It’s been a fun week here in Mobile, I’ve let everything I’ve seen marinate and here is my brand new post-Senior Bowl Rams mock draft. I even dug into the NFL Draft trade points chart and I even made a trade.
1st-round pick – 28th overall via trade w/ Pittsburgh: Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville
So, I decided to start things off with an interesting proposition, a trade. Yes, I know, many want this guy and that guy but if I learned anything at the Senior Bowl, it was simply that there is not a significant drop-off as you move down to the second or third round. I figure the trade with the Steelers makes sense because they are going to want someone like Rashaan Evans to improve upon Vince Williams and possibly replace Ryan Shazier if he can’t get healthy. In order for the Steelers to do this, they will have to trade up and jump past the New Orleans Saints. So, anyway, why did I pick Alexander? Have I even mentioned him in any of my mocks? Nope. I simply have been doing my homework out here in Mobile and that includes late-night film sessions which now led me down the path of 5-foot-11 and 192-pound Jaire Alexander.
Alexander is someone that has great ball skills, he can mirror his receiver with ease, shows urgency when defending the run (unlike some of the draft’s top corners), has return ability, has experience in press coverage and can shadow receivers all game long. Oh, also, Pro Football Focus charted Alexander when targeted. So, get this, quarterbacks have a 17.7 passer rating when targeting Alexander which is first in all cornerbacks. Simply put, this is a lockdown and shutdown cornerback that seems to be getting a little underrated. Alexander dealt with an injury that really cut into his 2017 season but make no mistake he has the confidence, tenacity and scrappiness everyone wants in their number one cornerback. Trumaine Johnson is not a guarantee to come back and Kayvon Webster is coming off three major injuries. I like the way Troy Hill and Kevin Peterson played towards the end of the year and I really like impending free agent nickel cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman, but you are simply kidding yourself if you think the Rams don’t have a need at cornerback. Put Alexander on an island and watch as Wade Phillips all of the sudden is allowed to do more with his defense.
I get the idea that Alexander may seem too injury prone (suffered a knee sprain injury and a broken bone in his hand this past year) to draft but this is someone that legitimately could have the same impact as Marshon Lattimore. It was also announced that Alexander ran in the 4.3’s for the forty-yard dash in the spring. Closing speed, covering ability, smooth hips, ball skills, return ability and confidence. That sure sounds like a player that could end up being rookie of the year just like Lattimore is going to be.
3rd-round pick – 87th overall: Uchenna Nwosu, EDGE, USC
USC EDGE defender Uchenna Nwosu was a captain for his team this past year and he topped it off with showing flashes of total domination. I have him here in the third because I believe after a nice and productive season, he still didn’t show out at the Senior Bowl. That’s okay though, the Rams will reap the benefits in this scenario and get their edge rusher in the third round. I really like Robert Quinn but he only has one move, he gets hurt often and hasn’t been the player the Rams are paying him to be. On top of that Connor Barwin is a free agent but he doesn’t have the speed and quickness to really seal the edge and funnel the ball carrier into the trenches, Samson Ebukam is a nice young developmental piece that I think will thrive in year two but at this point he might just be a situational guy. Matt Longacre might have been the best all-around edge defender on the team last year but he is coming off a back injury.
Nwosu could start day one and could provide the ability to rush the passer and really set the edge. The Rams had games where teams just bounced runs to the outside because the edge defenders didn’t stay out and seal the edge. Nwosu would be a consistent B+ player for his career and possibly make some Pro Bowls. The Rams don’t need to be elite at the position but they need consistency, availability and the ability to stop the run. Nwosu is for the first step to fixing the issue the Rams had last year in the run defense department. The other option here could be Georgia’s, Lorenzo Carter. I heavily considered Carter but I’m sticking with Nwosu as far as the more well-rounded player.
