Bernie Bytes: Why Quinn makes sense

BY BERNIE MIKLASZ, Post-Dispatch Sports Columnist
Friday, April 29, 2011

I'll present five reasons why I ultimately like the Rams' pick of DE Robert Quinn with the 14th overall selection.

But before we start, I want to issue the usual disclaimer/warnings. Because I can't stand it when people analyze a draft pick and make it an all/nothing proposition, stressing only the bad or only the good. That's bogus. Anyway...

First, Quinn didn't play football last season at North Carolina because he took goodies from an agent and broke the rules and was punished for it. The Rams say they've done their work on Quinn, done their background checks, and that he's a good kid who made a mistake. We'll see. If a college player is going to take a payoff, then will he be tempted in the future to take other shortcuts, or to bend or snap the rules for his own benefit? Sorry, but you just can't assume he's an angel. I do, however, trust head coach Steve Spagnuolo to make these character judgments. Spags has a good internal radar for these things.

I don't like it that Quinn missed all of last season. How many times have we seen college players have tremendous seasons, only to go in reverse in the follow-up year, once opponents have studied the video and plotted a smarter plan of attack against him? There's not a lot to go on here with Quinn. His college career consisted of 25 games. That's all. He's just under 21 years old. He has upside, yes. Plenty of it. But when someone is in the formative stages, it can go either way.

And then there's the benign brain tumor. Medically, he was cleared by the Rams, cleared by a bunch of teams. I don't know what to say about that other than we hope and pray that the young man never has to worry about this being a serious issue. But being human beings and all, our tendency is to worry about these things.

OK, now that I've stated some of my reservations here are the five reasons why -- with all things considered -- I like this pick:

1. Quinn should be a weapon in the Spagnuolo system. Spags is a master at concocting a pass rush. He's among the best in the NFL in coming up with ways to hassle the QB. Spags needs to have a good supply of rushers. It's the life blood to his system. The more pass rushers he has, the more imposing his system will be. And Quinn -- according to every pre-draft report I've read -- is a potentially spectacular edge rusher. I haven't seen one credible draft expert 'diss Quinn's pass-rush skills. They have other concerns -- can he handle the point of attack on runs? -- but no one disputes his ability to get after the QB. Spags can have a lot of fun messing with offensive coordinators as he moves Quinn around, aiming him at the pocket. And you cannot assess this pick without putting it into the context of how Quinn will be utilized by Spagnuolo and defensive coordinator Ken Flajole. It isn't just that Quinn is a pass rusher; he is a pass rusher that is joining a team with a HC who maximizes the ability of a pass rusher.

2. James Hall is 34 years old. Hall, the Rams' defensive right end, had 10.5 sacks last season and played at a high level. He's also a good team leader. But how much longer can Hall play effectively? And is it possible to extend his career by playing fewer snaps, as the Rams break in the young Quinn? Any depth for this defensive line is a plus. Both are right ends. Both can chase the QB. Spags will find ways to get them on the field at the same time; Hall has done a good job as an inside rusher on passing downs. And with veterans such as Hall and DT Fred Robbins, Quinn has some quality mentors to help him reach his potential. A good situation.

3. The Rams had a hard time putting teams away last season: One fan tweeted me last night and was unhappy with the pick, saying that the Rams needed to do something with their offense, because their offense was the problem in 2010. I agree that the offense needs to be sparked up with the addition of playmakers. The Rams can still do that. But people tend to forget how the Rams defense frequently struggled late in games because it couldn't come up with a knockout punch. So I would argue that they need finishers on defense as much nearly as much as they do on offense. The Rams were outscored 106-65 last season in the 4th quarter. The passer rating against them in the 4th quarter was 86.2; only six teams had a higher QB rating against them in the 4th. The Rams led Oakland and Tampa Bay at the half and lost. The Rams led Arizona (first meeting), Tampa Bay and San Francisco (second meeting) in the fourth quarter and lost. The Tampa Bay and San Francisco defeats were stunning collapses. Again, this comes back to the central point: Spags needs horses that can run down the quarterback. And now he has another one. And perhaps the Rams' defense will be better equipped to avoid running out of energy late in games.

