Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon will get strong consideration from the Rams if he lasts until the sixth pick.
It is said that each NFL Draft has its own personality. In the months leading up to each draft, the pundits and wannabe pundits decide that a certain number of players stand above the rest and they discern which positions are “deep” and which are “thin.”
The reality of the NFL Draft, though, much like recruiting in the college game, is that nobody knows anything for sure. The best each team can do is compile the tireless research and information its done on each player and take a best guess when they go on the clock.
At the end of the day, though, the key word there is still guess.
As this year’s NFL Draft approaches with a Thursday night start for the first round, the chirping and misinformation is hitting its crescendo. Smoke screens and fake smoke screens are being leaked.
Differentiating what’s real and what’s not is nearly impossible. Things that were believed to be true in January have somehow changed in the minds of those not privy to the draft boards actually being built in the teams’ draft rooms.
For the Rams, all of the work is pretty much done. The scouts, coaching staff, and personnel department have been meeting for the better part of the past two weeks and formulating a plan.
The first question is which direction the Rams will go with the sixth pick in the draft? For many weeks, the assumption has been made that there are six players in this draft that stand above the rest. Those players are presumed to be Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, Alabama running back Trent Richardson, USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil, LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne and Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon.
It’s a theory subscribed to by Charley Casserly, the NFL Network analyst and former Houston Texans general manager. He believes the Rams should begin building around quarterback
“I think if Blackmon is there, I would take him,” Casserly said. “I think it’s important to get a receiver here. Blackmon is going to be a good receiver. But I think it’s important to get somebody for Sam Bradford to throw to that he knows: this is my guy and we are going to develop a relationship. I think it’s important to do that. I think Richardson is a Pro Bowl back, I think Claiborne is a Pro Bowl corner. If it evolves to one of those three guys and even Kalil, I would take them because even though you might move back and get another player, those are positions that can help them and these are the best players at those positions this year.”
Of course, as always seems to happen, opinions and winds seem to drastically change in the public eye as the draft gets closer. Things that seemed certain in January now are being questions. Prospects are being nitpicked and thus, public opinions change.
ESPN Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. is one who doesn’t buy into the established pecking order of prospects in this class.
“You know, I think there's a group up at the top that's very much mixed opinion on,” Kiper said. “We're acting like, I think, a lot of the talk about it always goes down so far. Well, I can go down to seven and tell you people are kind of critical of some of those players and don't think they deserve to be up there.
“There are some people that have some concerns about Matt Kalil being in the top group. There are people that have concerns about Blackmon being up there. Melvin Ingram, where do you play him? Some don't think he's a defensive end, some think he's an outside linebacker, mixed opinion there. You talk about Michael Floyd, mixed opinion there, should he be up in the top ten? At the end of the day, opinions are still going to be all over the place, and I think tiering it is a dangerous way to go.”
The reality is that teams all view players in different ways because they are projecting how those players fit not only into the scheme from a talent standpoint but also into the locker room from a personality standpoint.
With so many moving parts, it’s difficult to ascertain exactly which way a team might be leaning.
Considering all of that, let’s take a closer look at the Rams’ potential options for the No. 6 pick when Thursday night rolls around. By now, many of the Rams’ needs are clear but what isn’t known is how things will fall in front of them.
In so many ways, what the Rams do at No. 6 will be the direct result of what happens in the three picks directly before them.
For the purpose of all of these scenarios, let’s operate under the assumption that Luck goes to Indianapolis first overall and Washington follows by selecting Griffin.
Scenario No. 1 – The Receiver
It’s well known that the Rams have a serious need for a wide receiver. Blackmon is the guy that sits at the top of the class and the guy that many pundits have pegged as the Rams’ selection.
The question then becomes whether Blackmon will actually be available when the Rams pick. The intrigue in the draft starts at No. 3 with Minnesota.
Many assume the Vikings will take Kalil. If that happens, then Cleveland would be staring at a choice between Richardson and Blackmon with Claiborne as a darkhorse. A good case can be made for the Browns to take Richardson or Blackmon but it is believed that Richardson would be the selection.
Tampa Bay has little to no need for a receiver and would follow suit by taking Claiborne, leaving Blackmon for the Rams.
