Thursday night, the first night of the NFL Draft, turned out to be all about the number eight for the Rams.
After a wild first round that saw plenty of trades and surprise picks, the dust settled and it was clear that eight was indeed a lucky number for Rams coach Jeff Fisher, general manager Les Snead and the rest of the coaches and personnel department.
Starting the evening with picks No. 16 and 22 in the first round, the Rams landed two of the players they coveted most but certainly didn’t do it the easy way.
With rumors swirling and attention building on West Virginia wide receiver
Later in the round, the Rams looked to recoup some of the picks lost in that trade by moving down. So Snead turned to old friend Thomas Dimitroff, the general manager in Atlanta, to move down. And, no surprise here for those following the theme, the Rams moved down eight spots to No. 30 to select uber athletic linebacker Alec Ogletree of Georgia.
In making those two bold moves, the Rams added two of the fastest and most athletic players in this year’s draft and revved up the team’s overall RPM’s.
“It was a scenario we had been discussing for several days and in this particular draft, it’s a hard thing to accomplish with the way it fell and what we were able to do,” Fisher said. “We are very, very excited. We got two explosive, talented young players that are going to help us right away.”
Coincidentally, the trade up/trade down discussion is actually one that the Rams began having just last week. Weeks ago, the Rams had started to target Austin in hopes of adding another playmaker to the offense.
Over the past few weeks, Austin visited St. Louis on a top 30 visit and Fisher said that a Rams contingent went to Morgantown to put Austin through a private workout. Coming out of that workout, it was more than clear that they had hoped to add him to the mix.
The only problem then became finding a way to add him as Austin’s value and stock began to skyrocket. Snead had his finger on the pulse and cited conversations with Buffalo earlier in the process that turned into something more substantive on Tuesday.
By the time Thursday night came around, Austin was perhaps the draft’s most talked about player and the Rams knew it was time to pounce on the player they coveted most.
In Fisher and Snead’s pre-draft news conference on Monday, they warned that they wouldn’t be completely honest but in fact, Fisher mentioned this very scenario as an option.
“I was actually telling the truth,” Fisher said. “We felt a few days ago that we would probably have to go up and get him. I credit Les and Kevin (Demoff) and the guys for creating those opportunities and creating trading partners because we knew we were going to need them.”
The Rams made the call to a Buffalo team that had openly coveted a quarterback and got the deal done as the Bills came on the clock Thursday night. The Rams sent their first pick (No. 16 overall), their second-round pick (No. 46 overall), their third-round choice (No. 78 overall) and their seventh-round selection (No. 222 overall) to Buffalo in exchange for the No. 8 pick and Buffalo’s third-round pick (No. 71 overall).
Upon completion of the trade, the Rams turned in their selection card about as fast as an Austin 4.29 40-yard dash time.
“You look at his college career and what he’s accomplished,” Fisher said. “The fact that he has not missed a game and the explosive plays week after week after week. We felt like we needed a player to create a mismatch and we feel that he helps to create that for our entire offense now.”
At 5’8, 174 pounds, Austin is living proof that dynamite does indeed come in small packages. In his four years playing for the Mountaineers, Austin found just about every conceivable way there is to finish plays with the ball in his hands standing in an end zone.
Austin accumulated 288 catches for 3,413 yards for 29 touchdowns, 1,033 rushing yards with six touchdowns, a 24.81 yards per kick return average with four touchdowns and a 12.74 yard average on punt returns with another touchdown.
All told, that’s a total of 7,286 yards with 40 touchdowns. For his career, he averaged 13.77 yards every time he touched the ball and 140.12 all purpose yards per game. In his senior season, he averaged 223.85 all purpose yards per game.
Needless to say, every time Austin touches the football, there’s a chance something spectacular is going to happen. That’s what made Austin special enough in the eyes of the Rams to become the first skill position player drafted this year and the first receiver the team has drafted in the first round since Torry Holt back in 1999.
“That’s an honor,” Austin said. “That’s a legend. I watched him when I was young and I never thought I would play wide receiver right now, but I am and I appreciate. I’m just honored to go and I’m just going to come in and try to do the same thing he did when he was there.”
According to Fisher, Austin will be expected to come in and contribute as a slot receiver right away but the uses for Austin are nearly endless considering his background as a returner and even a running back.
