Rams stick to basics
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Tuesday, Apr. 29 2008
It's not as if the Rams threw away the stopwatch and the tape measure. But
their first draft under executive vice president Billy Devaney emphasized
production above the so-called measurables.
There were no quarterbacks brought in to play wide receiver (See: Eric Crouch).
There were no workout wonders who caught the coach's eye (See: Travis Scott).
And no prospects who looked the part but barely played in college (See: Jacoby
So as much as the Rams stressed character in the 2008 draft, they also wanted
guys who could block, tackle and catch the football. Call it the non-projection
"We didn't just take a guy that was a great guy to go out and get a beer with
or something but is not worth a darn as a football player," Devaney said. "We
want football players."
The Rams stuck to this plan even in the seventh round with linebackers Chris
Chamberlain of Tulsa and David Vobora of Idaho. They combined for 313 tackles
last season, both ranking among the top 10 in college football in tackles.
At wide receiver, Houston's Donnie Avery and Kentucky's Keenan Burton combined
for 392 catches over their college careers.
On the offensive line, Toledo tackle John Greco and Oregon State guard Roy
Schuening combined for 99 consecutive college starts. Both could wind up as NFL
starters, with Greco likely to be eventually switched to guard.
Cornerback Justin King, a converted wide receiver, started all 26 games at Penn
State over his final two college seasons. First-round defensive end Chris Long
started 37 consecutive games over his final three seasons at Virginia.
On paper, the Rams had what looks like a very good second day, beginning with
the selection of Greco in the third round right up to Mr. Irrelevant. Vobora
not only was very productive in college but tested among the top linebackers at
the NFL Scouting Combine.
But ultimately, this draft will be judged by what happened on Day 1. The Rams
passed on the highest-rated player on their draft board — LSU defensive tackle
Glenn Dorsey — in favor of Long at No. 2 overall. In the second round, with the
pick of the litter at wide receiver, the Rams surprised analysts by choosing
Houston's Avery over several more recognizable names.
At face value, taking Long over Dorsey was a head scratcher. Conventional
wisdom is that the higher the pick in the opening round, the more a team should
guard against straying from its board. Like all NFL teams, the Rams spend
hundreds of thousands to dollars to watch prospects during the college season,
in college all-star games, at the NFL Scouting Combine, at campus pro days, etc.
At the end of that entire exhaustive process, Dorsey was deemed the best player
available by the Rams. That was the case even after some late tweaking of the
draft board, which according to team sources closed the gap considerably
between Dorsey and Long.
But at the end of the day, the Rams' hierarchy felt a pass rusher was more
valuable for their team than a defensive tackle. In the NFL, game after game
comes down to the passing game in the fourth quarter. And the surest way for
defenses to stop that is with a pass rush, something sorely lacking in St.
Louis last season.
But to say that Long is a natural pass rusher would be an optimistic
assessment. In Long's first three seasons with the Cavaliers, including 24
starts, he had a combined seven sacks. He got near the quarterback a lot, with
26 pressures in '05 and 21 in '06, but didn't bring him down very often.
Then Long became a better finisher in '07, with 14 sacks to go along with 23
"Junior year, sophomore year, he was always close — he just wasn't getting it,"
coach Scott Linehan said. "And what happened this (past) year was he just
figured out how to cut off about a half second (getting) to that quarterback."
Time will tell if the Rams have passed on the next Warren Sapp (Dorsey) in
favor of a more athletic Grant Wistrom (Long). Not that there was anything
wrong with Wistrom, who was a very good player. Or Long, who projects to be a
very good player. But Sapp is a future Hall of Famer.
By passing on Dorsey, the Rams are putting a lot of pressure on defensive
tackles Adam Carriker and Clifton Ryan to stop the run. After showing
improvement early last season, the Rams' run defense sagged once again down the
stretch, finishing 20th against the run.
As for Avery, many observers felt he went a round early. But the Rams didn't
think so. In fact, they were told through league contacts that eight to 10
teams had Avery rated as the No. 1 prospect at his position in a flawed wide
receiver corps. Because of injury and off-field concerns, the Rams had lower
grades on several more well-known receivers.
Re: Rams stick to basics
Has a Rams official come out and officially said that Dorsey was atop of the Rams board?