Essentially, there are two hot points here if you are hoping the Rams land Blackmon. First, Minnesota doesn’t take him at No. 3 and then the Browns don’t take him at No. 4.
The Rams have had Blackmon in for a pre-draft visit and conducted another private workout with him last weekend. The interest is obvious. If he lasts to No. 6, he could very well be the choice barring an attractive trade down package.
Scenario No. 2 – The Corner
The Rams’ need at corner isn’t as great as receiver but pairing Claiborne with
If the Vikings pass on Claiborne, it’s unlikely he’d go No. 4 to the Browns and would be available for the Bucs at No. 5. But, let’s say the Browns grab Blackmon instead of Richardson, which leaves Richardson for Tampa Bay. The Bucs would have a tough choice between the two but there’s a strong belief Tampa prefers Richardson.
That leaves Claiborne available to the Rams at No. 6. Claiborne is a smooth cover corner who has some questions about his toughness and ability to help in run support. The Rams would probably have plenty of interest in Claiborne but it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that they’d seek a trade partner before pulling the trigger on selecting him.
Scenario No. 3 – The Back
There’s little doubt that Richardson would be an ideal long term replacement for
The real doubt comes in that Richardson will ever see the light of day at the Rams’ pick. Cleveland and Tampa Bay are said to be enamored with Richardson and he’s almost certain to be gone.
There are a couple of possibilities that could bump him down the list, though. In the first one, Cleveland takes Blackmon and Tampa Bay decides its need at corner and Claiborne is bigger than its need at running back where it has LeGarrette Blount.
It isn’t likely but if Richardson were to somehow slip to No. 6, the Rams would have great interest and likely make the call.
Scenario No. 4 – The Tackle
Here’s the scenario that is most difficult to read. Unlike Richardson and Claiborne, both of whom have at least two of the teams in the three through five spots interested in them, Kalil seems to only have Minnesota interested.
With Joe Thomas set in Cleveland and Donald Penn in Tampa, it’s highly unlikely either would draft Kalil should Minnesota opt for Claiborne. Cleveland could still nab Richardson in that scenario but Tampa Bay would be in a weird spot if both Richardson and Claiborne are gone when they come on the clock.
The Bucs don’t have much need for another receiver and could throw a curveball by taking Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly but would probably look to trade to a team that wants to move up for Blackmon or Kalil.
Still, this would bring into play the possibility that Kalil could be there for the Rams. The Rams like the potential of current left tackle
The Rams did visit with Kalil before the draft and could snatch him but it’d more likely in this scenario that they look to find a trade partner in need of a tackle, someone like Buffalo.
Scenario No. 5 – The Surprise
Of course, as Kiper points out, not all teams view all players in the same way. It’s entirely possible that these six players won’t just fit seamlessly into these six spots.
Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill could be a surprise choice by Cleveland or perhaps a team trading up to grab him in the top six. Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, Kuechly, Notre Dame receiver Michael Floyd and even South Carolina corner Stephon Gilmore have drawn speculation as possible surprise picks in the top six.
It’s unlikely the Rams would be the team to draft any of those players though they could all be in consideration if the Rams were able to get a trade down scenario.
It stands to reason that the Rams prefer the two skill position players – Richardson and Blackmon – to Claiborne and Kalil. For those looking for a curveball and a surprise pick from the Rams, it could come if somehow both Richardson and Blackmon are gone in the top five.
Scenario No. 6 – The Trade Down
The key to any trade down possibility is rooted in the idea that there’s a player worth trading up to get. As it stands, it doesn’t seem that there is a player that anyone is desperate to move up for.
The Rams could very well be hoping to move down and acquire yet another second round pick or more but much of that will depend on who falls to them in the sixth spot. A team like Buffalo could have interest in Kalil or Claiborne or maybe someone like Kansas City could want to move up for Tannehill. An even longer shot could involve Philadelphia wanting to move up for Cox.
No matter how you slice it, a second trade down option for the Rams would put them in even better shape to fill their needs and would be a strong consideration under the right circumstance.
It’s almost impossible to predict what is going to happen in the NFL Draft but it’s important to know that everything that happens is a cause and effect and one tiny ripple can change the course of the entire thing.