Roger Goodell will be taking the podium very soon to start announcing picks.
With the start of the NFL Draft just a couple short hours away, it's Christmas morning for draft geeks such as yours truly. Of course, there has been enough discussion and reports and everything else by now that we have a decent enough idea of who the St. Louis Rams would like to draft. Whether or not they'll be able to get the guys they want is anyone's guess, but that's the beauty of the draft.
If Julio Jones, the big wide receiver out of Alabama, is available when the Rams go on the clock at fourteen, I can't imagine they would pass on him. He's almost the perfect confluence of team need and player value. Unfortunately, there doesn't look to be a real good chance Jones gets anywhere near the Rams' pick.
So where do the Rams go if Jones isn't there? Well, it's tough to say. They could go any number of directions, but some are more likely than other.
Here are the five positions I most hope to see the Rams address in this draft, and my personal preference on a player or two I would like to see them take a run at.
Notice I didn't say "wide receiver." There's a reason for that, and I'll get to it in a moment. Sam Bradford had an outstanding rookie season, but the Rams need to get him some more targets. Just the development of a couple players, as well as a couple others hopefully staying healthy, should help out the offense a ton, but it would still be nice to see another talented pass catcher brought in.
Julio Jones, WR, Alabama -- I'm not completely sold on Jones being the next big thing the way lots of other Rams fans and media types are, but he's still the second-best receiver in this year's pool, and if he's there when the Rams go on the clock they should take him. Personally, I wouldn't trade up for him, but that's mostly because I feel the Rams still have enough needs that trading away picks would be a mistake.
Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame -- This is why I didn't specify wide receiver here. Rudolph is actually one of my favourite players in the entire draft, a 6'6" tight end with great leaping ability, plus hands, and good speed. The Rams have tight ends, but Rudolph has the skills to potentially become an impact receiver while lining up at either TE or splitting out into the slot or even out wide occasionally. He's excellent at high-pointing the ball and has big play ability. It doesn't seem like a positional fit, necessarily, but I think Rudolph may be the best receiver in this draft not named Julio Jones or A.J. Green. Fourteen might be a little too high to take him, but if the Rams manage to trade down to the latter part of the first round I wouldn't mind at all hearing Rudolph's name called.
Defensive Line -- the Rams' D-line was actually one of their strongest points last year, but I think it's still a need now. James Hall and Fred Robbins are both getting on in years, and an infusion of youth is needed.
Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri -- I really love Aldon Smith. There are questions about his run defense, but he has elite pass-rushing skills and I think he would be perfect lining up across from Chris Long for the next five years. He'll need to add a few pounds in pro ball, but I think Smith could end up a monster. Will likely go somewhere in the #10-20 range overall, putting him potentially in the Rams' wheelhouse.
Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois -- One of the better defensive tackles in the draft, Liuget basically plays tackle the way most players play end. He gets into the backfield more often than tackles usually do, and wreaks havoc on opposing quarterbacks. There are lots of mock drafts which have Liuget going to the Rams, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if he's the pick.
Terrell McClain, DT, South Florida -- The Rams have gone the South Florida route before; both Jerome Murphy and George Selvie were drafted from the same program. McClain is a 3rd- or 4th-round pick, most likely, and would present good value there for the Rams. He's very strong against the run in the middle of the field but lacks elite penetration ability. McClain could come in and shore up the interior of the line almost immediately.
Outside Linebacker -- The Rams had a big problem at OLB in 2010, and it showed. James Laurinaitis has the middle on lockdown, but he needs help to prevent big soft spots in coverage underneath.
Mike Mohamed, LB, California --
A late-round pick, Mohamed is seen by some as an inside linebacker, but I love his coverage skills and think he would be a perfect fit for the Rams at weakside to complement Laurinaitis. He's not great at rushing the passer, which would be mitigated by the fact linebackers don't do a ton of blitzing in Steve Spagnuolo's scheme. Mohamed isn't a flashy name, but I think he could be an ideal fit for the Rams' system and an outstanding value late in the draft. I wrote about him a while back
, during the Combine, and I like him even more now after researching him as much as possible.
