Like just about anything else in the world of football, continuity is key.
And now, entering their third NFL Draft together, Rams general manager Billy Devaney and coach Steve Spagnuolo have worked with each other enough to know exactly how to work together to come to a consensus decision on each pick.
“I think the working relationship between the coaching staff and the scouts gets better and better each year,” Devaney said. “As the scouts become familiar with what the coaches are looking for and it’s been seamless, so I think we’re just about ready to go. I know we have a day or so, but we could probably have the draft today if need be.”
The Rams will have to wait until Thursday night for the actual drafting to begin. The 2011 NFL Draft is set to kick off live from Radio City Music Hall in New York City at 7 p.m. central.
Thursday night’s first round will represent the culmination of months and months of hard work. More often than not, the scouting process for the following year’s draft begins within a week or two after the completion of the current year’s.
Of course, all of that hard work is made easier by the aforementioned idea of continuity. Since Devaney became general manager on Christmas Eve of 2008 and subsequently named Spagnuolo head coach on Jan. 17, 2009, there has been very little turnover on the Rams coaching staff.
While Devaney has made some alterations to the personnel department, for the most part it’s been the same people working together on the draft. In fact, the coaching staff has made but four changes since Spagnuolo took over and all of those have been on the offensive side of the ball.
While that may not seem like a big deal on the outside, it makes everybody’s lives much easier when the scouts know what the coaches are looking for and the coaches trust that the scouts know as much.
“That’s what we’ve been saying along, the longer we can stay at this thing and you have that continuity in this thing,” Devaney said. “And that’s why I started out saying this has been seamless – the grading system has been in place now for a couple years, the coaching staff has been in place – we have a feel for them. And you look around the league, the teams that ‘stay together,’ if you will, year-after-year, they’re the ones that get it going and draft so well and their selection process is great, everybody stays on the same page and we’re getting to that point.”
In other words, there won’t be a lot of arguing or hand wringing going on in the Rams’ draft room this weekend. With the hay in the barn, so to speak, the Rams can sit around and come to a reasonable consensus with every opinion heard.
That’s a good thing because the Rams find themselves in the middle of the draft for the first time in four years. In each of the past three seasons, the Rams drafted either second or first.
This year, they check in at No. 14, meaning they will have to do a lot of waiting and wondering in the next three days.
Being positioned in the middle of the round leaves the Rams staring at a plethora of scenarios. But regardless of how it plays out, don’t expect Devaney and Co. to deviate from the plan.
The plan is to add the best football player possible at any position save for quarterback, offensive tackle, middle linebacker, kicker and punter.
“We’re going to let the board dictate (the picks),” Devaney said. “We can’t sit here and say, ‘Well, we don’t have to worry about taking this position because once free agency comes…that position is pretty strong, we feel like we can get a guy there,’ – you can’t operate that way. Who know what’s going to happen. So we’ve got to, in the next couple of days – Thursday, Friday, Saturday – take the best players that improve our team regardless. We’re not going into it saying, we have to come out with this position or we’re counting on free agency to supply a certain position. Not at all. We’re hell-bent on just making the Rams better when the draft is over.”
Of course, there are plenty of opinions outside the Russell Training Center on which direction the Rams should go with their draft, particularly in the first few rounds.
Heading that list is the rampant speculation and demand for a play making wide receiver and a backup running back for starter
Devaney isn’t ruling out that possibility but re-iterates he won’t stray from the board to add one who might not rank as high as another position.
“Who knows?” Devaney said. “Honestly, if when we’re on the clock and the guy with the highest grade by far is one of those positions, then that’s what it would be. But we’re certainly not saying we have to come away with one of those guys in the first three rounds. Not even close.”
That’s not to say that Spagnuolo and the Rams are dismissing those needs. They readily acknowledge that it’s important to find help in those places but not that it’s necessarily more important than other spots.
“It’s as important I think as other positions, and I think that’s why Billy answered the last question the way he did,” Spagnuolo said. “It’s one of them we think of, but it’s not like we’re putting any of these at the top of the order.”
Barring making a move for an offensive skill position player such as Alabama’s Julio Jones, the Rams could dip into the deep and talented class of defensive linemen in this year’s crop of prospects.
Spagnuolo makes no bones about the fact that he likes pass rushers and the Rams have not used a first-round choice on a defender since he took over.
As part of that process, the Rams will have to find a way to discern between players that fit better in a 3-4 defense than their own pressure-based, attacking 4-3 scheme.
“There’s a certain guy that fits our 4-3 scheme, and some of those guys fit better in a 3-4,” Spagnuolo said. “I don’t think you ever want to force the issue, yet I guess the best way to answer that is there’s no replacement for good pass rushers. If they fit that first, then we’d go from there, but I certainly appreciate what you’re asking.”
That could means players like Missouri’s Aldon Smith, Illinois’ Corey Liuget and Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan could be preferable to projected five-technique guys like Wisconsin’s J.J. Watt or California’s Cameron Jordan.
While the Rams would love for one of their top guys to fall into their lap at 14, Devaney says the ideal situation is to have a group of four or five players with similar grades on the board because it provides the type of flexibility to move down in the draft and acquire extra picks.
On the flip side of that, if they have a group of four or five players that gets whittled down to one a few picks before they come on the clock, the option then could be to give up a pick or two to move up and secure that player.
“There’s a good pool, we have a good number of players there that we’d be thrilled to get,” Devaney said. “We feel confident, if we stay at 14, that we’ll have pretty good options at that point.”
Armed with seven picks in this year’s draft (a pick in every round except the sixth and two in the seventh), Devaney and Spagnuolo hope that their hard work will pay off and give a team moving in the right direction the next boost on its way to a playoff berth.
“(We’re on the) right track,” Devaney said. “That’s what we keep saying. There’s some places where we need to get better. We recognize that, but the foundation, the players that we’ve brought in the past few years, that’s what you feel good about. This is really a good group of guys that we have in here right now. We just have to add onto it at this point.”