First Round Pick: Adam Carriker is one of the few player's in this year's draft that can excel playing end in a 3-4 and, as such, I was very surprised that San Francisco passed on Carriker in favor of Patrick Willis. I think in the big picture a competent 3-4 end is scarcer and more valuable than an ILB. St. Louis needed/needs all the help they can get on the defensive line and Carriker represented the best player available. He has excellent size, strength and quickness. He's not a pure pass rusher but will get some sacks; he's not a pure run stopper but has elite potential. He's pro ready and represents a huge improvement over any player the Rams may have otherwise started at end. The one knock on this pick is that Carriker is a prototypical end in a 3-4, but not nearly as good a fit in a 4-3. Carriker may never put up the money numbers of a Dwight Freeney, and this pick leaves St. Louis looking for pass rush in other places, but it's a small complaint. Carriker will be able to perform the essential roles of an end in a 4-3 and what he doesn't give in pure pass rush will be more than mitigated by his ability to stifle rush lanes, disrupt designed role-outs, free up the OLB and provide fearsome open field tackling--especially behind the line of scrimmage.
Best Pick(s): Probably Carriker, but the Rams made a number of good value picks, too. Clifton Ryan (whose name sounds backwards to me) is a solid prospect at DT, he's got good size and agility, a mean streak, plus he can rush the passer a little bit. He's expected to play NT for the Rams, a position that can be hard to fill. Dustin Fry at C and Jonathan Wade at CB both have intriguing potential, but both will need some seasoning. That might be a problem for Wade, because the Rams need help at corner right away. Wade is a pretty good value in the third, if only for his potential, and his improvement over his senior season is impressive and encouraging. Fry may get a season to learn the system if 37 y/o Andy McCollum maintains his strong play, but once a player reaches that age their health and performance is tenuous at best. Fry is also a little rough and will likely max out as an inline blocker, but he could be an elite inline blocker and will contribute on rushes up the middle right away. Paired with Richie Incognito and Steven Jackson, the Rams will feature one of the deadliest inside rushing attacks in the NFL for years to come.
Worst Pick: This one's a slam dunk. How can a team with one of the top five every-down running backs in football, a player that excels between the tackles and is a strong receiver, draft Brian Leonard? Leonard wants to be a feature back, not to be used to clear holes for Jackson or to pick up blitzes in the backfield. Leonard is not considered a strong blocker for a fullback and is not needed in short yardage situations, a strength for Jackson. It's not just that Leonard doesn't fit the Rams' needs for a fulltime blocking FB, but that they used a second round pick to acquire him. St. Louis has monster needs at LB and secondary, but drafted one player in the entire draft to fill those positions. Without Orland Pace for much of the season, St. Louis posted the 6th best offense in football last year. What will Leonard do for them? Push them to fifth?
What does this draft tell us about the Rams? That they will, once again, need to sport a top ten offense to be competitive in the division. Last year, the Rams weathered two of the most crippling injuries a team can sustain, LT and QB, and still played respectably. Were it not for either injury, the Rams could have easily captured the division crown from a Hawks team that really faltered down the stretch. Isaac Bruce is 34 and it's unlikely he will be able to sustain his comeback play from last season. He is just one member of a veteran offense that will need long-term replacements, soon. Still, this is a team that needs defense, defense, defense and while the draft has helped to greatly improve their line, especially at run stuffing, it inadequately addressed the pass rush and more or less ignored the linebacking corps and secondary. If Leonard Little gets injured or declines significantly, this pass defense will be one of the worst in the NFL.
Final Grade: Scott Linehan kept his part of the bargain, the Rams, somehow, maintained the dominant offense they had become accustom to under Mike Martz, but defensive coordinator Jim Haslett once again disappointed. He took a 29th ranked defense and turned it into a 29th ranked defense. Chris Draft is a decent free agent addition, but he's already 31 and doesn't satisfy the Rams' need for a long-term solution at LB. I don't think Haslett possesses any magic that will turn a below average collection of talent, much of which is old, into a respectable defense, but the Rams defensive line has greatly improved, and if things break right, it wouldn't be a surprise to see them make a playoff run in `07. A draft allows a team to not only improve for next season, but to make the team younger and more stable for seasons to come. This draft will yield some immediate impact but didn't adequately address positions of need for the future. By 2009, Rams fans better bundle up for a long winter in the plains. B-