Reward outweighs risk in pursuit of top players
The cornerback spot was a well-documented nightmare for the Rams last season.
The carnage began early in training camp when second-year corner Jerome Murphy was lost for the season with a broken ankle. It continued in the first game of the season when starter Ron Bartell suffered a broken bone in his neck and was lost for the season. During the team’s bye week, the other starter, Bradley Fletcher, suffered a torn ACL.
Al Harris came in to start, and he promptly tore his ACL. Marquis Johnson suffered a lacerated spleen. No one was safe.
Things are looking very different this year. Bartell was released and signed with the Raiders. Johnson was released. Harris has retired. Fletcher and Murphy are back, but the Rams are changing the face of their secondary.
Cortland Finnegan was signed in the opening hours of the new league year. Then, in the draft, the Rams selected Janoris Jenkins in the second round and Trumaine Johnson in the third round.
The Rams were bold and aggressive, but the extra picks they accumulated allowed them to be. That was especially true with the Jenkins pick, a player with top-10 ability but who was taken off the boards of several teams because of off-field issues. Coach Jeff Fisher and the organization did their homework on Jenkins, making it a matter of when would be the right time to take him.
As Snead explained, “I think when you have so many picks, or let’s call it one, two, three, four, five in the top 65, I looked at it a little bit like a mutual fund. It allowed you maybe to take a risk at one for talent, whereas if you might have had less picks, you may go a little less risky. I think this is what this draft enabled us to do. That’s what we did. You want to try to get first-round talent in the second round.”
The Rams entered the draft with two second-round picks, at 33 and 39. They then added one at 45 (which later became 50) when they moved from six to 14 in the first and picked up Dallas’ second-round pick. That allowed for maximum flexibility. Jenkins was selected with the 39th overall choice.
Asked about their aggressive approach, Fisher said, “We came in here expecting to win and we’re going to do what it takes, within reason. We mentioned that we had taken players off the board. There were players in the drawer. There were some players in the drawer for whatever reason. The guys that we had on the board, we feel like we got at the right time.”
Snead told si.com about going to watch Jenkins one day last season at North Alabama. Snead said, “I go out to watch practice one day, and there’s Janoris, playing gunner on special teams. And loving it; playing as hard as he can, competing. That’s the thing about this kid: He loves football. With everything that’s gone in his life, he loves football. It’s just all the other things he’s had to get right.”
Jenkins was asked, considering all the questions about him, how much it meant to him to receive the support he has been getting from the Rams.
“I feel real great,” he said. “When I came on my visit, it was one of my favorite visits and so far I’ve been enjoying it. And when he called me yesterday, I just had the biggest smile in the world because I got a nice bond with coach on my visit and I just felt comfortable.”
Will you play with a chip on your shoulder to prove people wrong?
Said Jenkins. “I’m going to play with a chip on my shoulder no matter what. My past is my past, I put it behind me and I’m going to come out week-in and week-out, and compete to the best of my ability.”
As Fisher told Yahoo! Sports, “With Janoris, I don’t see risk – but I see so much potential for reward. He has a chance to be a very productive player in this league. We can’t change the past, but we can provide an opportunity for him to be successful in the future.”
— Rams coach Jeff Fisher was pleased not only with the players the team drafted this year, but with the whole process, especially considering he and general manager Les Snead were in their first draft together, working with scouts that were already in the organization.
Said Fisher, “I think the most impressive thing throughout all day yesterday (Friday) and maybe through (round) four today was that the board was right. And that’s a compliment to Les and the staff, the scouts, just getting the board right. Very few people were coming off the board down here, back over here, they just came off kind of in sequence of how we had ranked them. That at least gives you an opportunity to predict and a chance to get the right guy at the right time.”
The Rams were active trade partners, and talked about deals that never happened.
“We discussed numerous trades that never took place, as always is the case in the draft,” Fisher said. “Had a lot of players up there that you would really like to have, but you don’t get because there’s 31 other teams. And then 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.’ All in all I thought it was a very, very successful draft.”
— The team’s 10 picks were from schools such as Appalachian State and Montana in the second and third rounds, and their final three selections were from Missouri Western Hawaii and Abilene Christian.
Said Fisher, “There’s some talent at the small schools. We did our research and we felt like we got the best players available.”
— Last year, the Rams released longtime long snapper Chris Massey and went with rookie Jake McQuaide. This year, the likelihood is that the team will open the season with two kickers in their first NFL game.
Earlier in the offseason, punter Donnie Jones signed with Houston as an unrestricted free agent. The two punters currently on the roster are Tom Malone and rookie Johnny Hekker, signed as an undrafted free agent.
The Rams selected kicker Greg Zuerlein in the sixth round, which resulted in the release of Josh Brown, who was counting more than $3.6 million against the salary cap. Garrett Lindholm, who has had several previous NFL tryouts, was signed earlier in the offseason.
Zuerlein had two field goals of 57 yards and two from 58 yards last season. In a Division II playoff game, he had field goals of 52, 57 and 58 yards.
Asked if he is concerned about going with rookies at both kicker spots, Fisher said, “I have no problem whatsoever. They’re only going to get better.” He then joked, “You know what, we’re not going to punt this year, so I’m not worried about it.”
It was Snead who reminded Fisher by saying, “And just to scare coach a little bit, we didn’t mention rookie holder as well. That would be the punter.”
QUOTE TO NOTE: “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. 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.” – Rams general manager Les Snead on the team’s 10 draft picks.