Thursday night, Rams coach Jeff Fisher gave defensive line coach Mike Waufle an early Christmas present, gifting him with an exceptional package of size and strength in Michael Brockers. Friday night, Santa was even more generous, doling out gifts for WR coach Ray Sherman, defensive backs coach Chuck Cecil, and RB coach Ben Sirmans.
Each one gets to unwrap an enticing package of skills, but each gift comes with it a challenge as well - assembly is required.
The four players selected by the Rams in the second and third rounds - WR Brian Quick of Appalachian State, CB Janorris Jenkins of Florida (by way of Northern Alabama), RB Isaiah Pead of Cincinnati, and CB Trumaine Johnson of Montana - each represents something of a project for the Rams' coaching staff. But each one has skills to make an immediate impact on the team's fortunes for 2012.
When Fisher assembled his veteran staff of position coaches, it was reasonable to expect that he would bet heavily on them as his new team's greatest asset. So far in the draft, that's exactly what we're seeing. And with a full offseason to work with, expect significant returns from this group, as well as last year's crop of underdeveloped rookies.
Let's break down the picks:
Pick 33: WR Brian Quick, Appalachian State
Firstly, let's get over ourselves. Most of us who developed pre-draft crushes on various receivers (hello, Michael Floyd and Marvin Jones) are a far cry from NFL-level talent evaluators. And wide receiver is the single-most difficult position to evaluate in the NFL Draft. By far.
While you can generally feel pretty safe drafting a player from a power conference (Big Ten linemen, SEC defensive players, USC running backs, etc.), wide receivers simply do not obey those rules. Just look at the points of origin of the top ten WRs to ever play the game. Only two came from so-called "power" programs.
- Jerry Rice - Mississippi Valley State
- Terrell Owens - UT Chattanooga
- Isaac Bruce - Memphis
- Tim Brown - Notre Dame
- Randy Moss - Marshall
- Marvin Harrison - Syracuse
- James Lofton - Stanford
- Cris Carter - Ohio State
- Henry Ellard - Fresno State
- Torry Holt - NC State
Two of those top tens, the twin towers of the Greatest Show era Rams, were on stage to read Brian Quick's name. Talk about having big shoes to fill. But Ray Sherman goes one further, anointing Quick as "the next Terrell Owens," writes Yahoo's Mike Silver from his vantage point inside the Rams' war room.
"I see a lot of similarities to Terrell Owens," Sherman said Thursday evening. "The way the kid goes and gets the ball, the physicality, the desire … he has a chance to be special, no doubt."
For what it's worth, noted NFL Films tape-grinder Greg Cosell loves Quick as well. But this pick doesn't go from projection to reality without Sherman's steady hand. Time for him to make his lofty words come true.
One way we should be able to immediately judge Quick's progress - the number of targets Sam Bradford feeds him. Sam is a talent bellwether - he consistently overtargets whoever he thinks is the most talented player on the roster. First, it was Mark Clayton. Then, it was Danny Amendola. And last year, Brandon Lloyd earned buckets of balls while the supporting cast languished. If Quick earns early targets, it should only quicken (see what I did there) his development.
Pick 39: CB Janoris Jenkins, North Alabama
We can bury the four pillars with this pick, but we apparently can't bury discussion of the four pillars. It is the de rigueur line of commentary on this pick - talented, but dangerous. If everything goes right with this draft, the Rams will have added both talent and danger up and down the board. In that sense, this may be forever remembered as "the Janoris Jenkins draft."
Obvious comparisons will be made to Pacman Jones, another former Jeff Fisher draft pick. But a more intriguing connection might be his new partner in the backfield, Cortland Finnegan. Finnegan is a role model hooligan, if you can wrap your head around that contradiction, an utterly fearless player who apologizes to no one for anything, but one who believes absolutely in his coaching staff.
Rams GM Les Snead admits to the need to commit a little extra attention when it comes to Jenkins, saying "We'll spend more energy trying to make Janoris successful then we might do another player" (via @RamsRadio).
That can work as long as the player is receptive, and as long as you don't create a locker room that has one standard for most guys, but a different standard for your "wayward boys." Lawrence Phillips is an example of the philosophy gone wrong, but Fisher has a track record of getting productive time out of less-than-model citizens. And if he can tap into Jenkins' abundent talent, the Rams essentially have a fourth first-rounder from their bounty of picks from the Redskins.
In the above video isolating Jenkins against Alabama, he completely shuts down Julio Jones in press coverage, chops his way through screening receivers to shorten plays, and even bear-wrestles Trent Richardson down on an inside run. This is a fearless player that makes the Rams' secondary better and meaner in a fell swoop.
This was a gut pick, but one that places inherent trust in veteran coach Chuck Cecil, and in Fisher's ability to steward a wide-ranging flock that includes more than its share of so-called black sheep.
Pick 50 (via trade with Chicago): RB Isaiah Pead, Cincinnati
Pead is a player that RamsHerd readers should already be pretty familiar with: we wrote Pead up extensively after picking him early in the third round of the NFL Draft Wizard "experts mock." Here's what I wrote at the time:
Though he doesn't have Steven Jackson's monster truck size, Pead's contact-friendly style of running and open field instincts make him an almost perfect understudy to the Rams running back.
In a dissenting review of the Rams' pick, NFL Draft Ace commentator Ryan McCrystal lamented the fact that the Rams didn't get a three-down player. But if Pead's ability to spell Jackson as effectively (or more so) as Cadillac Williams did last year, it will help extend Jackson's career while simultaneously giving Fisher a true platoon in the backfield.
More notably, the Pead pick signals yet another sea change in draft-day attitude from previous regimes. Already the Rams have moved picks whose cumulative value far outweigh the combined total of draft-value of any pick traded during the Devaney and Shaw/Zygmunt years. And the Rams have spent significant capital on a running back for the first time since Steven Jackson was drafted eight long years ago.
While I might feel more comfortable if the Rams had kept Sylvester Croom (who I loved) as running backs coach, Fisher is doubling down on run-friendly Rutgers assistants. One is Sam Bradford's new quarterbacks coach, Frank Cignetti Jr. The other, Ben Sirmans, now gets to integrate Isaiah Pead and Steven Jackson into Brian Schottenheimer's offense.
Mike Mayock throws light on this approach in his commentary on this pick: "Remember, they're trying to protect Sam Bradford, and you do that in a number of ways." One way that the Jets used extensively under Schottenheimer is to force teams to always acknowledge the runner, even on passing downs.
Pick 65: CB Trumaine Johnson - Montana
@ChrisSteuber:upgraded their secondary significantly with Janoris Jenkins & Trumaine Johnson. Jenkins smaller playmaker, Johnson physical ballhawk.
One notable component of many of Jeff Fisher's drafts - he doesn't care about trying to fill every need, plugging players in like filling a grocery cart, one from each aisle. Conversely, he'll pick an area of his team and LOAD UP. Clearly, that area this offseason is cornerback. And just as clearly, after the Rams' plague of cart-offs in the secondary, you can never have too many.
Like another young player already on the Rams' roster in Jerome Murphy, Johnson is a big physical player with ball skills, but may be over-exposed if called upon to be a true cover man in space. We may hear rumblings of converting him to safety, but he isn't the hitter that Murphy is. Then again, his cover skills are significantly better than Murphy in my opinion. This could make for a very interesting camp battle.
More importantly, the biggest day two in recent Rams draft history winds up with a flurry of players who should immediately and positively impact the Rams' fortunes. Do they make the Rams instant contenders? No. But instantly more physical, more talented, more dangerous? Yes.