Aggressive Approach to Draft Lays Strong Foundation

Posted Apr 30, 2012

Soon after Jeff Fisher took the job as head coach and Les Snead was named general manager, the Rams top football decision makers turned their attention to the 2012 NFL Draft.

With only a few months to prepare, Fisher and Snead knew full well that how they played their hand in this year’s draft would set the tone for their respective tenures in St. Louis.

At the conclusion of approximately a three-month sprint through the draft, Fisher and Snead couldn’t help but feel like they accomplished their mission of laying a strong foundation in this incarnation of rebuilding the Rams.

“This is the one that we are going to be remembered for, in particular because of what we were able to do when we jumped out of the two-spot,” Fisher said. “At two, you don’t know what’s going to happen but when you get to go down to six and pick up more picks and then continue to pick up more picks, it allows us to get more good players.”

Snead agreed that the Rams’ eight picks all fill at least some kind of need but more important that those players all instantly upgrade the talent level of the roster in some way, shape or form. 

“I think we accomplished some of our goals and they were with each pick: try to get them right, try to get the best available, and also help position groups,” Snead said. “I think our defensive line got help, I think our defensive backfield got help, and I think our running back position got help, and I think our wide receiver position got help. So I think that was a nice, productive day with young players and now it’s up to these players to do their part.”

As noted by Fisher and Snead, the Rams were able to approach this year’s draft in an aggressive way with little fear of taking a chance or two along the way.

The results netted them a class that includes: LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers, Appalachian State receiver Brian Quick, North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins, Cincinnati running back Isaiah Pead, Montana cornerback Trumaine Johnson, Wake Forest wideout Chris Givens, South Carolina offensive lineman Rokevious Watkins, Missouri Western kicker Greg Zuerlein, Hawaii linebacker Aaron Brown and Abilene Christian running back Daryl Richardson.

While it’s way too early to determine how that class will turn out, the media pundits have praised the Rams’ drafting efforts, not just in terms of the class that has been drafted but also with the future picks the team accumulated in trading down with Washington.

Of more importance, though, is the fact that teams around the league took notice of what the Rams have done. Despite what might be considered “risks” or “reaches” by media draft “experts,” teams generally view players in a much different light.

“We got numerous calls from our friends and associates around the league that said, ‘Boy, we really like that guy,’ and, ‘Wow, what a great pick that guy was, we were going to take him the very next pick,’” Fisher said. “All in all I thought it was a very, very successful draft. You look at it, I was just looking a little while ago, Abilene Christian, Hawaii, Missouri Western - there’s some talent at the small schools. We did our research and we felt like we got the best players available.”

There might be no better indicator of immediate draft performance than plaudits from other teams in the league though of course there is a lot of football to be played before any judgments can be passed out.

Still, the Rams set out to add more speed, size and athleticism, a mission that one couldn’t argue has been accomplished.

The addition of Quick as a big, physical wideout and the speedy, home run threat in Givens gives Rams quarterback Sam Bradford a pair of outside receivers capable of beating defenses in a variety of ways. Pead represents another big play threat out of the backfield.

“With their unique abilities, one guy (Givens) can really, really run and make the home-run play and then Brian’s ability just as a complete receiver- we think we’ve clearly helped (Bradford),” Fisher said. “Of course, you can’t discount what somebody like Isaiah is going to be able to do out of the backfield in a change-up role. So we felt like we helped him.”

Much like the offense got a big boost with those three play makers and a lineman with potential in Watkins, the Rams also paid high prices for impact players on the defense.

Obviously, Brockers will be expected to step in right away and provide a major boost to the run defense and develop as a pass rusher. Jenkins and Johnson will almost certainly play important roles in the pass defense, giving the Rams a plethora of options at corner to go with free-agent addition Cortland Finnegan and talented incumbents Bradley Fletcher, Jerome Murphy and Josh Gordy.

Of course, there are still some openings where players will have opportunities to play right away, namely at outside linebacker where Brown was the only addition to a group that had just four players going into the draft.

The Rams have added more than 20 undrafted free agents, including a handful of outside linebackers with the hope being that they can find a gem or two. If not, they won’t stop searching.
“We’re actually full now, considering the college free agents we just signed,” Snead said. “But like we’ve said before, we’ll continue to exhaust all avenues to try to improve this football team. I think that’s the stage we’re at. We went through free agency and got ‘real’ players, players that have started in the NFL. Then you go through this draft process and you get young prospects and you go through college free agency. Then I think at the end, we’ll sit back over the next couple of weeks and see if all of the sudden there is a whole that we really need to fill through maybe another veteran that’s still available.”

In other words, the bold, aggressive approach that saw the Rams unafraid to take players who might have a red flag or two and pull off a blockbuster trade more than a month before the draft even began, will continue to manifest itself at ContinuityX Training Center for as long as Fisher and Snead have a say in the matter.

“We’re not necessarily taking chances,” Fisher said. “I look at it more from the standpoint that we’re going to be aggressive. This team has lost more games in five years than any team in franchise history. We’re going to put a stop to that. In order to do that, you’ve got to go fill some holes, and you have to be aggressive with that.”

Right in lockstep with Fisher, Snead added.

“You can’t be scared.”