4. This is a related observation, but Quinn's pass-rush skills will enhance the rest of the defense. In his first season as the HC in St. Louis, the Spags' defense had only 25 sacks, which ranked 30th in the NFL. In 2010, players were more familiar with his schemes and peformed better in it. Spags also brought in Robbins to play DT and generate an inside push. He also got some pass-rush flash from 7th round draft choice George Selvie. And left defensive end Chris Long suddenly became a force, with 9 sacks and a top-ten league finish with 46 combined knockdown-hurries. And in 2010, the Rams finished 7th in the NFL with 43 sacks. And that heat keyed a dramatic improvement in several categories. The Rams were ranked second in the NFL in stopping opponents on third down. The QB rating against them on third down -- 62.3 -- was the second-lowest rate in the league. The Rams gave up 21 touchdown passes, the seventh-lowest total. The overall passer rating against them -- 80.4 percent -- was ninth-lowest in the league. Opponents completed only 45 percent of their passing attempts against Rams CB Ron Bartell, and only 49 percent against the other starting CB, Bradley Fletcher. Spags' 2007 NY Giants' defense won the Super Bowl by disrupting New England quarterback Tom Brady. That Giants' pass rush made the entire unit play at a higher level. That NYG defense had 12 different players produce 53 sacks. The strength is in numbers. Quinn is another missile for Spags, who needs to have as many of 'em as possible.

5. Quinn figures to be hungry and highly motivated. Again, I don't know why he broke the NCAA rules at North Carolina. I don't know the kid. The Rams are assuring us that he's a good person that comes from a good family. And that he made a terrible mistake that made him feel ashamed. Quinn has said, many times, that he's upset by how he let his teammates down, himself down. Quinn did not play football in 2010. He knows that people are questioning him, wondering about him. He's got to be fired up to prove himself on the field and off the field. When good people screw up, they use the adversity in a way that makes them better. Quinn looks like he can be that kind of man. And if so, the Rams will benefit from his hunger for redemption.

Moving on ...

Round One Quick Hits:

* I think Rams fans would have been really happy if the team had selected Lance Berkman with the 14th overall pick.

* I hope my old horseracing buddy, Panthers GM Marty Hurney, just didn't fire himself by drafting Cam Newton. I don't have a good feeling about this.

* How about the ***** having Aldon Smith and Justin Smith, the two-highest drafted defensive players in Mizzou history, playing on the same defensive line? Some ***** fans wanted Quinn instead of Aldon Smith. This will be fun; we can compare them in the future.

* The Atlanta Falcons gave up way too much to move up to No. 6 to draft Julio Jones. Didn't the Falcons get torched for 48 points and 442 yards by Green Bay in the playoffs?

* Washington QB Jake Locker played two games against Nebraska last season and completed 9 of 36 passes. And the Titans drafted him 8th overall. Not that NFL teams were freaking out and reaching wildly for quarterbacks, or anything like that.

* My goodness...Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley lined up together at DT for the Detroit Lions? That's a horror movie for an NFL quarterback. The Lions are going to be very good, very soon.

* Twelve defensive linemen taken in the first round. It's not only a Quarterback League. It's a Stop the Quarterback League.

* This was also the stop Sam Bradford round in the NFC West. Arizona goes with a corner, Patrick Peterson. San Francisco goes with the pass rusher, Aldon Smith. These are anti-Sam devices.

* Seattle drafted an offensive lineman, James Carpenter. Some are knocking the pick. Not me. The Seahawks have to rebuild their O-line. Russel Okung last year; Carpenter this time. It's smart.

* The NYG got tremendous value in Nebraska CB Prince Amukamara on the 19th pick. Might have been my favorite choice in the first round.

* Alabama RB Mark Ingram is going to be seeking -- and gaining -- vengeance for a long time in this league after going 28th overall. What a great addition Ingram will be for the New Orleans offense.

* St. Louisan Adrian Clayborn ended up in a great spot, Tampa Bay with the 20th pick. The Bucs are on the verge of being something special. Last season their defensive line was torn apart by injuries; 11 different players had 100 snaps on the Tampa Bay D-line. And too many D-linemen played at a subpar level. So Clayborn not only figures to contribute immediately, but he should be an important part of a winning team for many years.

Thanks for reading ...

-Bernie