I don’t usually start to get too excited about specific players until the Senior Bowl (January 29th), and the NFL Combine (Feb 23rd), particularly those that project to land somewhere after the first round. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t talk broader draft strategy, areas of need, and start slotting in types of players to fill those needs.
I had a conversation with @nfldraftscout of New Era Scouting last week about a few potential targets … expect this to be just the start of a fun offseason of debate and discussion as the Rams begin reinforcing and building onto their most successful season in years.
Need: an upgrade at RB
Perhaps not the top need on this team, but Steven Jackson’s Pro Bowl berth aside, he is getting dangerously close to the precipice. With 389 “looks,” the 2nd highest total in the game (combined carries (330) and targets (59) in the passing game), Jackson was one of the few backs in the league to receive “bellcow” work. The good news is that his back held up, and that after fighting through a groin injury, appeared to be at full speed late in the season. The bad news is that his yards per play continued a troubling downward trend. And if this trend continues unabated, I have to heartily disagree with the Post-Dispatch Roudtable’s consensus that #39 has “3 more Pro Bowl seasons” left in the tank.
2008: 4.1 yards per carry / 4.9 yards per play
2009: 4.4 yards per carry / 4.6 yards per play
2010: 3.8 yards per carry / 4.3 yards per play
Surprisingly, considering Jackson’s hands and playmaking ability, the well-acknowledged shortage of WR talent wearing horns, and the predilection of most west-coast offenses, the Rams ranked 30 of 32 teams in percentage of passing targets to their RBs. To my mind, this is an easy and obvious area of improvement, both schematically and by adding new talent to the rotation. Keep Jackson fresh, offer a legitimate change of pace, and the productivity of the offense as a whole improves from the inside.
Question for New Era Scouting: I'm hoping the Rams find a young rotational RB with hands, in the LeSean McCoy / Jahvid Best mold. Any candidates?
@RamsHerd Could definitely look at Shane Vereen in round three, but he's not as shifty. Good hands though.
Excerpt from a scouting report on Vereen from Sideline Scouting:
- Above average speed, can get to the corner...Very stout build... Versatile player who can contribute in a number of ways...
- Gets a lot of comparisons to Ray Rice for his size and style of play...
- Good hands out of the backfield... Runs excellent routes, has run plays out of the slot before.
- Still rather small for an NFL back... Decent in pass protection, but is usually running routes on passing downs...
- Likely slated to be a change-of-pace back in the NFL, will not be a workhorse.
As a college recruit, Vereen was rated a 4-star prospect by Rivals, and ranked just above Florida’s Chris Rainey among all-purpose backs. And at Cal Berkeley, he prospered in a program known for producing NFL RB talent, including Marshawn Lynch, Justin Forsett and Jahvid Best, whom the Rams barely missed out on last season.
Vereen’s scouting report casts him as perhaps an ideal counterpart to Jackson -- young and talented and tough enough to earn reps from multiple spots on the field, but not a true “threat” to take over his starting role in the coming year, which is an important factor in team chemistry. Jackson’s leadership and his obvious competitive drive are still a huge part of this team. When he embraced the new GM and the new coaching staff without hesitation, the rest of the team followed suit. While Bradford is the new face and hope of the franchise, Jackson is still its beating heart. The goal here is to supplement him, not to replace him, and not to plant his successor right under his nose as Jackson himself was once planted under Marshall Faulk.