Two days before the NFL Draft begins Thursday night in New York City, there are still discussions to be had and some details to take care of but the Rams have put most of the heavy lifting behind them.
Coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead discussed this year’s draft on Monday afternoon but before taking questions issued the standard warning that goes with most conversations at this time of year.
“Don’t be offended if everything we say up here is not totally accurate,” Snead said. “But I can say this; we’re down to the last week. It’s great to be at the last week. Staff’s done an amazing job both the scouts during the fall, all-star season/combine season, getting the coaches involved starting probably around all-star combine season all the way to now. A lot of hard work goes into this. This week’s all about dotting some I's, crossing some T’s, still talking about scenarios and that’s what we’re in the process of doing.”
This close to the draft there is not a coach or general manager in the league inclined to tip his hand on how he hopes things will play out over the three days of the draft. Instead, most of the discussion is about the process and how the teams will go about reaching the conclusions that ultimately lead to their selections.
Going into this draft, things are a bit different for the Rams on a number of fronts. Armed with two first round picks – No. 16 and 22 overall – and eight choices overall, the Rams have some flexibility in what they can do.
Likewise, they also have to deal with a bit more uncertainty than the franchise has been accustomed to in the recent past.
Most draft analysts and pundits believe this year’s draft brings with it an inherent amount of uncertainty because there doesn’t appear to be the usual consensus on a top group of players.
Since the Rams will be drafting in the middle part of the first round, it means they have to be a bit more diligent in playing the scenario game than in years where less players come off the board before they pick.
“Yes, I mean that’s part of the process,” Fisher said. “You try to anticipate what’s going to happen ahead of you. There’s no way that you’re going to be entirely correct, but we go through the different scenarios. Again, that’s the process this week is you go through and watch 15 guys come off the board and look at your options at whoever’s left, and then you go from there. It’s hard to predict, but we have a good feel for it and we feel like we’ve got a good board right now.”
Snead said he doesn’t believe that uncertainty makes things more difficult so much as it requires him and the staff to make the process a bit more tedious so they can hit on the myriad scenarios that could play out.
“I don’t know if it’s harder,” Snead said. “It may be more scenarios because you have two picks and you can go frontwards, backwards, sideways a couple different times and like you said, picking later things happen in front of you that you’ve got to respond to. So, not necessarily harder, maybe a little more complicated.”
As it stands, most around the league believe there are only a handful of players – guys like offensive tackles Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher – who will almost certainly be going off the board at the top of the draft.
From the Rams’ perspective, the more players who go off the board at positions where they wouldn’t have much interest, the better. The theory being that the more players they aren’t interested in that are gone would leave more players they are interested in or possibly even create some more trade options.
Positions such as quarterback or, as Fisher cited, a spot like a true 3-4 outside linebacker, wouldn’t make a ton of sense for the Rams so the more of those types of players that get their name called before the Rams come on the clock, the more opportunities it creates.
“There’s a few positions that we would probably eliminate just because of players that we have on our roster,” Fisher said. “But there’s more positions of need than one would expect, so we have a number of players that we think can help us there.”
Another part of the whole dynamic is figuring out how to evaluate the players based on off the field or character concerns.
Fisher said the Rams do have set criteria for players and noted that there were players they took off the board last year because of character concerns. The same rules will apply this year as Fisher said there will again be guys that are listed as undraftable for similar concerns.
Snead agreed, pointing out that the Rams do extensive legwork on players individually rather than lumping them together based on something like a common indiscretion. In a draft that this year has a number of players with off the field questions, that research helps the Rams determine who can fit long term and who can’t.
“I think we said last year it’s a case-by-case situation,” Snead said. “I’ve said it many times before, these are young kids. What they’ve done in their past doesn’t necessarily determine their future, as we all have learned. If they’re 20, they’ve still got a lot of years left on this planet to produce. They’re still maturing, but you take it case by case, try to find out how you best get that player to thrive, and if our organization can handle it, we’ll take that on. But it’s case-by-case.”
If there’s any sure thing when it comes to the NFL Draft, it’s that nothing is for sure. Even in a year like this, where there seems to be so many questions about what could or could not happen, it could just as easily go the other way.
There are years and decades of history indicating that in years when things might be quiet, they get crazy and vice-versa. For someone like Fisher who has seen a little of everything, he doesn’t plan on being caught off guard by anything.
“It’s a matter of identifying players that can help you and then how you position yourself to get him and whether or not you have them on the board where you think their value is and where they’re going to go off,” Fisher said. “There’s drafts over the years where the speculation prior to the start was this first round’s going to be all over the place and there’s going to be trades and this and that and there’s not one trade. Then, there’s other drafts that we’ve been involved in over the years where you thought things were going to go the way they’re supposed to and then things just break wide open and people start moving around. It’s hard. We can control what we can control and then just have to be able to adjust.”
For now, just like the rest of the league, all the Rams can do is hurry up and wait. They’ll put the finishing touches on their draft preparation over the next 48 hours and may make a tweak or two within that time. Nothing Earth-shattering will occur within that time and then the only thing left to do is find what Snead likes to call the next group of ‘Simbas’ expected to grow into lions to help the Rams take the next step forward.
“There’s going to be a lot more discussion,” Fisher said. “We’re going to visit with coaches and then scouts and back-and-forth, and make sure that the board is right and everyone is happy with it. There’s a lot more to be discussed, but I think the hard work is done at this point. May jump a guy on the board because of another tape that somebody looked at or more production in their junior year versus this, but for the most part the work is done.”