Rams enter final stretch before NFL Draft
ST. LOUIS — We've nearly arrived again, my friends. One week until the hopes of football fans no longer hinge on fruitless mock predictions. Seven days until the NFL Draft shows its much-anticipated hand.
How will the St. Louis Rams fare?
The answer could be the key to a team that's trying to right the ship after a 22-73-1 record the past six seasons. Or, it could be what spoils the momentum last year's 7-8-1 finish created.
St. Louis has two first-round picks this year — the 16th and 22nd selections — along with more spread through later rounds (46, 78, 113, 149, 184 and 222).
Will the team make the right moves? The answers will start arriving April 25. Until then, let's take a look at the areas that are most questionable.
Stop me if you've heard this before: Sam Bradford needs help. But, it's true. And there's a good chance the quarterback will get some early in this year's Draft.
St. Louis is relatively solid at the tight-end positions after it added Jared Cook from Tennessee. He joins Lance Kendricks, who now has two seasons under his belt.
The Rams now need outside help, a playmaker who can team up with Chris Givens and Brian Quick since Brandon Gibson and Danny Amendola are gone.
No surprise here, but the best option appears to be Tavon Austin, the dynamic former West Virginia receiver who has shown he can do it all despite being 5-foot-8, 178 pounds.
Austin, who made a visit to St. Louis in early April, raked in 1,289 receiving yards and 643 rushing yards as a senior. He scored 15 touchdowns, too. Doubts about his size tend to disappear when his 4.34 40-yard-dash is mentioned.
This is the kind of player that could help the Rams not finish 28th in the league when it comes to converting third-down conversions.
Other options at receiver include Cordarrelle Patterson of Tennessee, Keenan Allen of California, Justin Hunter of Tennessee and Robert Woods of USC.
Quintin Mikell got cut in March and Craig Dahl went to San Francisco. The result is team without the two safeties it listed as starters heading into last season. The Draft could fix that issue.
Former Texas defensive back Kenny Vaccaro (6-feet-0, 214 pounds) sits at the top of the list of NFL-bound safeties. He might have been a first-rounder last year, but he retuned for his senior season at UT and earned first-team All-Big 12 and All-American honors.
If there's a knock on the Texas headhunter, it's that he might be a little too aggressive. His willingness to lower his shoulder and seek big hits sometimes results in missed tackles and blown coverages. Still, he's the best of the bunch at his position.
If Vacarro goes before the Rams get their chance, Eric Read (6-foot-1, 213 pounds) appears to be the next-best option. But if St. Louis is safety-less after the first round, Phillip Thomas of Fresno State (6-foot-0, 208 pounds) could be the guy. He is faster than Vacarro (4.65 40-yard dash). After sitting out the 2011 season with a broken leg, Thomas terrorized the Mountain West in 2012, totaling 84 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, four sacks, eight interceptions, four forced fumbles and five pass breakups.
Steven Jackson ran off to Atlanta and left a bit of a hole.
But before the rushed panic to throw bricks of cash at someone who might replace the talented star, remember there's a guy currently on the Rams' roster, Isaiah Pead, who is already pretty good. Also realize the days of one-man backfields are dwindling. The committee approach is here to stay.
With that in mind, it's easy to see why the Rams apparently have a high level of interest in Eddie Lacey of Alabama. Lacey is a powerful bruiser whose hard-nose style resembles the one Jackson became so loved for in St. Louis.
If he's gone, what about Montee Ball of Wisconsin? He's projected as a second-rounder, and could be available late. There's probably a good chance the Missouri native would love to come back home.
The Rams' line got a good dose of beefing up when former Miami Dolphin left tackle Jake Long signed the deal that sent him to St. Louis. He will protect Bradford's blindside better than some fresh-faced rookie. His presence will also mean Rodger Saffold switches to the left tackle spot. So, the ends are looking good.
But the Rams' line could still use some help in the middle. Guard Robert Turner took off to Tennessee. And while Harvey Dahl has done well enough, Rokevious Watkins, Shelley Smith and Brandon Washington leave something to be desired. Don't be surprised if St. Louis uses its middle rounds to bulk up the inside of its offensive line.
One wildcard to track during the draft: Kyle Long. Yes, another Long. This one happens to be the brother of current Rams' defensive end Chris Long and son of Hall of Fame end Howie Long. The former Oregon Duck has good genes, and a 6-foot-6, 313-pound frame.
You can follow Ben Frederickson on Twitter (@Ben_Fred) or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org