If St. Louis earns the second overall selection, like I believe they will, there is no guarantee that Matt Kalil will come off the board here. By drafting Kalil the Rams would have the freedom to reshuffle their offensive line and strengthen their protection of Bradford. For this reason alone I see a lot of people saying the Rams MUST take Matt Kalil with this pick stating Bradford has taken too many sacks which has led to injuries for the second year QB and ultimately very few wins for the Rams. While the offensive line is no doubt partly responsible for the Rams picking yet again in the top 2 for the fourth time in five years they are not solely at fault.
While Bradford does need better protection from his offensive line it's not like they completely lack talent there. They have recently tried to build, and already have invested a lot of high draft picks into, their o-line actually. They drafted tackle Jason Smith 2nd overall back in 2009 and he was suppose to be the cornerstone of that line but instead has been a major bust. Smith moved to the right side when Rodger Saffold was selected a top the second round, pick 33, in 2010.
Saffold stepped in right away earning the starting left tackle position in his rookie season. He rewarded the Rams by starting in every game and took every single snap on the left side for the Rams that year, working in pass protection a whopping 625 snaps. He graded out 13th best tackle overall in individual pass protection through a formula called pass blocking efficiency, that looks at sacks, hits and hurries allowed. He played well enough to earn multiple All Rookie teams, including Pro Football Weekly and the Sporting News impressing teammates and fans alike. While he played good in 2010 he has since struggled in 2011 although it is very likely that several nagging injuries led to Saffold's downgraded performance this season.
A lot of the Rams' starters have gotten injured all throughout the year which could be a reason why Bradford took so many hits. Both Saffold and Smith spent time on the sidelines with post-concussion symptoms while Saffold went on to be placed on IR for a pectoral injury he suffered while lifting weights. It's been that kind of year for the St. Louis Rams who've lost all their week 1 starters at both the OT and CB positions.
Nonetheless their struggles along the offensive line in 2011 have led to many questioning if whether or not they shouldn't move Saffold inside to guard or to right tackle and draft Kalil to play left tackle. I say first why would you move Saffold anywhere other than OT since that's obviously where his value is and despite his play dropping off considerably after such a strong rookie season that doesn't mean he cannot bounce back. To be fair, he had a very short time to learn and implement a brand new offensive scheme under new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels which I'm sure asked him to hold up in pass protection longer while they run deeper routes than they did in 2010. Not only that but Bradford has regressed in 2011 as well, should they just dump him and start over as well? If one bad season was all it took the majority of the players in the league would be out jobs. Who honestly hasn't had at least one bad season before?
He's only one season removed from such a strong promising future at left tackle which makes it hard for me to suspend the belief of him starting as anything but an offensive tackle at this point. He may not ever be an elite LT but he doesn't have to be. He just has to be above-average (which he clearly was in 2010) and keep Bradford upright. Some of you may disagree with me in that notion but whatever you may think about the Rams current group at o-line might not matter because I highly doubt they use another high draft pick on a offensive lineman right now with so many other needs.
First and foremost, the Rams need help scoring points! Offensive tackles don't score directly so the next best choice for the Rams is to get a stud play maker at wide receiver. St. Louis has not had a game-changing, play-making wideout since Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce left the team. The Rams have failed to adequately address their need at WR despite drafting that position heavily in 2011 with 3rd round pick (78) Austin Pettis and 4th round choice (112) Greg Salas. They also used their 4th round pick (99) on Mardy Gilyard the year before. After all of those failed attempts I think it is time, or rather past that time, that the Rams adequately address the wide receiver position. The Rams should finally realize you can't always expect to find a WR worth a darn in the later rounds. Sometimes you can but most of the time you gotta take one higher in the draft if you want a starter and a productive playmaker. Lucky for them, they are in perfect position to select Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon, who's certainly one of the most talented and productive receivers to come out in years.
Blackmon, a nightmare for any secondary, is about as impressive as anyone can be coming out of college. With 224 catches and 35 touchdown grabs over the last two years he's about as productive as they come. In 2010, Blackmon exploded onto the national scene with an incredible and record-setting sophomore season catching 111 receptions for 1,782 yards (1,859 Total Yards) and 22 total touchdowns (20 receiving with a pair of scores in a 69-yard run, OSU's longest run from scrimmage in 2010, and a blocked punt return.)
He ranked at or near the top in several statistical categories, including receiving yards per game where his 148.5 receiving yards per game was 14 yards better than anyone else in the country. He had at least 105 receiving yards in every game and a touchdown catch in every game as well. He averaged 16.1 yards per reception and had 24 catches of at least 20 yards and 10 of 40 yards or more. He also had at least a 29+ yard reception in every single game that season showcasing his big play potential. He finished top 10 in all-purpose yards per game (159) and ranked 13th in all-purpose yards (1,866).
