Everything's coming up Millhouse for the Rams in the NFL Draft Wizard Experts Mock. First, the team managed to navigate an uncertain trade environment and deal down with Cleveland, picking up two first rounders and a second. Then, with the first major decision of the draft (after Luck, Griffin and Kalil slot where you think they would), the Rams select LSU CB Morris Claiborne.
The story of the rest of the first round came down to watching and waiting for players high on my board to fall. I had a deal in place with the team(s) holding the #14 pick, ready to move up from #22 if either Michael Floyd or Trent Richardson fell. But Floyd went off the board at 10 (to Buffalo, which makes perfect sense), and Richardson at 12 (to Seattle, which doesn't, although him falling further would be a crime.)
But a subplot of the early part of this Experts Mock was watching the tier-two quarterbacks, Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden, plummet. No one went near them in the first round, going after premier interior linemen instead. In addition to your "premier" linemen, two defensive tackles (Poe and Still), a guard (Decastro), a tackle who might be a guard (Glenn) and a center (Konz) all went off the board in the top twenty. This allowed a pretty damn good player to drop to the Rams at Cleveland's #22 spot...
With the 22nd pick overall, the St Louis Rams select DT Fletcher Cox, Mississippi State.
The obvious temptation here was to draft a big-body second-tier WR like Mohamed Sanu or Rueben Randle. There had been a run at the position, with Justin Blackmon going to the Bucs one pick after Claiborne, Floyd off the board, Kendall Wright going to Cincinnati at 17, and Denver desperately trading one spot ahead of St Louis to grab Stephen Hill at 21.
However, none of that second group of WRs merited a first round pick in my mind, while Fletcher Cox ranked as an immediate-impact prospect at DT whose stock has been rising since the NFL combine. In the highlight video posted by JPDraftJedi (@jmpasq on Twitter), Cox ably takes on double teams as the LDT, helping his linemates crash the pocket. Then, moving over to the RDT spot at the 2:10 mark of the video, Cox begins steadily taking the game over. His heads-up play on a sack at the 3:05 mark is stunning in its physicality, motor, and awareness. In another video of Cox's game against mighty Alabama, the Bulldogs coaching staff lines him up at all four spots on the defensive line.
He has tremendous leg drive and good hands to fight off blockers, able to free himself and move laterally as needed. And the suddenness with which he can beat single blockers is stunning. His matchup against Trent Richardson and Alabama was a worthy battle, with Cox missing only one tackle against the uber-strong running back. Against an elite back like Richardson, that's impressive.
The selection of Cox furthers Les Snead's mission of making the Rams bigger and badder off the bus, but it doesn't do anything to provide Sam Bradford with protection or weapons. That's why the success or failure of this mock draft scenario may hinge on what happens next....
With the 33rd pick overall, the St Louis Rams select WR Marvin Jones, California.
This was a gut pick, plain and simple. The tier 1 and tier 1A receivers were all off the board, and 2nd-tier players Hill and Mohamed Sanu bracketed the Rams' pick at 22. However, in the middle of this second tier of receivers, I identified Marvin Jones as a player whose scouting report makes him an ideal fit for Bradford and the Rams' new west coast offense.
Standing 6'2" and a leanly-muscled 198 pounds, Jones has the short-area speed, hands, and cuts that make him a pro-ready route runner. Says Sideline Scouting on Jones:
Positives: Gets a clean release off the line of scrimmage... A natural athlete who runs nice routes and is a very smooth runner... Gets good burst out of his cuts which helps him create separation, has the ability to cut at the top of the stem at full speed... Great hands and body control, routinely makes the acrobatic catch...
Negatives: Didn't exactly dominate Pac-12 opponents, never had a 1,000 yard season and only had three touchdowns as a senior... Although he has good initial quickness, he lacks a second gear and defenders are able to close on him...
Noted film cruncher and aficionado of the technical side of WR play, Matt Waldman has been putting Jones and Hill under the microscope in his Rookie Scouting Portfolio series. Waldman tells us that there's much more than meets the eye with Marvin Jones:
Marvin Jones played in a west coast offense at Cal. Steve Young says Jeff Tedord’s offense during Aaron Rodgers’ time at Berkeley was literally the 49ers offense of the dynasty era. I don’t think much as changed conceptually. Jones was the high-reception, third-down bail-out “Z” receiver during his final years with the team. Mr. Reliable. Under the safeties. Under the radar.
But Jones blew the lid off that perception at the Senior Bowl and anyone who studies his work at Cal will see that he’s a capable, if not dangerous, vertical threat.
Waldman goes on to detail subtleties of body control and technical refinement - route shading, getting his arms over the corner's in a tight physical space, impeccable foot placement - that make Jones a surprisingly successful downfield receiver. Add this to his mastery of the chess match off the line of scrimmage in short routes, and you have a tailor-made sideline presence that will make the interior route-running of Amendola, Salas and Kendricks all the more potent.
As a bonus, Doug Kyed of NEPatriotsDraft.com, who watched Jones practice and interviewed him in person at the Senior Bowl, has been effusive about Jones' intelligence, demeanor and untapped skills. "Might be my 'favorite' player in the draft," Kyed tweeted to me after making the pick.
Perhaps the only question left in my mind, holding both the 33rd and 37th picks, is: Did I draft him a shade too early?
WIth the 37th pick overall, the St Louis Rams select G Kelechi Osemele, Iowa State
It must not be easy for offensive guards to raise their profile, because Kelechi Osemele has had to upload his own highlight reel of pancake blocks to YouTube. But we're selecting the big bad man based on his gigantic frame (6'6", 85" wingspan) and untapped ability more than his body of work to date. Osemele's official Combine profile at NFL.com acknowledges as much:
Osemele is a player who will need strong coaching and guidance once entering the NFL, but if he finds his way and becomes a consistent player, he stands to be a dominant lineman based off his production and film at Iowa State.
This pick highlights a theme that should resurface later in the draft, selecting projectable talent on the line for Jeff Fisher's veteran staff to mold into a solid unit. I was half-hoping that Ohio State OT Mike Adams' stock, which has been plummeting due to concerns about his technique and lower body strength, would have fallen this far and made for an easy low-risk, high-upside pick. But the GM of the Pittsburgh Steelers beat me to the punch, taking Adams at 28.
In all, this scenario presents a four-player haul in the first forty picks that would be hard not to fall in love with as a Rams fan. Of course, several dominos would have to fall exactly right -- Cleveland dealing their trio of top picks, Fletcher Cox falling unexpectedly into the latter half, etc. But so far so good for the Rams in this mock.