Los Angeles Rams 2021 draft preview: Center of attention

Finding an anchor of the offensive line a draft priority for L.A.
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With Austin Blythe moving on in free agency, center is the most obvious need for the Los Angeles Rams with a little over a week before the start of this year’s draft.

Of course, the Rams do not have a first-round selection. Brian Allen is penciled in as the starter for the Rams at center heading into the draft, but he has not played in two years due to a knee injury that required surgery.

The Rams don’t necessarily have to select a center with their top pick in the second round because the draft is deep at interior offensive line, according to NFL draft analysts. But they likely should get a young developmental prospect in the fold by Day 2 of the draft.

Teams can begin voluntary offseason workout programs this week. However, Rams’ players released a statement through the NFLPA stating they decided as a team to not attend in-person voluntary workouts this offseason. I’m told some players on rehabilitation programs have used the team facility. The Rams currently have 67 players on their roster.

L.A. Rams Picks: Second round (25), Third round (25) (40), Fourth round (36), Sixth round (25), Seventh round (25).

Top needs: Interior offensive line, offensive tackle, linebacker, receiver, cornerback

Rams 2021 Roster

QB (4): Starter -- Matthew Stafford. Reserves -- John Wolford, Bryce Perkins, Devlin Hodges.

RB (4): Starter -- Cam Akers. Reserves -- Darrell Henderson Jr., Xavier Jones, Ray Calais.

WR (7): Starters -- Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, DeSean Jackson. Reserves -- Van Jefferson, Trishton Jackson, Nsimba Webster, J.J. Koski.

TE (4): Starter -- Tyler Higbee. Reserves -- Johnny Mundt, Brycen Hopkins, Kendall Blanton.

OL (11): Starters -- (LT) Andrew Whitworth, (LG) David Edwards, (CBrian Allen,(RG) Austin Corbett, (RT) Rob Havenstein. Reserves -- Tremayne Anchrum (G), Chandler Brewer (G), Jamil Demby (G), Bobby Evans (T), Joe Noteboom (G/T), Coleman Shelton (C/G).

DL (8): Starters -- Aaron Donald, Sebastian Joseph-Day, A’Shawn Robinson. Reserves --Marquise Copeland (DT), Michael Hoecht (DT), Greg Gaines (NT), Eric Banks (DT), Jonah Williams (DT).

LB (11): Starters -- Leonard Floyd, Micah Kiser, Kenny Young, Justin Hollins. Reserves -- Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Justin Lawler, Terrell Lewis, Troy Reeder, Travin Howard, Derrick Moncrief, Christian Rozeboom.

DB (11): Starters -- Jalen Ramsey, Darious Williams, Jordan Fuller, Taylor Rapp. Reserves --Terrell Burgess (S), Don’t’e Deayon (CB), Jake Gervase (S), Juju Hughes (S), David Long Jr. (CB), J.R. Reed (S), Nick Scott (S).

Specialty (7): K -- Matt Gay. P -- Johnny Hekker. LS -- Colin Holba. KR/PR -- Nsimba Webster. Reserves -- Brandon Wright, (P) Corey Bojorquez, Austin MacGinnis (K), Steven Wirtel (LS).

Draft overview: I spoke with Rob Rang, NFL draft analyst for Fox Sports in my latest Speed Option podcast. Rang has been covering the draft for over two decades and offered some interesting thoughts on this year’s draft in general, and specifically what the Rams could be targeting next week.

Rang on this year’s draft: “I think the biggest thing is it’s really talented at quarterback, wide receiver and all along the offensive line. Off-ball linebacker is really strong, as well as quarterback. So, that’s obviously a lot of positions. Running back is okay. I love the top talent like Najee Harris from Alabama and Javonte Williams from North Carolina, but I think it kind of filters out pretty quickly. The entire offensive line is just remarkable how good that it is for the second year in a row. Same with the wide receiver position. These last two years have been just been really historic, and I think that’s a testament to the way high school levels have adjusted, and now you’re seeing players come into college, and they are already more prepared than a lot of players were just a couple years ago.”

Rang also warned about concerns NFL talent evaluators have about selecting players from this year’s draft due to the limited amount of information teams could gather because of COVID-19, making future picks in 2022 and 2023 more valuable.

“I’m talking to GMs and they are terrified of this class,” Rang said. “Because they think there’s going to be some guys that are going to get drafted really early -- maybe not first round -- but early and are going to wind up when they bring them into the building, two inches shorter or 20 pounds heavier -- or not have nearly the football intelligence that they thought they had. So, there’s going to be a lot of area scouts biting their nails, worried about whether they’re going to keep their jobs beyond the 2021 draft.”

Rob Rang Mock draft: Here's the latest, three-round mock draft from Rang. Check out below the players Rang has the Rams selecting for each round. You can also see Rang’s top 100 big board here.

Second round: (57) WR Terrace Marshall, LSU. Rang: “With Marshall, you’re talking about a guy that brings you straight line speed and size. To me, he’s almost similar to Josh Reynolds, the former Rams’ wide receiver in that he can be that vertical threat. He also is a pretty physical run blocker. And I think that you see what the Rams have in young running back Cam Akers -- who I believe is going to be an absolute star in this league  -- I think you’re going to see the Rams build around that more. And then just the height (for Marshall). You’re talking about a guy that comes from an LSU program that has routinely produced difference-making wide receivers. I’m not sure he’s going to available to the Rams at that point in the second round. But I think if he is available to them, he would absolutely be one of the players they would have to consider at that point in the draft.”

Third round: (87) Tyree Gillespie, S, Missouri. Rang “I think people are sleeping on him a little bit. He’s got legitimate 4.4 speed (in the 40-yard dash). Some clocks had him at the 4.3s in his pro day. His open-field tackling has been kind of hit-and-miss, so that’s one of the concerns I have. And he doesn’t have terrific ball skills. For someone I think is going to be drafted in the top 100 selections, you’d like to see a lot more interceptions. But at the same time, he is a guy who has a great deal of potential.” Rang went on to say that this year’s safety class is not deep, and Gillespie projects as a player who can play deep safety in the NFL.

(103) Walker Little, T, Stanford. Played for current Rams offensive line coach Kevin Carberry during his time as the offensive line coach for the Cardinal.

Three Diamonds in the rough for Rams

Rang puts out an annual list of sleepers for each position, which you can see here. Here are three players from schools that do not get much publicity that he believes could be a fit for the Rams.

Iowa State running back Kene Nwangwu: Rang: “He reminds me a little bit of Seattle’s Chris Carson. He’s 6-foot, 210 pounds and he ran a 4.3. Unfortunately for him, he’s just been playing behind a future NFL draft pick in Breece Hall, who’s going to be a star in the league and David Montgomery, who’s now with the Chicago Bears.

Dillon Radunz, offensive tackle, North Dakota State: Rang: “He’s a spectacular talent. These offensive tackles that have success against the lower level, people just kind of brush them off like “That’s cute against FCS.” But when they come into the Senior Bowl and they’re just as good there. And they have their workouts and they are just as good there, it kind of reminds you of some of these guys that have come into the NFL from small schools and have had success in the NFL like Tarron Armstead.”

Quinn Meinerz, center, Wisconsin-Whitewater. Rang: “He really starred in the Senior Bowl and has the personality that people love.” Rang believes that this year’s center class is deep, and that six centers could go in the top 100 picks.