He ranked first in receptions per game (9.27) with at least five receptions in every game and a least eight receptions in 11 games. He also ranked fourth in points per game (10.91) with many of his scoring plays that year being of the longer variety. He averaged 32.1 yards on his touchdown catches and had 12 TD catches of 20 yards or longer, 8 longer than 40 yards, and 6 of his scoring plays covered at least 62 yards.
In 2011, Blackmon didn't have quite the seasonal stats he amassed the year before, however he did manage to bring in a Big-12 leading 113 receptions for 1,337 yards and 15 touchdowns this season, which is darn impressive in it's own right. Blackmon was a force to be reckoned with all season long as he ranked 2nd in the nation in receptions per game (11.82) and 8th in receiving yards per game (111.33). With six 100-yard receiving games on the season it's quite clear what kind of a talent he is at receiver.
While Blackmon didn't manage to outdo himself it should be noted he was a major reason Oklahoma State finished as Big 12 champions with an 11-1 record in a competitive conference this season and almost earned a National Title game bid, settling for a BCS Fiesta Bowl berth instead. As the top playmaker on one of the nation's best offenses, that averaged nearly 50 points and 557 yards per game, he had many memorable performances along the way. He came through for OSU against Kansas State in a very big way. With the Big-12 championship on the line, the junior wide-out tallied 13 receptions for 205 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns in a 52-45 Oklahoma State win. Leading the Cowboys to a Big 12 Championship and a BCS bowl this season should not go unnoticed.
The Rams could use a team leader and talented playmaker the likes of Blackmon. Great receivers tend to step up and perform when their team needs them most and Blackmon did exactly that on multiple occasions throughout his time at OSU. In 2010 he had more than 100 receiving yards in the first half of games against Texas (116), Baylor (115) and Nebraska (129) some of the Cowboy's tougher conference opponents.
Blackmon has earned many impressive credentials during his stay at OSU. He earned back to back All-American honors becoming only the 10th two-time All-American in OSU history and the first player in OSU history to earn 'first-team' honors twice. More impressively though, he's one of only two players in history to win the Biletnikoff Award twice. He won the award, for the nations top receiver, in 2010 becoming OSU's first Biletnikoff Award winner and the school's second finalist for the trophy in three seasons (Dez Bryant in 2008) and then again took it home in back to back seasons in 2011. Michael Crabtree is the only other player to accomplish that feat when he did so in 2007-2008 during his time at Texas Tech. Blackmon was also honored as the Big 12's Offensive Player of the Year by both the Associated Press and the coaches and became the first Cowboy named offensive player of the year since Barry Sanders and was the first receiver in the history of the Big 12 to win the award. He finished fifth in Heisman voting in 2010 as well.
He leaves OSU with many of the schools records. Blackmon's 113 catches in 2011 is a single-season school record as is his 2010 totals of 1,782 receiving yards and 20 touchdown catches. The Cowboy's Dez Bryant formally held the touchdown mark. Blackmon also ranks second on the schools all time career lists in receptions (244), receiving yards (3,378), and has 18 games with 100 or more yards in his career also ranking second all-time at OSU. His 13 receptions against Louisiana and Baylor tie for second on OSU's single-game receptions list. Only Rashaun Woods has set better career numbers (293 receptions, 4,414 yards and 42 receiving TDs which are not only Oklahoma State records but also Big 12 conference benchmarks.
Aside from school records Blackmon has set a few major college football receiving records. His 2011 reception total represents the 15th best single-season effort in NCAA history and his 2010 TD total is seventh all-time in the NCAA. He set the NCAA single-season record for receiving yards by a sophomore with 1,782 yards, taking the record away from Larry Fitzgerald, who accumulated 1,672 receiving yards as a sophomore at Pittsburgh in 2003. He also broke another NCAA record with at least 100 receiving yards and at least one touchdown in 12 consecutive games that year. As if that wasn't enough he set yet another NCAA record with 14-straight games with at least 100 receiving yards. The streak began in 2010 and continued through the first two games of the 2011 season.
If Blackmon returned for one more year he might set records that would never be broken but he's decided to go pro. If he is still on the board, and he will be when the Rams pick, he has to be their guy, right? Yes I know he, or his position rather, may be a riskier pick that high in the draft but his level of production and big play ability will command a high draft selection. He is one of the few elite prospects in this draft class and are the Rams not desperately in need of some weapons for Bradford?
The Rams did bring in Brandon Lloyd via midseason trade and he has performed well enough for them but they still need someone to start opposite him who can be Bradford's primary receiving target. You don't have to be a football genius to know that Lloyd is not that guy. Don't get me wrong, Lloyd has proved these past few seasons he's got the talent to start and make plays in the NFL but I still believe he cannot be trusted as a teams top weapon. On top of that, he'll be 31 years old before next season, so while St. Louis will likely attempt to lock Lloyd up for the next several years because of his familiarity with Josh McDaniel's offense, it's clear he's not the long term answer at the position. Despite Lloyd likely having a few good years left in those quick, youthful legs, just as the similarly-built Isaac Bruce did as he moved into his early 30's, they need to get younger at the position.