Greg Jones, LB, Michigan State -- Jones is also being touted by some as a potential middle linebacker, but I just don't think he has the size. What he does have is a great motor, excellent tackling skills, and tremendous range on the field. I don't honestly see Jones as much of a fit for the Rams, only because of where he'll likely be picked. Still, I think he would be a definite asset if they landed him.
Ross Homan, LB, Ohio State -- Homan is a former teammate of Laurinaitis at Ohio State, and is actually a fairly similar player. He's strong, tough at the point of contact, an excellent tackler, very disciplined, and has a very high motor. Outstanding production numbers, and could very well carry that to the next level. He could be a true run-stuffer at the SAM position.
Interior Offensive Line -- We all saw the Rams' O-line get blown up in the middle for most of 2010. It was ugly, to say the least. They desperately need to shore up the middle of the line, as well as hopefully bring in a player who can play center at least part-time. If they could find a hybrid guard/center it might help find some playing time for John Greco as well, who was very productive in 2009 but didn't see the field much last season.
Tim Barnes, C, Missouri -- I wrote about Barnes a while back
, when he was getting some ink at the NFLPA Game. I liked him then, and I like him now. I think Jason Brown will be leaving town when his deal is up, and Barnes wouldn't be a bad guy to have waiting in the wings, in my ever so humble opinion. He can play guard as well while waiting for the center spot to open up. Probably a 5th-6th round pick.
David Arkin, G, Missouri State -- Arkin is one of those small-school prospects that occasionally slips under the radar. Despite that, he has the size and skills to potentially be a real player at the next level. He's big (6'5", 300, though he has room to add some weight and will probably need to in the pros), strong, and surprisingly fluid in space. It's always a risk taking a small-school guy, just because the level of competition makes scouting difficult, but I'm a believer in Arkin. He'll be a later round pick, and could end up a steal for someone.
Rodney Hudson, G/C, Florida State -- Hudson has actually been knocked for being a little too small in the past, as he has struggled to get his weight above ~285. He packed on some pounds before the Combine, weighing in at 299, and has kept it on in the time since. Regardless of the weight, Hudson just plays bigger than he is. He has outstanding footwork and a real mean streak in his game. He's likely a second round pick, which might be a little early for the Rams to look at guards, but I think he's worth a spot that high.
Safety -- Safety was already a need before, and the loss of Oshiomogho Atogwe just makes it even more vital. The Rams really need to come away with at least one player for the secondary in this draft, hopefully one who can play free safety at a high level.
Robert Sands, FS, West Virginia -- Sands is a monster for his position (6'4", 215), and is known especially for being a big hitter. I think he would be a great fit for Spagnuolo's defense, as Spags prefers to use his safeties interchangeably, rather than dedicating each one to a different aspect of the defense. Sands is outstanding in run support, one of the major knocks on Atogwe, and has the height to go up and get the ball in coverage. He's probably tabbed for the 3rd or 4th round, and I would be just fine seeing the Rams take him there.
Eric Hagg, FS, Nebraska -- Hagg has enough physical tools to get the job done, but more importantly is what he has upstairs. He's a smart, instinctive football player who I think would thrive in a system that emphasizes disciplined play and gap responsibilities. (Such as the one the Rams run.) He's not a center field ballhawk type, but seems to always be around the play. Hagg made a good impression at the Combine and his Pro Day both, but he's still likely no better than a 6th round pick, and just might be one of those guys available as a free agent after the draft. If he goes undrafted, he'll be a huge bargain for some team, and should be a good value wherever he's picked.
That's my list, folks. A running back to complement Steven Jackson is obviously still a need, but I wouldn't put it up quite as high as these others. If the Rams can address most or all of these spots I'll be ecstatic.
And, in the spirit of the draft, I'm going to go out on a limb and make my prediction for the Rams' first-round pick. In fact, I'll make two predictions. One, the Rams will trade down at least four spots in the first. Two, they'll pick Corey Liuget when they do make their pick.
Enjoy the draft, everyone. It's one of the most exciting days on the sporting calendar.