Of course, the question Austin is asked most is about his size but he is quick to point out that he’s never missed a game since he started playing because of injury and he said he’ll do everything necessary to prepare his body for the rigors of the NFL.
“That’s definitely not going to (ever go away),” Austin said. “I just have to keep my heart up, keep my mind right and keep grinding every day in practice. Take care of my body; just keep fighting the critics off like I’ve been doing since I was young. I can’t do anything about it. I would like to change if I could get two inches, but I can’t. I’m just going to keep on pushing.”
With Austin already on board, the Rams turned their attention to the second part of the equation, finding a trade partner to move down and help recoup some of the picks they traded to Buffalo for Austin.
Atlanta had made it known previously that it was interested in a move up, potentially for a cornerback. As the Rams came on the clock, Snead and Dimitroff linked up and made a deal.
The trade discussions with Atlanta had been brewing for the better part of the past couple of weeks according to Snead. That deal sent the No. 22 pick along with the seventh-round choice the Rams acquired from New England for receiver Greg Salas in 2015 to the Falcons in exchange for Atlanta’s first-round pick (No. 30 overall), third-round pick (No. 92 overall) and sixth-round choice (No. 198 overall).
“This one has probably been in the works a little while,” Snead said. “Let’s call it over the last couple of weeks. They probably flirted with going even further up along the way so I think they were trying to get up for multiple picks but they always let us know ‘Hey, we are willing to come up if we were willing to come back.”
Unlike the instant gratification of the move up, the Rams then had to hurry up and wait to see how the board would fall. Ogletree had been a strong option at No. 16 if the Rams had stayed there but there were no guarantees he’d fall to No. 30.
When Minnesota traded up to No. 29, the Rams draft room had to sweat it out a bit but the Vikings opted for a receiver, leaving Ogletree for the Rams.
Ogletree, who was once a safety and played inside and out in Georgia’s 3-4 defense, will be expected to come in and play weak side linebacker with
Like Austin, Ogletree has the type of big-time speed and athleticism that the Rams clearly coveted. In fact, when Fisher watched him on film, he was reminded of a former linebacker he once drafted with the 30th pick in the first round in Tennessee in 2000, Keith Bulluck.
“There are a lot of similarities when you watch them on tape,” Fisher said. “A lot of similarities. Long arms, quickness, slippery, can take on, tackle sideline to sideline, very explosive player. It’s a by product of his safety background.”
Considering the Rams play in a division with dangerous running quarterbacks like San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick and Seattle’s Russell Wilson, having a linebacker capable of making plays sideline to sideline and do some covering seemed like an ideal fit.
Ogletree started 22 games in his career with the Bulldogs, posting 197 tackles with six sacks, 20 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. At 6’2, 242 pounds, he cuts a sleek frame with the measurables to match including a 4.7 second 40-yard dash and 20 repetitions in the 225-pound bench press.
““I think I just make plays out on the field,” Ogletree said. “I don’t want to say I have just one dominant thing I’d like to do, but I just try to be a football player and make plays. I feel like I’m versatile. I do a lot of things. That’s just how I consider myself, just a playmaker.”
That Ogletree was available for the Rams at pick 30 was a product of a situation similar to what allowed them to snare another high impact defender a year ago in cornerback
Ogletree had some off the field issues that caused him to fall a bit but Snead and Fisher were comfortable that he was past his mistakes and acknowledged that Ogletree would have been a top 10-15 pick were it not for those concerns.
For his part, Ogletree said he was aware of his mistakes and had learned from them.
“(I told them) just that I was young and dumb and made a mistake in my life,” Ogletree said. “And I am just ready to move forward and start this new chapter in my life.”
The Rams now enter Friday night with no picks in the second round and a couple of selections in the third round. That’s a far cry from last year when they picked three times in the second round.
But if nothing else, it’s clear that Fisher, Snead and their respective staffs have no fear of doing what they think is best for the short and long term future of the franchise, even if it means wheeling and dealing on a regular basis.
“I think we were just talking we have yet to stay put with our first round picks over the last two years,” Snead said. “That’s not something you just say you are going to do. This scenario, the one we just executed was discussed really over the last week of how you go about doing and getting what we got tonight.”
And when the Rams’ staff goes to sleep in the early hours Friday morning, the addition of Ogletree and Austin in particular will allow them to rest easy. Especially the quarterback who just so happens to wear No. 8.