A look at the early mock drafts for a glimpse of the Rams’ future
ST. LOUIS — ‘Tis the season for NFL mock drafts — and for St. Louis Rams fans to start dreaming about the future.
Officially, the 2014 NFL Draft is still a couple of months away — it begins May 8 and concludes May 10 — and that leaves plenty of time for football lovers and draft analysts alike to guess at who will go where, and when they’ll go there.
FOXSports.com NFL analyst Peter Schrager released his second mock draft Wednesday.
Schrager has the Rams selecting Texas A&M left tackle Jake Matthews with the No. 2 overall pick acquired from the Redskins.
"Robert Griffin III has turned out to be the gift that somehow keeps giving for the Rams," Schrager wrote. "They’ve got Washington’s No. 2 overall pick this year and I’ve heard they’d be open to swapping it for two first-round selections (one in a future year) if a team is captivated by Jadeveon Clowney. If St. Louis sits still with the pick, I think Matthews, a franchise tackle, is the guy. With edge pass rushers Chris Long and Robert Quinn up front already, I’d expect the Rams to go offensive line instead of the All-World talent in Clowney."
Rams coach Jeff Fisher has never used a first-round draft pick on an offensive lineman, but this could be the year that changes.
Matthews, an All-American in his junior and senior seasons at A&M, is the son of NFL Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews, who played for Fisher during his 19-year career with the Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans.
Most outside the organization would say that offensive line is a need for the Rams, but the team will have both starters at offensive tackle returning in 2014 and might not view those positions as needy.
Left tackle Jake Long, who signed a hefty contract as a free agent last off-season, will be coming off a knee injury but isn’t expected to miss much time, if any, next season. Joe Barksdale started 13 games at right tackle in his third NFL season and held his own in the run game and pass protection.
At No. 13 overall, Schrager has the Rams selecting defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman of Minnesota.
"In a conversation in December, one NFL scout compared Hageman’s mix of physical build and athleticism to J.J. Watt’s. High praise," Schrager wrote. "The Rams already have one of the top young defenses in the league. Adding another run-stuffer who can also get to the quarterback is necessary in a division that features two of the NFL’s power running teams."
Hageman, who stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 311 pounds, isn’t a big name for casual football fans, but draft analysts have followed his development at Minnesota, where he started out as a tight end before being moved to the defensive line and emerging as an All-Big Ten tackle.
Adding Hageman to the Rams’ defensive tackle mix with 2012 first-round pick Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford would make St. Louis even more formidable up front and help keep opposing offensive linemen from getting to linebackers James Laurinaitis and Alec Ogletree.
Defensive line doesn’t jump out as a big need for the Rams, but Fisher does have a history of drafting defensive linemen in the first round and it would make sense on some level to make one of the Rams’ strengths even stronger.
In his first mock draft, back in early December, Schrager had the Rams selecting Matthews and Utah defensive end/outside linebacker Trevor Reilly with their two first-round picks.
Reilly would make sense as a pass-rushing outside linebacker opposite Ogletree. The 6-5, 255-pound Reilly had 100 tackles, including 16 for loss, and 8 1/2 sacks for the Utes during his senior season.
Three NFL.com writers — Daniel Jeremiah, Bucky Brooks and Charles Davis — released mock drafts this week, and all three had the Rams selecting different players with the No. 2 overall pick.
Jeremiah had St. Louis selecting Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins at No. 2, while Brooks had the Rams picking Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson and Davis had them picking Matthews.
With the No. 13 pick, Davis had St. Louis selecting Watkins, while Jeremiah had the Rams taking Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan and Brooks mocked the team taking Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier.
Watkins and the offensive tackle picks make a lot of sense.
Even after moving up in the 2013 draft to select speedy-but-small wide receiver Tavon Austin, the Rams are still in need of a game-breaking wideout. Adding another perimeter playmaker to the offense should help quarterback Sam Bradford and also help the running game by taking a defender or two out of the box.
In three seasons at Clemson, Watkins had 240 receptions for 3,391 yards and 27 touchdowns. This season, he was among the FBS leaders with 101 catches for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns.
At CBSSports.com, draft writers Rob Rang and Dane Brugler both have the Rams taking South Carolina’s stud defensive end, Clowney, with the No. 2 pick and then selecting an offensive tackle at No. 13. Rang went with Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio there, while Brugler mocked Michigan’s Lewan at that spot.
For now, anyway. There’s plenty of time over the next few months for everyone to revise their picks. Repeatedly.
You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter (@natelatsch) or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.