The Senior Bowl has come and gone and it seems like just yesterday we were talking about players to watch at the Senior Bowl. Now, we have seen the practices and the game and it’s time to come to some conclusions. This draft does not have a huge drop-off after the first-round and the Rams might be better off trading down with Cleveland and trying to snag two second-round picks for their 23rd-overall pick. Les Snead, Rams GM was here in Mobile so now let’s take a look at seven players he should definitely consider in the draft after this game.
WR D.J. Chark – LSU
He had a solid week but D.J. Chark showed NFL teams that he was the best deep-threat in the Senior Bowl and possibly this draft. Chark, came down to Mobile with some buzz but is certainly leaving it as a winner as far as many are concerned. In the NFL, you need that one guy to stretch the field, the Rams happen to have that guy in Sammy Watkins…that is if they bring him back. That is no guarantee and Chark albeit he’s a rookie and could be the field-stretcher to replace Watkins if he indeed departs in free agency.
Chark went for five catches, 165 yards, and a touchdown. He averaged 32 yards per reception and showed the ability to be a complete game-breaker. Sure, it’s just an all-star game and yeah, the big-wigs of each team may have left after the practices were over, but do not kid yourself. The Senior Bowl game itself still means something. Chark has that stop-and-start ability that teams crush on, he has improved his stock a lot but if he’s there on day two or even day three, he’s going to be hard for a team to pass on. This all depends on whether or not the Rams are comfortable with Josh Reynolds taking over for Watkins and of course, whether or not Watkins leaves the Rams. Still, though, Chark is a fascinating receiver and made himself a target after his monster game performance.
EDGE Ogbonnia Okoronkwo – Oklahoma
Okoronkwo had a solid week and a hectic game. He forced a fumble in the Senior Bowl game and applied pressure on the quarterback countless times. This is someone that is knocked for his height but so was Aaron Donald. Okoronkwo is an edge rusher that has a variety of pass-rush moves in his arsenal. Sure, he needs to improve his craft but that’s why these players are prospects. Okoronkwo simply has the speed, quickness, and craftiness to be an impact player.
The Rams need help on the edge and if Ogbo is there in day two, it’s going to be something to mull over as the former Sooner offers a lot to the table for his future NFL team. Could he start day one? If the Rams draft Okoronkwo, despite trading up to draft Samson Ebukam last year, this would probably mean he would be the guy moving forward.
QB Kyle Lauletta – Richmond
The Senior Bowl MVP is, of course, deserving but beforehand this was the guy the Rams should have been monitoring as a developmental QB for Sean McVay anyway. Kyle Lauletta has received some buzz this week as the small-school prospect that could find his time to shine and well, he did that. Three touchdowns and a Senior Bowl MVP trophy which helped lead his team to a 45-16 walloping in Mobile. Lauletta looked fantastic, he was comfortable in the pocket, took advantage of the rapport he and aforementioned WR D.J. Chark had, showed off his escape-ability, displayed the ability to make rhythm throws and of course his deep ball strength that applied accuracy and fantastic ball placement.
The Rams drafted Sean Mannion in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft and now it’s likely time for the Rams to find a new backup under the new regime. Mannion was really unable to show much to believe the Rams would absolutely never want to replace him and Lauletta has shown a lot at the Senior Bowl and on his film. Lauletta is the perfect option to develop, in a league where QB’s can be a way of currency, it makes way too much sense to take one late in the draft, develop with your top-notch coaching staff and either bring him back after his rookie deal or trade him for value. Lauletta is a legitimate prospect the Rams have to take a hard look at this draft.
EDGE Marcus Davenport – UTSA
There is no way you can throw away the opportunity to acquire this type of player. Look, Davenport struggled mightily at the beginning of the week but it was evident he continued to get comfortable, find a rhythm and it finally all came together in the game. Davenport wrecked havoc all game long including a few pressures, a sack and even a fumble recovery that led to a touchdown.
The Rams may want a player that is ready to contribute right away but Davenport might not have as much of a learning curve as people think and his immense upside could force you to ultimately buy-in and hope the coaching staff can teach him the game and get him prepared to be a force in the league.
RB Kalen Ballage – Arizona State
The Rams looked to fill that “Chris Thompson” role that Sean McVay had in Washington unfortunately for them, they couldn’t. Lance Dunbar was unreliable with his health and his overall play, Justin Davis barely was able to get on the field, Tavon Austin had a hard time turning upfield and running like a running back and Malcolm Brown is a power back through and through. So, insert Kalen Ballage who just dominated the position in the Senior Bowl in every way imaginable. Players like Jaylen Samuels of NC State and Ito Smith of Southern Mississippi also could fill the role and do it well but Ballage has legitimate starting running back qualities. Having someone like Ballage to go with Todd Gurley and Malcolm Brown would start to make the backfield look like the Super Bowl appearing Eagles with LeGarrette Blount, Jay Ajayi, and Corey Clement. Although, Todd Gurley, Malcolm Brown and Kalen Ballage would likely be more lethal.