In addition to Brandon Lloyd the Ram's have wideout Danny Amendola who went down for the year at the beginning of the season. Amendola was Bradford's safety valve as a rookie, and, without him, Bradford has struggled immensely. They need to return a healthy Amendola to the slot where he excels as a Wes Welker-like receiver underneath. In order to do this they need to get someone who can start and excel on the outside drawing coverage and opening up those underneath routes.
They need to get that young stud receiver who can start on the outside and grow up in the NFL and develop alongside Bradford. That traditional #1 receiver with size and big play potential. They need Blackmon. Getting Blackmon would give them just what they are looking for. I'm not sure if I believe Blackmon can step in right away and make the kind of impact AJ Green has but I do believe he can do what Dez Bryant has in Dallas and more. His presence alone will do a lot of good for Bradford right away. His days in college only confirm what kind of a talent he is and his stats speak for them self. He'll be productive and help ensure they stay competitive in a very winnable division. Bradford would finally get that receiving core he so desperately needs allowing him to get the ball out quick enough to stay healthy.
Some of you would say a guy like Bradford needs a safe pocket to have success more than other NFL QBs. While guys like Ben Roethlisberger or Aaron Rodgers can get by with just a ton of talent at WR and not a lot on their offensive line because they are mobile and can avoid pressure meanwhile QB's like Bradford are not as mobile and need all the time they can get. I disagree. I think Bradford can do a lot better job himself by getting better in the pocket. He needs a greater pocket presence and needs to feel the pressure, and make the reasonable reactions and adjustments thereafter, like Ben does so well. Why does everybody else on the Rams need to improve but him? Is that fair? I'm not trying to say Kalil wouldn't help a pure pocket passer like Bradford out tremendously. He obviously would, but the fact of the matter is tackles don't score points. WR's do.
That leaves only those who would suggest that the Rams look elsewhere to fill their receiver needs. There are plenty of options in free-agency at the receiver position this offseason with DeSean Jackson, Vincent Jackson, Stevie Johnson, Marques Colston, Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon, among others. However there are only a few game-changing playmaking receivers in that bunch and the few that are won't come cheap nor are they necessarily better players than Blackmon. On top of that the top name guys on that list (D.Jackson, V.Jackson, and S.Johnson) all have question marks about them. Some have character issues... others age concerns, some have both, so I think drafting a younger more talented receiver who is a good character guy is the Rams best bet.
Whether through the draft, free agency or both they need to give Bradford upgraded weapons to work with. That is something we all can agree on.
St. Louis fans are use to The Greatest Show on Turf. While Blackmon, Lloyd, and Amendola wouldn't necessarily be the greatest show, at least they would give the fans some kind of a show again. One that is worth watching and one that produces enough points to consistently give the team a chance to win.
One last thing to keep in mind with this pick and the Rams need for a receiver is St. Louis could be the first of three teams looking to trade down, especially if they are targeting a WR. Since receivers likely don't get drafted this high they could opt to allow a team like Miami or Washington to jump up and grab a QB and move down just a bit to where selecting a receiver makes more sense. While the second overall pick might be considered too high for Blackmon to some it certainly isn't for prospects like Matt Barkley or Robert Griffin III.
As discussed above, the Rams will be picking in the top 2 for the fourth time in five years and while their selections there have yielded a mixed bag of results what hasn't been a mixed bag is the salary cap implications of doing so. The Rams are paying the price, literally, for having done so for three consecutive years. They have a fortune of money tied up with only a few players so can they really afford to pick another player so high? The answer to this is yes, they won't have a overly major cap hit selecting there again this year because the new rookie wage scale but that doesn't mean they'll opt to stay with that pick necessarily.
Being a team with so many needs I doubt trading down a bit and still being able to get that WR plus adding in additional high picks in round 2 and possibly 3 wouldn't be that bad of an idea. It's certainly not the worst thing they could do. With needs seemingly everywhere along the roster they need to solidify as many positions as possible. With the available quarterbacks in this draft and the rookie wage scale that might be all it takes to make trading down more viable.
Make no doubt about it, the Rams will have plenty to consider when they go on the clock in the first round. Selecting either Matt Kalil or Justin Blackmon with the second pick makes plenty of sense. That or maybe they will consider other players, such as cornerback Morris Claiborne from LSU. Yet trading down might just be the best option of all for the organization. Whatever they do it will be crucial, especially with the cap ramifications from the recent drafts coming into play, that St. Louis has a strong and productive draft this year.