3rd-round pick – 92nd overall via trade w/ Pittsburgh: Chukwuma Okorafor, OT, Western Michigan
Alas, the reason second-round pick Taylor Moton did not play left tackle at Western Michigan last season. Chukwuma Okorafor is a left tackle that is an absolute mauler in the run blocking game, this seems like the best fit for him in the late third. As mentioned before the Rams in this scenario traded down to 28th overall with the Steelers to pick up an additional third- round pick. Okorafor is someone that has the athletic ability and size at 6-foot-5 and 330 pounds. He has humongous hands that are a nightmare for a pass rusher, decent arm length and pocket awareness so he knows where his QB is at all times.
The Rams have Andrew Whitworth at left tackle likely for at least another year but they are going to need to draft or find their guy in another means for the position once the 36-year old retires. Okorafor could slide right in at right tackle and the Rams could move Rob Havenstein in at right guard in the meantime. It’s always good for an offensive line to have that “sixth man” and Jamon Brown would be a really good player to have as the first reserve offensive lineman off of the bench. Okorafor, make no mistake, is a legitimate option for left tackle down the line. If the Rams could get him here that would certainly be a nice way of taking advantage of a solid trade.
4th-round pick – 119th overall: Kalen Ballage, RB, Arizona State
I went back and forth between Ballage and Mason Cole here. Look, I know the Rams need a center (or at least everyone says they do) however, I could see John Sullivan returning for another year and the Rams offensive line coach Aaron Kromer deciding to develop Austin Blythe as the guy moving forward. Blythe had some playing time this past year and really flashed at times. I don’t think developing at least one in-house guy would be a bad idea for the team. Now, onto Ballage. The Arizona State running back was often times not used the way he should have been. I have concerns about his ability to finish through arm tackles on tape but the 6-foot-2 and near 230 pounder has athleticism galore.
Watching Ballage at the Senior Bowl it became evident he was the best back there and would be an interesting option and an unorthodox placement in the “Chris Thompson” role every Rams fan seems to want to fill. Just because Thompson happened to be 5-foot-8 does not mean the Rams need to find a 5-foot-8 guy. Ballage can do all the things that the role entails, he’s fast, he’s quick, he can run routes, finish through contact and be decisive when in the open field. Ballage may not have been the college player many expected but as far as an NFL pro? He could be like a combination of Tevin Coleman and Jordan Howard. I don’t know how the Rams pass him up if he’s available in the fourth round.
5th-round pick – 151st overall: Kyle Lauletta, QB, Richmond
Perhaps one of my favorite quarterbacks of this draft Kyle Lauletta just had a fantastic week at the Senior Bowl. He struggled day one of practices but after that, he turned on the jets and really showed out what he can do. He built a noticeable rapport with LSU WR D.J. Chark which immediately transferred to the field in the Senior Bowl game in which saw Lauletta and Chark connect several times leading to a blowout in Mobile. Lauletta showed his escape-ability off, his arm talent, his ability to read coverage and go through his progressions and of course his ball-placement which was quite honestly spot on.
Now, the Senior Bowl MVP last year was Davis Webb who went in round three. This might seem to low for Lauletta but you need to keep in mind that he is a small-school guy, his tape wasn’t the greatest thing in the world, the level of competition is always a concern for teams whether they want to believe it or not and there are a bunch of good prospects at QB: Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield, Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, Mason Rudolph, Luke Falk, Mike White, Riley Ferguson, Kurt Benkert, Logan Woodside and Matt Linehan. It’s not to say Lauletta won’t be drafted but he may not go as high as some think based on one All-Star game.
The Rams could benefit from drafting a QB like Lauletta to develop. He would fit well in McVay’s system, Sean Mannion is a free agent after the year so it’s the right time to start drafting a QB, Brandon Allen was brought in as a Greg Olson guy and we have no idea what the rest of the coaching staff feels about him now that Olson has left. Fifth round when you have a young franchise QB on the roster in Jared Goff is certainly a realistic and a sensible spot to select a developmental guy like Lauletta.
