Offense or defense: Which should be the Rams’ draft focus?
LOS ANGELES — The offense lacks impact talent, but includes several developing young players. The defense has plenty of talent, but not enough quality players under team control beyond the 2017 season. And that prompts an interesting question: Where should the Los Angeles Rams steer their focus in the upcoming draft, which is less than three weeks away?
It’s easy to make either case.
The Rams’ shortcomings on offense are obvious. The Rams were dead last in yards each of the last two seasons and have ranked within the bottom eight in scoring during eight of the last 10 seasons. They drafted a quarterback (Jared Goff) first overall in 2016 and a running back (Todd Gurley) 10th overall in 2015. Conventional wisdom would tell you that the Rams need to load up on pieces that will bring out the best in both of them.
But the Rams drafted seven offensive linemen from 2014 to ’15, six of whom remain on the roster. Last year, four of their five picks after Goff went to pass-catchers — Tyler Higbee, Pharoh Cooper, Temarrick Hemingway and Mike Thomas, respectively.
The opposite is true on defense.
The Rams haven’t drafted a defensive player higher than the sixth round in the last two years and have recently stomached the departure of key starters, particularly in their secondary. Free safety Rodney McLeod and cornerback Janoris Jenkins left via free agency last offseason. Strong safety T.J. McDonald left this offseason. And now the Rams are staring at a daunting list of players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents next offseason.
It includes their top linebacker (Alec Ogletree), their primary cornerback (Trumaine Johnson), their new strong safety (Maurice Alexander), their slot corner and potential free safety (Lamarcus Joyner), their potential No. 2 corner (E.J. Gaines), their new outside linebacker (Connor Barwin), their backup safety (Cody Davis) and three backup defensive linemen (Dominique Easley, Ethan Westbrooks and Tyrunn Walker).
The Rams need more young, quality depth throughout their defense, but they badly need weapons on offense, too. They will only have one selection within the first 68 picks, but still have a total of eight, five of which will come within the third and sixth rounds. The draft is deep on receivers and tight ends, but it’s also deep on corners and safeties. As Rams general manager Les Snead said: “It s definitely deep at a few positions that we need.”
Rams coaches recently turned in their reports on draft prospects. During the next few weeks, they’ll go over them with Snead and his scouting staff, at which point the Rams will begin to assemble their draft board. The Rams’ first selection is 37th overall, the fifth pick of the second round. They have been linked to an assortment of players at every position except quarterback and running back. But here, for simplicity’s sake, we’ll zero in on receivers, tight ends, cornerbacks and safeties.
Below is a look at 10 intriguing ones, listed in alphabetical order.
S Budda Baker (Washington). Baker was first-team All Pac-12 in 2015 and 2016. He brings a lot of energy and explosiveness, with solid ball skills. At 5-foot-10 and 195 pounds, Baker might be a little bit undersized as a safety, making it difficult for him to cover tight ends. But Baker can work as a roaming free safety, which the Rams could use. Even if Joyner does lock down the free safety position, he would probably return to his duties as a slot corner in nickel packages.
CB Gareon Conley (Ohio State). Conley, 6-foot and 195 pounds, was second-team All Big Ten as a junior in 2016, a season that included four interceptions and eight pass breakups. His size and length would no doubt be appealing to the Rams. Conley is good in press coverage and can make up ground quickly, but hasn’t looked very comfortable in off-man coverage. He has drawn comparisons to Aqib Talib, and he might not be available to the Rams at 37.
TE Evan Engram (Mississippi). Engram led FBS tight ends with 926 receiving yards as a senior, with 138 of those yards coming in a near-upset over Alabama. The 6-foot-3, 234-pound Engram ran a 4.42-second 40-yard dash at the combine, the fastest by anyone at his position since 2010. Some consider him too small for tight end, others too slow for receiver. But he can make an make an impact on an offense that heavily utilizes tight ends in its passing attack, as Sean McVay is prone to do.