Julio Jones isn’t the only former Crimson Tide player in contention to be selected by the St. Louis Rams at 14. Many local and national media types have at least broached the subject of the Rams interest in the Alabama running back, including Post-Dispatch beat reporter Jim Thomas, Examiner.com columnist Tim Klutsarits, and ESPN Draft pundit Mel Kiper Jr.
There are arguably other, better candidates to be selected at 14 that Rams fans would prefer over Ingram, however for several reasons, Ingram to the Rams makes sense as well. Here I’ll provide ammunition for both sides, starting with making the case for why he should be the pick.
For: He’s the highest rated RB
The need for a backup/second running back is something that is well known among Rams fans, and well documented among the media. Mark Ingram is currently rated number 21 out of Scout’s Inc. Top 32 prospects. He is the highest rated RB and the only one in the draft that carries a first round grade. Ingram is efficient in all of the tools of the trade it takes to be a successful RB in the NFL. He has all of the numbers (572 attempts, 3,261 yards, 42 TD’s) and is a former Heisman Award winner. Aside from the on-field performance, he fits the famed “four pillars” model that Coach Spags and Billy Devaney have instituted.
For: He fits the scheme
One of Ingram’s strong suits is his vision running between the tackles. Although he doesn’t have straight-line, home run speed, Ingram is very shifty and excels at working inside. This fits with the zone-blocking scheme the Rams run. The zone-blocking scheme allows the running back room for cut-back runs, and space to maneuver inside. Also, Ingram’s inside vision would help him to be successful despite the Rams’ well-documented interior run-blocking woes.
Ingram also wouldn’t simply be a third-down back. If selected, especially in the 14 slot, Ingram would not only represent a solid backup edition, but he would be the future of the Rams backfield. Ingram is the kind of back that can carry the load on early downs. What this would allow for is more Steven Jackson on third down, be it in the backfield or split wide, which we are sure to see in the new Josh McDaniels offense. In essence, Jackson would receive some backfield help, while also helping to groom the workhorse to take over the reigns.
For: SJ isn’t getting any younger
Steven Jackson will be 28 when (hopefully) the season starts in September. The average NFL running back starts to break down by age 30 or 31. Last season, SJ already showed some signs of slowing down, notching the lowest YPC of his career at 3.7. This came after a season in which he suffered from a bulging disc in his back. During different points of the 2010-11 season he suffered from groin and hand issues. Steven also runs somewhat upright, and at 241 pounds, presents a large target for defenders to tackle.
The thing is this; whether we bring in someone that is a future replacement for SJ, or simply a backup/change of pace back, we need someone here. General Manager Billy Devaney has not shied away from questions regarding this, stating “I gotta admit, I’ve done a lousy job … We’ve been trying to address this for two years now, not just for Steven’s sake, to extend his career. He can’t keep going at this pace.” Devaney could address this by drafting Ingram.
Now let us address some reasons to the contrary.
Against: SJ isn’t old YET
While Jackson is getting older, he IS only 28, meaning by NFL standards, he has 2-3 solid producing years left in him. Jackson still had a total of 376 carries last season and played in all 16 games. While his YPC was down last season, some would argue that this was due to run-blocking issues on the offensive line. Jason Brown had a down year at center, and Adam Goldberg spent about as much time in the backfield as Jackson. With some better guard play and continued improvement from tackles Jason Smith and Roger Saffold, Jackson could have better production.
Against: There are better options to be had at #14
If you’ve perused different mock drafts, and listened to the Todd McShay/Mel Kiper Jr.’s of the world, you’ve seen players like WR Julio Jones, DE’s Aldon Smith and Robert Quinn, DT Corey Liuget, and possibly Da’Quan Bowers all mocked to the Rams. It could be argued that all of these picks provide much better value at 14 than a running back.
The fact of the matter is, this team has too many needs to be drafting for luxury. Mark Ingram = luxury. With aging veterans on the defensive line, Smith, Quinn, Liuget, and Bowers would all fill needs as well as provide good value at that point in the first round. The wide receiver woes have been well-documented, so if Julio Jones is there at 14 I expect the Rams to take him, and I’m sure they would sprint to the podium.
Against: There are other RB’s in the draft to be had
Just because Ingram is the highest rated back on pre-draft boards does not mean he needs to be the RB taken by the Rams. There are plenty of other running backs expected to be available in later rounds like:
Mikel Leshoure - Illinois
Ryan Williams - Virginia Tech
Taiwan Jones - Eastern Washington
Daniel Thomas - Kansas State
Kendall Hunter - Oklahoma State
DeMarco Murray - Oklahoma
Shane Vereen - California
Jordan Todman - Connecticut
Jacquizz Rodgers - Oregon State
These are the names that round out the top 10 rated running backs according to Walter Football.
Having said all of this, I think the Rams like Mark Ingram, but not enough to make him the selection at 14. It’s always possible that Devaney chooses to trade down to pick up extra picks, but were this to happen, I still doubt it would be to select Ingram. Grabbing a defensive lineman or Julio Jones in the first round would still allow the Rams to pick up a quality running back later in the draft, whether they’re seeking an early down back, or the scat-back type, which is the route I think they will take.