Rams Finalizing Draft Plans
By Nick Wagoner
The 2009 NFL Draft will have a different look and feel to it for those in the Rams’ war room on draft day.
General manager Billy Devaney and head coach Steve Spagnuolo addressed the media on Monday afternoon and in doing so, they set the tone for the team’s new approach to the draft.
Spagnuolo and Devaney answered questions about this weekend’s draft with the scouting department – both professional and collegiate - near the back of the Russell Training Center Auditorium. That was by design as Devaney pointed out that the decisions made on players in this year’s draft will be more of a democracy than it has been in the past.
“What we’ve done is we’ve put greater emphasis on their input and their evaluations and it’s worked out tremendous for us, just as we had hoped,” Devaney said. “Between the cooperation, the coaching staff, the college scouts and the pro scouts, they’ve done a great job putting us in a position where, right now, we’re pretty close to ready to go.
The draft officially kicks off on Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m. central from Radio City Music Hall in New York City. But with less than a week until Roger Goodell first strolls to the podium to announce the top draft choice, the Rams are already closing in on completing their draft preparation.
The Rams have stacked the board and been locked up in meeting rooms for the better part of the past couple of months. Position by position, Devaney, the scouts and the individual coaches have gone through the available prospects and begun slotting them on the board.
“We’re all going to make the call,” Devaney said. “We’ve just gone through that process for the most part where we’ve got guys lined up and slotted. There may be a point when you get down into the third round, things are kind of falling apart at that point and probably three or four picks before your turn comes up, you’ll have a group of names pulled out on the side. There may be four or five guys pulled out and we’ll talk about it one more time. We’ll say okay we haven’t taken a receiver at this point. This is the last chance to get the receiver, the next receiver we have now is not until the fifth or sixth round. We’ll talk it through, get everybody’s opinions. Steve and I will talk it through and then we’ll make a Ram pick.”
The Rams completed their pre-draft visits last week with 23 potential NFL draft picks coming to town for a quick two-day stay. Those players are not allowed to work out but the visits allow for the Rams to get to know the players away from the more defined setup of the NFL Scouting Combine or the Senior Bowl.
It’s a chance for position coaches to put the prospects to the test and see how they react when their handlers don’t have a chance to coach them up on the many angles that teams generally take.
By now, the Rams’ top needs – offensive tackle, wide receiver, linebacker, defensive tackle – have been discussed ad nausea. Players like Virginia offensive tackle Eugene Monroe, Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith, Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry, USC quarterback Mark Sanchez and Missouri wide receiver Jeremy Maclin were all in on those pre-draft visits and are all being speculated on as possible Rams along with plenty of other players.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the Rams have settled on their pick or even if they will use the second overall pick in the draft. In fact, the only sure thing about what will happen in terms of the Rams on Saturday and Sunday is that anything can happen with one possible exception.
“We spent a lot of time over the weekend going over a lot of scenarios, Steve and I, into yesterday afternoon, just running through things, trading down, how far down you go, what players might be available,” Devaney said. “I think it’s pretty safe to say - we’re going to go out on a limb - this will be a real bombshell, we’re probably not going to trade up. Anything short of that, we’re open to. We’re going to be aggressive if it calls to be aggressive. If it turns out we just stand pat and use all our picks and don’t maneuver up or down, we’re going to do what’s best for the Rams. We’re open to every possibility.”
Part of the Rams’ process of piecing together the draft board and shifting to a more democratic way of discussing and evaluating talent is getting to know the type of players that will fit for the vision Spagnuolo has for his team on both sides of the ball.
For instance, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has talked repeatedly about being a team capable of powering up to run the ball and protecting quarterback Marc Bulger. That means that scouts that might have been looking for a certain type of offensive linemen might have had to adjust and find a different type to fit in.
Spagnuolo and Devaney said that transition has gone well, though.
“That’s a good point and we went through that as a staff as coaches real early because it is new for everybody,” Spagnuolo said. “What are we looking for in a linebacker? What are we looking for in a defensive end? We had those discussions early on and the scouts were great in going out and looking for those specifics, the things we had to have at the corner position, the things that ideally you’d love to have. You can find holes in every player, but I think that process has gone pretty well. It takes a little bit of time for everybody to really get a feel for what we’re looking for, but as it stands here today, I think everybody has a pretty good feel for what we’re looking for.”
Between now and the weekend, there are plenty of things that can happen that could drastically change the way the Rams enter the draft.
The braintrust has already begun determining possible scenarios and how they would react if they presented themselves.
Part of those decisions includes just how far they’d be willing to trade back if some team looked to make a move. Devaney said although it doesn’t seem anybody is coveting the Rams’ top pick right now, it seems as though that might be changing.
“There’s a couple of loose ends that we have to tie up in the next day or two, but for the most part, we’ve done a great job of gathering accurate information, detailed information, background checks,” Devaney said. “Probably all that’s left to do maybe by Friday night is to do a little bit of praying. But other than that, we’ve done our due diligence. We feel like we’ve got a pretty good plan going into this thing.”