Rams lean heavily on offense with 7 of 9 picks in draft
ST. LOUIS (AP) For several weeks, Jeff Fisher just kept smiling and saying he was happy with an offensive line that had only two returning starters.
After drafting four linemen, the St. Louis Rams coach can be believed.
”It’s been a long time coming, particularly because of the needs,” Fisher said Saturday. ”Our focus went to the big guys.”
Fisher wouldn’t say how many starters he needed out of the draft picks, but said it was more than just quantity, too.
”We didn’t throw darts,” the coach said. ”We think these guys can play.”
The Rams, coming off a 6-10 season, concentrated on upgrading the 28th-ranked offense, particularly up front. The first seven picks of their nine-player class were on offense.
They went for glitz at the top, taking Georgia running back Todd Gurley 10th overall. Then they got busy with the meat and potatoes.
Wisconsin tackle Rob Haverstein (second round) and Louisville guard Jawon Howard (third) were added Friday. On Saturday, St. Louis added Iowa tackle-guard Andrew Donnal (fourth) and guard Cody Wichmann (sixth).
”All of them finish,” Fisher said, ”and that’s the thing we really like.”
The lone returning starters on the offensive line are guard Rodger Saffold and tackle Greg Robinson. Despite taking all the linemen, Fisher said re-signing unrestricted free agent Joe Barksdale, a tackle, remained a possibility.
Another pre-draft need was addressed at quarterback with Oregon State’s Sean Mannion in the third round. The Rams added Missouri wide receiver Bud Sasser (sixth) before finally shifting to defense by taking Baylor linebacker Bryce Hager and Memphis defensive end Martin Ifedi in the seventh.
The Hager pick came from a trade with the Jets for running back Zac Stacy, who had tweeted his dissatisfaction with the Gurley pick. Stacy rushed for nearly 1,000 yards as a rookie in 2013 but fell behind rookie Tre Mason and Benny Cunningham last year.
”We got on the same page this morning,” Fisher said of Stacy.
The 6-foot-7, 305-pound Donnal was a full-time starter at Iowa for the first time as a senior. Iowa’s other tackle, Brandon Scherff, was the fifth overall pick by Washington.
”I tried to keep expectations at bay,” Donnal said. ”I tried to roll with the process and get on a team. I’m super happy to get the call.”
Donnal described his style as a ”blue-collar grinder,” and added, ”Mauling inside, there’s nothing better.” He started three games his sophomore season before sustaining a season-ending knee injury and played every down in all but two games as a senior.
”Everybody has a different path,” Donnal said. ”I don’t think that’s bad at all. I still have so much upside. This is only the beginning.”
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Sasser had 77 catches for 1,003 yards, a 13-yard average, and 12 touchdowns as a senior. He was the 201st overall selection.
”I’m just glad I can stay in Missouri,” Sasser said. ”I know a lot of Mizzou fans from there, and that’s so cool to be part of that organization now.”
The Rams took cornerback E.J. Gaines in the sixth round last year, and he became a starter.
”Hey, I’m not making promises,” Sasser said. ”I’m going to go in there and work my tail off.”
The 6-6, 315-pound Wichmann made 50 starts at Fresno State. He kept his mind off the draft by shooting baskets and washing his car Saturday.
”I’m very thankful the wait is over,” Wichmann said. ”I definitely didn’t watch every second.”
The 6-foot-2, 235-pound Hager made 322 career tackles and was a member of the winningest class in school history with five bowl trips.
Ifedi, 6-3 and 275 pounds, is Memphis’ career leader with 22 1/2 sacks.
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