Monday, January 26, 2009

Rams have plenty of choices available to them in NFL draft

The underclassmen have declared, and their names thrown into the hopper. The
Senior Bowl has come and gone, and the NFL Scouting Combine is next up.

For now, there is no clear-cut No. 1 in the 2009 NFL draft. But some names are
working their way to the head of the class. Names that the Rams must time,
test, interview, examine, discuss and otherwise sort through before making the
No. 2 overall pick — behind Detroit — on April 25. It's only a $50 million

The two months of free agency that precede the draft could change the Rams'
needs. But for now, what will it be at No. 2? Offensive tackle? Linebacker?
Wide receiver? Or even, quarterback?

At the moment, players at those positions appear most likely to occupy the top
five to 10 spots on draft day.

With left tackle Orlando Pace's great career winding down and right tackle Alex
Barron completing another so-so season, you could make a case that offensive
tackle is the Rams' greatest need. General manager Billy Devaney's oft-stated
goal is making the Rams bigger, stronger, and more physical on both sides of
the ball. What better place to start than the tackle position?

"It's a big need position," said longtime scout Tom Marino, now an NFL analyst
for "It's one of the three, four most critical positions around,
that left tackle. And they've got to find one."

Virginia's Eugene Monroe, Alabama's Andre Smith, and Mississippi's Michael Oher
are all potential top 10 picks at the tackle spot. Oher was the only one of the
three to participate in the Senior Bowl. Smith wasn't eligible to participate
because he came out as an underclassmen.

"As far as just pure athleticism, Oher's as good as there is in this draft,"
said an AFC personnel executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "But
is he going to be tough enough? Is his heart going to be totally into football?"

Monroe probably could have benefited from attending the Senior Bowl. He
finishes blocks better than Oher, according to the AFC executive, and is more
tenacious down field. "But there's still some reservations about his ability to
maybe anchor a power rusher, or do those kinds of things," the executive said.

As for Marino, if he was picking for the Rams and was told to pick a tackle,
he'd go with Monroe. "This guy is by far the best of the offensive linemen,"
Marino said. "He's got great feet. He really understands the game. His pass
protection is very good. He's got range. There's nothing I didn't like about

And what of Smith, the 6-foot-4, 340-pound behemoth from Alabama? He was
suspended for the Sugar Bowl, reportedly for improper dealings with a sports
agent. No one questions his size, strength, and aggressiveness. But some wonder
if he's quick enough in pass protection to be an NFL left tackle.

"When you compare his feet to, say, the kid at Mississippi (Oher) or the kid at
Virginia (Monroe) he's a tad below those guys when it comes to foot quickness
and that sort of thing," the AFC executive said. "He's a grinder kind of
offensive lineman. He's a guy that can lock on you, and he'll go ahead and
finish you off."

Saying that, Smith's skill set might make him better suited to a team with a
power-running offense, or as a right tackle. But if that's the case, and Smith
is indeed best suited to right tackle, it would not be wise to expend a No. 2
overall pick on that position.

Similar logic comes into play at linebacker, where Rey Maualuga of Southern
California and Aaron Curry of Wake Forest both could be top 10 picks. No one
doubts Maualuga's ability to play the run, and provide a physical presence in
the middle.

But there are differing opinions by scouts on whether Maualuga will be good
enough in coverage to be an every-down linebacker in the NFL.

"You might think of him as a run stopper guy, but I thought he showed enough
athleticism and everything (at the Senior Bowl) where he could probably be an
every down player," said the AFC executive.

But if you don't think that way, No. 2 overall is too high for a middle
linebacker who's a run specialist.

"Maualuga is pretty much an inside guy,'' said a veteran NFC scout. "And he's
not real good in coverage. He's got physical tools, but you can get those guys
(later in the draft)."

Curry has excellent size (6-2, 246) and range. Although he hasn't received the
hype of a Maualuga or a James Laurinaitis of Ohio State, many scouts rank him
as a better NFL prospect.

"Curry is real good," Marino said. "I mean, he is really, really good. He's
going to play for a long time. To me, when he gets to baggage claim, he starts
for them."

In other words, Curry's an instant starter for whoever drafts him.

"I love Curry," said the AFC executive. "I would be shocked if he's not one of
the better linebackers in the league within a couple years."

But from a Rams standpoint, because Curry isn't a middle linebacker, would it
make sense for them to draft him? Particularly with Will Witherspoon scheduled
to make the switch from the middle to weakside linebacker next season.

Other defensive players that might be top-five or top-10 prospects are Ohio
State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins, Boston College nose tackle B.J. Raji and
defensive ends Everette Brown of Florida State and Brian Orakpo of Texas.

Even with the Rams' obvious needs at offensive tackle, the NFC scout would try
to go for defense in the first round if he were calling the shots in St. Louis.

"Their defense is so far down. I mean they're not even close to being good,"
the scout said.

And what about the skill positions?

At wide receiver, Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree projects as a top-five pick.
Missouri's Jeremy Maclin and Florida's Percy Harvin could push their way into
the top 15. Some think Maclin could even squeeze into the top 10.

At quarterback, Matthew Stafford of Georgia and fast-rising Mark Sanchez of
Southern Cal both have top 10 potential.

"A guy like Crabtree would be a sexy pick," said the NFC scout. "He's a
big-time down-the-field receiver. He'll come in and be good. He's legit. Just
listening to the Rams' scouts, I guarantee you the people there are going to be
pushing for Crabtree.

"Which is the same thing that Matt Millen did for all those years (in Detroit).
'Hey, let's get the receiver.' What happens so many times is you want that big
offensive playmaker."

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Frazier in finals;Ryan to interview Sunday in Rams job search

By Jim Thomas
Saturday, Jan. 10 2009

Things are moving at a rapid pace in the Rams’ coaching search. League sources
told the Post-Dispatch on Saturday evening that Minnesota defensive
coordinator-assistant head coach Leslie Frazier will interview with team
ownership Tuesday in Los Angeles.

That’s right, Frazier has a "bye" into the finals. He will not undergo a
preliminary interview. Instead, he joins Jim Haslett as the second known
finalist in the Rams’ coaching search.

On Sunday, Baltimore defensive coordinator-assistant head coach Rex Ryan will
undergo a preliminary interview by the Rams in Baltimore. The New York Jets
also are interviewing Ryan on Sunday in Baltimore.

League sources also told the Post-Dispatch that the Rams have moved beyond
Tennessee defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and Tennessee offensive line coach
Mike Munchak. The club had expressed some initial interest in both assistant
coaches, but has decided to press on instead with its current list of

But the Rams could still request permission to talk to New York Giants
defensive coordinator Steven Spagnuolo if the Giants lose Sunday’s NFC
divisional playoff game with Philadelphia.

In another development, the Rams also will interview Mike Williams of the San
Francisco 49ers for the job of director of pro personnel. The move would be
part of the Rams’ stated goal of beefing up their pro personnel department.
Williams just completed his ninth seasons with the 49ers, and his fourth as
assistant director of pro personnel.