6th-round pick – 180th overall: Shaquem Griffin, LB/S, UCF
Keep doubting Shaquem Griffin and he will make you pay. Sure, it was funny watching him on the sidelines being interviewed and realizing at the last minute he was supposed to be on the punt team, but Griffin is not all jokes he’s seriously a good football player. Griffin, despite having one hand has been able to rack up 18.5 sacks in the last two years, including 33.5 tackles for a loss and 166 total tackles, all within the last two years. This is someone that had a nice week at the Senior Bowl showing off his explosiveness around the edge and quickness to be a pass rusher, the ability to drop in coverage as a linebacker and even some ability to play deep as a safety.
This could end up being Wade Phillips’ swiss army knife, you just use him out there whenever you need him to be out there. See, in the sixth round, Griffin becomes a very realistic pick due to the fact teams feel like he’s a late day three pick. Griffin is someone I have said will be a Ram, I don’t know why but I can feel that the Rams are going to draft this kid. When you meet him you certainly get that “We Not Me” vibe. Griffin is a top 150 player and this would be a steal, you would be taking advantage of the fact teams don’t know how to evaluate a one-handed player but if you put him in the right situation he will succeed. The coaching staff in Los Angeles would be the best possible one to get Griffin going.
6th-round pick – 181st overall: Nathan Shepherd, DT, Fort Hays State
This honestly would be the biggest steal possibly of the draft. Nathan Shepherd had an amazing week at the Senior Bowl, he proved that Fort Hayes State or not, he’s a legitimate NFL player at the next level. He was the only one I saw in Mobile consistently challenge dominant UTEP guard Will Hernandez and suddenly I found that his pass rushing ability allows Brockers to go back to being the nose tackle while the Rams deploy Donald and Shepherd at the end positions.
Shepherd has great size at 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds but has a quick first step and the ability to overpower offensive lineman at will. So why is he even here late in the sixth round? Shepherd, unfortunately, will get overlooked because he’s from Fort Hays State, but make no mistake, Shepherd is legit. Another reason for his fall down the board? Shepherd broke his hand last Thursday so he was not only unable to capitalize off a great week of practices and showcase himself in the Senior Bowl game, but he also puts his pre-draft process in jeopardy. If Shepherd can heal up quick enough he has a chance but I see him falling in the sixth round and being a nightmare for the 31 teams who passed up on him.
6th-round pick – 183rd overall: Devron Davis, CB, UTSA
Yes, I have the Rams double-dipping on cornerbacks in this draft. So the Rams grab Jaire Alexander in the first to replace Trumaine Johnson but then due to the uncertainty with Kayvon Webster coming off three major injuries, the Rams decide to grab another cornerback and one that they met with multiple times in Devron Davis. Davis has been working with Arizona Cardinals All-Pro CB Patrick Peterson and has a football bloodline being the cousin of both CB Vontae Davis and TE Vernon Davis. Davis is an intriguing prospect because he has the ideal height at 6-feet, he can play press man, he has ball skills and the fluid hips to turn and change direction. He put together a nice outing against now-Rams WR Josh Reynolds in which he shut him down pretty well.
The Rams should love what they got out of Troy Hill and Kevin Peterson but they should also realize that assuming Webster will be ready, Robey-Coleman will be back and Dominique Hatfield won’t be a liability again is the wrong way of thinking. Davis is the late round value that could end up being a huge get for the Rams.
Updated Rams Roster per draft pick position (free agents not shown):
QB: Jared Goff/Sean Mannion/Kyle Lauletta/Brandon Allen
RB: Todd Gurley/Kalen Ballage/Malcolm Brown/Justin Davis/Lenard Tillery
LT: Andrew Whitworth/Chukwuma Okorafor/Cornelius Lucas
RT: Chukwuma Okorafor/Rob Havenstein/Darrell Williams
DE: Ethan Westbrooks/Morgan Fox/Tanzel Smart/Nathan Shepherd
OLB: Uchenna Nwosu/Samson Ebukam/Shaquem Griffin/Garrett Sickels
CB: Jaire Alexander/Kayvon Webster*/Troy Hill/Kevin Peterson/Devron Davis/Dominique Hatfield/Taurean Nixon/Marcus Sayles