By Jim Thomas
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
An in-depth look at the Rams' needs heading into the 2005 draft:
1. Right tackle. The lack of consistent pass blocking at right tackle held the Rams' offense back in 2004. A banged-up Grant Williams gave up 11 1⁄2 sacks in 11 games. Williams' replacement, Blaine Saipaia, was adequate at best and probably is better suited to play guard. After missing all of last season with a back injury, Kyle Turley is expected to be a cap casualty in June. The Rams need help at this position, and Oklahoma's Jammal Brown is a first-round possibility. Florida State's Ray Willis could be a mid-round pickup.
2. Safety. Poor safety play killed the team in coverage and run support last season. Adam Archuleta has a back injury that led to a noticeable decline in play in '04 and could affect him in '05. The move of Tinoisamoa means Archuleta will switch from strong to free safety, where it's debatable whether he can effectively handle the extra coverage responsibilities. Aeneas Williams, whose contract is up, is expected to retire. The Rams would like to re-sign free agent Antuan Edwards, who replaced Williams. Given a lackluster free-agent class of safeties, the Rams might need to draft one or two. Michigan's Ernest Shazor is the best prospect at strong safety and Georgia's Thomas Davis is the best prospect at free safety.
3. Defensive end. Bryce Fisher's late-season surge might have priced him out of the Rams' reach as a free agent. Leonard Little's status for '05 is unclear because he faces a possible league suspension and even jail time for drunken driving. Anthony Hargrove progressed nicely as a rookie last season but might be another year away from really being a factor. Even if Little returns, the Rams need another pass-rush threat to take attention away from him. Georgia's David Pollack makes a lot of sense, but there's no guarantee he'll last until the 19th overall pick.
4. Guard. Chris Dishman and Tom Nutten had to be coaxed out of retirement to fill a void at left guard last season, but they might not return. The Rams have two young interior line prospects in Scott Tercero and Larry Turner, but Tercero might be used at tackle. Right guard Adam Timmerman remains effective but isn't getting any younger and ended '04 with numerous injuries. This probably isn't a first-round need -- or perhaps even a first-day need -- but the Rams need more young guard talent.
5. Linebacker. This was one of the team's most disappointing units in '04. Other than Pisa Tinoisamoa, the linebackers lacked toughness and aggressiveness and got pushed around. With Tinoisamoa being moved to strong safety and Tommy Polley unlikely to be re-signed, the Rams could be looking for two new starters -- although Brandon Chillar could move into Polley's strongside spot. Robert Thomas likely will move from the middle to the weak side. This becomes a much lesser need, other than for depth, with the early free-agent signings of Dexter Coakley and Chris Claiborne.
6. Running back. Steven Jackson is the future at the position, though he was slowed by knee problems as a rookie. Marshall Faulk remains useful, but he's no longer a difference-maker and has only a year or two left. With Jackson as the feature back, a smaller change-of-pace back with top-end speed and receiving skills would be a nice addition to the mix. Kansas State's Darren Sproles could be a mid-round pick, or Northwestern State's Derrick Johnese could be a good fit in the late rounds.
7. Defensive tackle. If the Rams don't pick up a free-agent run stuffer, they might look for help on Day 2. Ryan Pickett had one of his best seasons in '04, and Jimmy Kennedy was a pleasant surprise in the second half of the season. But there are concerns that Kennedy's foot problem could become chronic. It's clear Damione Lewis isn't going to be the impact player the Rams were looking for when they drafted him No. 12 overall in '01.
8. Cornerback. Travis Fisher and Jerametrius Butler are firmly entrenched as the starters. DeJuan Groce is the top candidate for the No. 3 corner and nickel back spot but has had trouble staying healthy. Kevin Garrett has been a disappointment in his first two seasons. Getting another young set of legs, perhaps a developmental prospect on Day 2, makes sense.
The team must make its four Day 1 picks (one first, one second and two thirds) count by picking players who can contribute right away. General manager Charley Armey has been running the Rams' drafts since 1998, and only once has he taken an offensive lineman on the first day. That could change this year. The offense could take off in '05 if Marc Bulger can remain upright.
Pending free-agent moves, it's difficult to imagine the team coming out of Day 1 without a linebacker, offensive tackle and safety. But depending on what happens with Fisher and Little in the offseason, defensive end could leap up the priority list.