Burwell: By trading first pick, Rams can fill holes

BY BRYAN BURWELL, Post-Dispatch Sports COlumnist
Friday, April 27, 2012

Thursday night was the St. Louis football public’s first extended glimpse at Les Snead, and the new Rams general manager made some kind of fascinating initial flash in the spotlight.

With an unhappy (and maybe slightly irrational) fan base grumbling about two missed opportunities to snatch a game-breaking wide receiver in the first round, Snead eased into the big auditorium at Rams Park sporting a rather confident grin and bearing an even bolder message.

Calm down, I got this.

It takes a lot of guts for a neophyte GM to stroll into a room full of whirling minicams and inquiring (did someone say “skeptical”?) minds and tell them not to worry, when worrying is what every Rams fan does better than anything else. It takes even more guts to trade out of the Top 10 in the first round, leaving Day One without solving the most glaring need on your roster, and expect everyone to understand that things are somehow going exactly as planned.

But that’s exactly what Snead did Thursday night. And you know what? I liked his approach.

“It is a seven-round draft,” Snead said. “We do have a plan for (getting a big-play) wide receiver and multiple other positions too. We were comfortable in what happened, I can tell you that.”

He better be more than comfortable. He better be right.

I don’t have a problem with what Snead and head coach Jeff Fisher did Thursday, trading out of the No. 6 slot the moment the receiver they truly coveted (Justin Blackmon) had gone off the board one pick earlier. So they traded the sixth pick, getting Dallas to give up its first- (No. 14 overall) and second-rounders (No. 45 overall). And by dropping to No. 14, Snead and Fisher missed out on Notre Dame receiver Michael Floyd, too (Arizona got him at No. 13).

So instead of getting a receiver, the Rams got something just as good for the long-suffering franchise with talent deficits up and down its roster.

They got the opportunity to get quantity.

Quantity over quality isn’t something that sells easy to a disgruntled and impatient fan base in the short term. But by this fall, if Fisher shows us four or five instant starters who look like long-term fixtures (and maybe one or two future Pro Bowl-quality talents to boot), then that’s something that will change a lot of opinions about how Thursday night actually played out.

The theme of the evening was wheeling and dealing. Within the first hour of the first round, eight picks among the first 15 selections traded hands. The Rams had started the trade frenzy last month, trading the No. 2 overall pick for a boatload of picks from Washington, then Thursday traded again with Dallas. What Snead has done with his wheeling and dealing is set things up for the Rams to get four or five potential starters through two nights of the draft. Tonight, they will have the 33rd, 39th, 45th and 65th picks in the second and third rounds.

While the first-round selection of LSU tackle Michael Brockers isn’t nearly as exciting as getting a big-play receiver such as Blackmon or Floyd, it does fill a major pressing need for the defense, which allowed nearly five yards per rushing attempt last season. The sales point of Day One of the draft has to be that quantity has great value, too. Let’s not forget how bad this football team was last season and how many holes Snead and Fisher need to fill.

Will they get some game-breaking wide receivers tonight?

They better.

“To be honest with you, with our three second-round picks, our third-round pick and even our fourth-round pick, we’d like to get players who are going to come in and help this football team next year,” Snead said.

Fisher said: “We feel very good about this. We have different needs than other clubs. We got another (second-round) pick. We’re going to get a top-notch player at (No.) 45, and we get a guy (in Brockers) who is going to be a dominant impact player for our defense.”

It’s well documented how poorly the Rams have done in the past on draft day. Forbes.com ranked the organization as the second-worst in draft proficiency between 2005 and 2009, and if you look back over the last decade, it’s just as bad if not worse. But there is no reason to hold Snead and Fisher accountable for those messes. There’s also no reason to believe that they can’t produce a bounty of immediate hole-plugging talent in this draft.

But they better not miss.

The damage from the previous regimes might not be their fault, but it has cut the new regime’s margin for error to a sliver-thin shred.