If Snead and McVay are teaming up to find their next “Chris Thompson” back it should be Ballage. No, his giant body does not make him look the part, but he has that receiving ability that makes him a force, his power and burst also make him an absolute nightmare. This is someone that struggled a bit in college but in the NFL he’s going to be a better pro. Think Tevin Coleman when thinking about Ballage on the Rams.
CB MJ Stewart – North Carolina
Stewart had the best week of any defensive back from what I saw and would be an excellent fit for the Los Angeles Rams. Whether he had to replace nickel corner Nickell Robey-Coleman or Trumaine Johnson, Stewart appears on film to be able to play both positions and play them at a high level. The pure tenacity of Stewart is what stands out more than anything, you could tell at the practices he was getting under the receivers skin.
Place Stewart in Wade Phillips defense and it could have an immense impact. He’s sticky, feisty and scrappy and kind of has the same play style of former Ram, Dre’ Bly and former Phillips guy Bradley Roby. Could he start right away? I believe he could, this is someone that has absolutely blown me away from his performance in Mobile and deserves serious consideration to become the next UNC Ram on day two of the NFL draft.
G Will Hernandez – UTEP
Hernandez was the talk of the town after dominating in Mobile. The UTEP offensive guard had been on many people’s radar but he really took off after an incredible showing during the practices and of course, the game. Some may think the Rams picking a guard makes little to no sense but I see a future All-Pro in Hernandez, you just don’t see guards dominate like him out of college anymore. Also, you can’t penalize him for coming from small-school UTEP either. Hernandez proved his worth in front of the best prospects in the country.
The Rams would be wise to consider anyone that would make their offensive line better. Think about this, while everyone worries about Andrew Whitworth and John Sullivan’s long-term future (and understandably so) it’s important to realize that guard, Rodger Saffold, as great as he is, hasn’t really stayed healthy like he did this past season. Furthermore, Jamon Brown was solid but still, the Rams could really use an upgrade if it meant someone as game-changing as Hernandez. I get that the Rams may want to develop in-house, but make no mistake Hernandez isn’t just another guy. He could solidify a position for the next decade and do it with total dominance.
DT Nathan Shepherd – Fort Hays State
So a little bit of a curveball here. Unless you were paying serious attention to the Senior Bowl practices, you probably missed or never heard of Nathan Shepherd. No big deal, but I will tell you right now, he was the only one I saw all week that was able to flat-out beat Will Hernandez in one-on-one drills. Shepherd was having such a dominant week and then he broke his hand. Really unfortunate but the Rams could benefit from Shepherd’s hand breakage and take advantage of the fact he might fall because of the injury. So why do the Rams need Shepherd? I’ll tell you right now it’s not the nose tackle you may have wanted but the Rams already have that in Michael Brockers. Shepherd is a legitimate interior pass rusher that offers the ability to play alongside Donald and Brockers.
The original problem was the fact that the Rams wanted to play Brockers at defensive end to maximize his ability as an end run-stuffer and a pass-rusher. Well, they started using guys like Ethan Westbrooks (not his position), Tanzel Smart (not big enough) and Tyrunn Walker at the nose tackle position. Nose tackles are supposed to eat up blocks and that is something we have seen Brockers do with ease. Shepherd and Donald could feast at the two end spots while Brockers does the dirty work as usual. This is by no means a knock on Brockers because he is a great player and well-rounded, but this is the easiest way to fix the problem. Shepherd is going to fall to at least the third or fourth round and that is when the Rams need to strike. Shepherd has great size at 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds so the Rams could essentially move him and Brockers around but Shepherd’s ability to shed blocks, use his quick first step and use his hands to create disruption in the pocket makes him a must-target.
C Mason Cole – Michigan
Well, I previously mentioned John Sullivan and his aging so let’s move to the center position. Not only do you receive versatility if you draft Michigan Wolverine, Mason Cole, but you also receive someone that is scheme versatile in the fact he can work in a zone blocking scheme or a power blocking scheme, he is powerful as a run blocker, solid as a pass blocker and is aggressive even a little after the whistle. This is the young guy you want to be your center for years to come.
I forgot to mention he’s played every position on the line, he prefers center, but if worst comes to worst you can most definitely play him at guard. The Rams could look for Cole in early day three or late day two. He’s a good option for teams that are willing to build the right way, inside to out. With Jared Goff going into his third year in the NFL, it would be great for the Rams to give him a legitimate young center he could grow with.
LB Fred Warner – BYU
How crazy would it be to have another guy named Warner on the team. Fred Warner is his name and he exploded onto the scene during the Senior Bowl week. Warner was everywhere, making plays at will and showing off his quickness, closing speed and rage. Warner would be a nice fit with the Rams. He has the impressive ability to drop into coverage and excel in that department as well. He is likely a better fit at the inside linebacker position as opposed to the outside linebacker position. If he played outside backer he would need to improve upon his technique but Warner should easily transfer right into an inside backer with no hiccups.
People have been speculating the Rams cutting Mark Barron and bringing in someone else for less money, Warner would be that guy. It’s not to say Barron deserves to be cut but if they do decide to part ways Warner could be a force and help out a linebacker group that struggled big time in the playoffs.