The Rams will have a tough choice May 8. Should they take the best defensive player on the board (possibly Jadeveon Clowney) or boost the offense with Sammy Watkins or a top tackle? Our unsolicited advice for St. Louis, plus mail
Inundated with information—all of it questionable—about what Houston will do at No. 1, we’ve given the Rams short shrift with the second overall pick on May 8. I believe general manager Les Snead will take Jadeveon Clowney if Houston bypasses the South Carolina pass-rusher. But I don’t believe that’s what he should do.
I think Snead and coach Jeff Fisher should go offense here. I’d go with Clemson wideout Sammy Watkins or one of the two top tackles, probably Greg Robinson of Auburn. But the Rams could take Watkins here, and with their second pick of the first round take the third- or fourth-best tackle in the crop—Michigan's Taylor Lewan or the experienced Zack Martin of Notre Dame (a 52-game college starter). Martin could easily move to guard for a year or two.
Watkins and Tavon Austin would give Sam Bradford the real chance a top quarterback prospect needs. And let’s face it: Bradford still has to be considered a prospect. He hasn’t arrived yet, after four seasons. He hasn’t been the most durable player—he has missed 15 of 64 starts with injury—and his 58.6 percent completion rate confirms he hasn’t been the most accurate either.
The reason the Rams would be smart to address the offense early is simple: They’ll have a very tough time winning the NFC West without an offensive upgrade. They might get lucky and win it once, but the consistency of offensive play just isn’t there. In the past six meetings against the cream of the division, Seattle and San Francisco, the Rams have scored 9, 9 and 13 points (against Seattle) and 13, 11 and 16 against the Niners. That’s 11.8 points a game against the teams you have to beat to win the division … and just four touchdowns in six very important games.
If you’re the Rams, do you want to rely on holding potent offenses to 10 points a game? Or do you want to give your team a chance to win when the defense has just a B-minus day? Right now, the Rams, with Tavon Austin and Chris Givens and Austin Pettis, have a passable receiver group. It would be sad if the team went 7-9 or something like that this year, and Bradford struggled, and the front office would have to make the call on keeping him or not next February. They’d have to judge based on a good but not great group of wideouts. Adding Watkins to the mix would give Bradford no more reason to be mediocre.
On the line, Jake Long is being held together by baling wire at left tackle, and when will the Rams have a better chance to draft his successor than with the second pick in a line-rich draft? Taking another piece for the line could give the team Long and the prospect Joe Barksdale at tackle for the season, with Rodger Saffold and, say, Robinson or Martin inside for at least one year while they learn the pro game.
My feeling is based on the fact that the Steel Curtain of the mid-seventies Steelers comes along once in a generation. The Rams have Chris Long and Robert Quinn, a formidable rush duo. They need a much better offense more than they need a formidable rush trio.
Now onto your email:
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PICKING A QB IS NOT ROCKET SCIENCE. I’m sorry but I don’t feel the slightest bit sorry for NFL general managers needing a QB in this draft. I see three quarterbacks who are winners and have translatable skills. Aside from Cam Newton, the other first-rounders you mention (Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder, Jake Locker and you can throw in E.J. Manuel and Brandon Weeden) were bad choices BEFORE we saw them in the NFL. I remember thinking those were all bad and scratched my head. I don’t feel the same way about Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater or Blake Bortles because they pass the eyeball test. That doesn’t mean they’re a lock to succeed, but honestly we don’t know about any of them really until it happens. I’m a Falcons fan and a Georgia Tech fan. So when the Falcons were considering drafting Matt Ryan I was looking forward to it because I’d seen him at Boston College and knew he was a winner that elevated his program. Look at the quarterbacks taken in later rounds that have become successful like Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick. They elevated their programs. My message to NFL GMs: Quit pretending this is rocket science. Pick winners.
