry? That’s the question. It’s based on preference and what the coaches estimate on the development time for the higher ceiling player.
We have no idea what the Rams are doing at ILB next to Ogletree but there are plenty of prospects that could fill the role.
In Mobile, BYU’s ILB Fred Warner was popping off the field. He’s someone I had not really given enough attention too and then all of the sudden it seemed like everyone was starting to feel the same way. Warner has the mental processing to really thrive in this league if he was just an average athlete. However, this is an above average athlete, a guy that shows off range and football IQ. Again, we have no idea what the fate of ILB is in Los Angeles but if they decide to make Mark Barron a cap casualty, Warner is a legitimate option to start. As many of you know, I love Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds, but now it seems like he might go top 15 which puts him out of the Rams range. Warner could be a cheaper option with that same type of athleticism.
The last option at the Senior Bowl is South Carolina State’s Darius Leonard who has some of the longest arms you will find and Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network compared him to Pro Bowl LB Telvin Smith. There’s a chance he would fall into the day three territory and be a real value pick for the Rams. Is this a guy that can’t start day one? Not sure, but I wouldn’t count out him or Warner to the Rams. It all depends on what they do with Barron. They like him, but is it enough to avoid the cap casualty? That’s the question we need answered and we will see answered soon.
Why pay Trumaine Johnson or anyone a ton of money when you might be able to find someone just as talented or even with more potential?
I love Trumaine, I ultimately have way too hard of a time imagining him gone. Johnson is physical and he’s a sound tackler so it would be hard to let him go especially with Kayvon Webster coming off a ruptured Achilles, Torn Rotator Cuff and a Torn Labrum in his shoulder. I liked what you saw out of Kevin Peterson and especially Troy Hill towards the end of the season but how much confidence do you have in them to be the guys? It’s no surprise even if Johnson stays that the Rams need help at cornerback. Well, I have liked what I have seen from a few guys at the Senior Bowl that might be great fits.
UNC CB MJ Stewart seems like one of the best options here. He measured shorter than people wanted but the height doesn’t bother me. When you look at Chris Harris Jr. in Denver measuring at 5-foot-9 and then you see his body of work, you quickly forget about the size and just look at the production. Stewart is what I would call a “pest” in coverage. He sticks to his receivers like glue and is earning himself a ton of money in Mobile. He has the ability to flip his hips with ease and accelerate. When you look at Stewart this is someone that could work on the outside or the slot. I watched him in one on one’s on the outside and he man-handled everyone he faced, just about. Stewart did not lose a single battle I watched him in this week so far. It would be interesting because Nickell Robey-Coleman is a free agent and if the Rams lost him and kept Johnson, Stewart could very well be asked to play nickel. I think he is going to thrive, the problem is do you feel comfortable drafting him in the second or third? Some don’t but that might be the price it costs to get a guy like that.
Dubuque CB Michael Joseph has been extremely impressive. I met with him and as we said to each other “competition is competition”. Sure, Joseph comes from a D3 school, but that doesn’t mean he can’t hang with the best of the best. He certainly has the size at 6-foot-1 and sub-200 pounds to play on the outside. He got beat a couple of times on Wednesday but he has the physicality to succeed in the league. Where will he go in the draft? Likely day three, expect the same type of treatment he gets as Lindenwood CB Pierre Desir got. Sometimes, teams just don’t feel comfortable going out of their way for a player like that. Joseph has the ball skills and the hard-hitting ability to be a nightmare for defenses, it also would help if he played in Wade Phillips scheme.
Lastly, someone that can play outside, inside or even safety Siran Neal from Jacksonville State has the size but can get a little grabby at times. He has some serious talent and the tools to become a very good defensive back. When I asked him who he modeled his game after, Neal said “Tyrann Mathieu” someone that can play all over the secondary. That is exactly what Neal wants to do whether it’s outside corner, nickel or safety. Having a ready and willing versatile player is considered an asset. Neal is sticky in coverage and has that confidence that makes him a threat. This is someone again, he has tools and he is the perfect developmental secondary player for Wade. Neal would likely be comfortable playing press coverage as a corner for the Rams. Probably a day three pick but you never know with these small-school prospects. It just takes that one team to like them. The Rams picked quite a few last year.
No way do the Rams not bring back Joyner…right?
I don’t know the answer here but the history of the Rams says it’s not a good chance. Sure, it’s a new regime but let’s not forget safeties like Rodney McLeod not being brought back. Joyner made himself a ton of money by switching to safety and becoming a top five player at that position seemingly overnight. Now, it’s going to be a struggle for the Rams. What direction do they go in? Well, if they don’t bring back Joyner, they just interviewed Hawaii safety Trayvon Henderson who has looked great in coverage at the Senior Bowl and has legitimate ball skills. Often raved about for his hard work ethic and coach-ability, Henderson finds himself as a potential target for the Rams. There are certainly other players like Virginia’s Quin Blanding who came in at 6-foot-2 and would have the ball skills and coverage skills to play free safety. Armani Watts of Texas A&M has made plays including some loud collisions in which he smashed Akrum Wadley to the ground that got everyone going nuts. West Virginia’s Kyzir White and Penn State’s Marcus Allen round out what is a deep safety
The bottom line is once again, there are options. The Senior Bowl has provided me with a lens that shows the world will not end if any of these Rams are let go of or they leave on their own or they are signed. The Rams are in a good spot, the new regime did not draft Joyner or Johnson and not to say they don’t deserve to be on the team but if the Rams want better fits for Wade’s defense, then, by all means, they will find them.