The word “winners” is important. There’s something about a quarterback being able to be down 28 in a bowl game—as Manziel was against Duke—and bring his team back to win. Make no mistake—that was primarily a Manziel job. There has to be a measure of competitiveness added into the equation when you consider which quarterbacks are going to make it. But just talking about whether a guy has the winning component can be short-sighted. A competitive guy, a never-say-die guy, who completes 55 percent of his passes, can have all the moxie in the world and won’t maintain success in the NFL because he’s just not talented enough. I remember thinking this about Jake Locker; I didn’t understand where the Titans figured he would be accurate enough. He hadn’t been an accurate passer at all in Washington, and he played four years. That isn’t to say he can’t or won’t succeed; it is simply to say that I believe that Tennessee reached with Locker. In judging all positions on the field, it’s always dangerous to generalize and say the most important characteristic is X, and if you have that you’ll definitely make it. I like competitiveness. I like winning. But you better have other traits, including accuracy, if you want to have a successful career in the NFL.
ELEMENTS IMPACT VIKING STRATEGY? Thanks for the info on the Vikings kickers discussing wind conditions with their colleagues at the University of Minnesota. Do you think the Vikings organization will approach the draft or overall roster management differently knowing that they will play in the elements for the next two seasons?
—Mike Jenn, Coralville, Iowa
Good question. I don’t believe it will have a big impact on the quarterback they pick, because general manager Rick Spielman says that he’d like to redshirt the passer they pick for the 2014 season. If that’s the case, then we’re only talking about one year playing outside, and I doubt it’s going to play much of a factor in their choice. I think one of the things that the Vikings have done across the board is try to factor in how different it will be in terms of strategy to play outside for the next two years. And other than on special teams, I'm not sure how big a factor it’s going to be. The Vikings know they have a very good indoor/outdoor running back in Adrian Peterson, and at least one wide receiver (Greg Jennings) who is very used to playing in the elements. So I don’t think it’s going to play a very big role in who they pick or who they don’t.
ABOUT PAT TILLMAN AND THE HOF. Love your work. Thank you for making football so approachable as well as sharing your thoughts and reflections, I truly look forward to them. Regarding Pat Tillman, the Hall of Fame should create a memorial to honor the NFL/military veterans on the grounds somewhere.
—Jeff, San Clemente, Calif.
There already is. It's a large room with a very respectful display honoring all NFL personnel who have served in the military. Tillman’s Arizona uniform is on display, along with a discussion of his contribution to the NFL and to the post-9/11 society. Veterans from World War II, Korea, and Vietnman are also honored there. When I discussed Tillman on Monday, in no way did I mean to belittle anything about him—not his football career, nor his military career. I just meant to say that on the basis of football alone, he is not deserving of a bust in Canton. And I think the slope gets very slippery if we put someone into the Hall of Fame alongside the greatest players ever to play, who was a good but not great player, and who is being enshrined for other reasons. As I wrote Monday, where do you stop?
TEAMS WILL REGRET REACHING FOR QB. Do you think that NFL writers and broadcasters, yourself included, make the statement that “you don’t need to draft a QB in the first round, just look at Tom Brady and Russell Wilson” somewhat cavalierly? I think we all know what the underlying message is, and we all know the 50/50 odds of drafting a medium to long-term starting QB in the first round; but I think the message of getting a good NFL QB in the mid-rounds is portrayed in a manner that suggests the odds are similar to a first-round QB. I’m guessing here, but I would think drafting a quality QB from round 3 onward would be 10-15 percent at best.
—Joe, West Virginia
Excellent point. For me, it’s not that I think that a quarterback picked in the third or fifth round has a great chance to be successful. It’s more that I believe in this year’s draft, every one of these quarterbacks has some major flaws. And in a draft with so many outstanding prospects, why take a quarterback who will make general managers have a knot in their stomachs thinking they just over-reached? I believe that teams reached for quarterbacks in the first round in 2011. Teams should learn from history, and not reach like that this year.