With Aaron Donald heading to the NFL Draft last week, I had the chance to do a little collaboration with Joe over at SB Nation's St. Louis Rams blog, Turf Show Times. You can check out my answers to Joe's questions on Donald's Pitt career on their site and below, he answers a few of mine about the Rams and Donald.
Anson/Cardiac Hill: The Donald pick seemed to get a lot of praise from around the league. The only minor negative I kept finding, though, was that the Rams perhaps should have addressed another need. What are your thoughts on that? Should they have gone in a different direction?
Joe/Turf Show Times: I guess that would be the only real issue some might have with it, though I'd question the motivation to lean towards a "need" selection and away from more of a "best player available" pick that early in the draft. Personally, I love the pick. Leading up to the draft, I was hoping the Rams would grab Arizona State's Will Sutton on day 2, so I wasn't turned off by the idea of grabbing a DT. The Donald pick should pay immediate dividends. The defensive line was already the best unit on the team, and as Rams GM Les Snead said reacting to the Donald pick, they found a way to "feed the beast."
When Donald's name came up before the Draft, it was often tied to teams like the Bears, Giants, Vikings, and Cowboys. Was there talk by Rams fans/media about Donald as a potential pick earlier with the defensive line already being a strength or was that pick a surprise?
There was already some chatter about Donald in Rams circles. I think what didn't inspire a lot of confidence among Rams fans was that there was so much chatter about so many prospects, it was hard to tell what was smokescreen stuff and what their real intentions were. Johnny Manziel and Sam Bradford rumors filled the last two weeks leading up to the draft. There was obvious talk about Jake Matthews and Greg Robinson, the latter of which ended up as the Rams' first selection at #2 overall. Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans were popular targets; the Rams spent a lot of time investigating the Clemson prospects the last few months.
With two first round picks, you're bound to be at the center of all kinds of rumors. In the end, despite already boasting a strong D-line, the pick makes a lot of sense.
It's early, but now that he's there, do you think fans are expecting him to step in and start right away?
I do, but I probably wouldn't bet on it. The starting trio of defensive ends Robert Quinn and Chris Long along with DT Michael Brockers isn't going anywhere. They're, plainly put, too damn good. I think the prospects for Donald's immediate playing time hinges on DT Kendall Langford. The Rams signed Langford as a free agent after his initial run in Miami, and he's done a fine job. He made a much bigger and better impression last year than he did in 2012, but surrounded by those other three, his job is made much easier.
So while I expect Donald to start, I wouldn't be all that surprised if he ends being eased into a starting role. Of course, an injury on the line could throw off any timeline the coaches want, but if everyone's healthy I'd probably guess he's a starter week one.
Overall, I heard good things about the Rams' draft. Was there anything you would have done differently if you were in charge? What needs, if any, do you think they didn't address enough?
I thought it was a solid draft. Every draft class is a statement of intent, and the Rams obviously wanted to bring in talent to match a physical, aggressive style that the NFC West is coming to be known for in this era. I'm not a big fan of the Tre Mason pick in round 3, but only because I'd have rather seen a different RB in the class. I think there was room on the depth chart for another RB, so it wasn't a position need issue. But the major concern I had going into the draft that I obviously still have relates to the wide receiver group.
The Rams have lacked production at the position for years; no Rams wideout has amassed 700+ receiving yards in a season since Torry Holt in 2008; last year alone, 54 WRs/TEs racked up more than 700 yards. Part of the problem is that the Rams have lacked a capable one-on-one threat that has the size to deal with jump balls or the frame to isolate a defender on 3rd and medium/red zone plays (a decent number of Rams fans, myself included, would have had no problem grabbing Devin Street to possibly take on this role). We drafted Brian Quick a couple years ago, but he just hasn't been able to get on the field. This offseason, we signed Kenny Britt, though he hasn't been anywhere as productive as he was early in his NFL career to say nothing of his off-field pursuits...In any case, I think it doesn't bode well to bring back a nearly identical WR corps from a year ago that was ranked 27th in passing yards and tied for 20th in passing TDs.
With Donald and the rest of the draft, how much noise do you think St. Louis can make in what is expected to again be a difficult NFC West?
The million dollar question...there's so much parity across the NFL, it's hard to feel all that confident about any prediction in the preseason. A year ago, Washington was riding high on the promise and potential of RGIII, a player who they gave two additional first round picks to the Rams for. Despite RGIII's brutal knee injury in the playoffs, the Redskins felt they were on course to really become a consistent playoff team in the NFC. Fast forward through 2014, and the Rams loaded up the roster with six starters of the eight picks they eventually used as a result of the trade. Meanwhile, the Redskins just gifted the Rams the #2 overall pick.
Or take Arizona. Two seasons ago, they were clearly the basement team in the NFC West. With Seattle and San Francisco both winning 11 games and the Rams going 7-9 overall, 4-1-1 in divisional contests, Arizona was on the outside looking in. At 5-11 and 1-5 against NFC West teams, it didn't look like the Cardinals were going to catch up to the top of the division any time soon. Then comes 2013 and behind newly added QB Carson Palmer, the Cards leapfrogged the Rams to win 10 games and nearly make the playoffs.
Of course, that's part of what makes the NFL such an enjoyable product. Nearly every team thinks they got better over the course of the offseason. And sure, I'm not immune to the charms of the draft. If I'm trying to be coolly realistic, I'd say it just comes down to the offense and QB Sam Bradford. There's every reason to expect the defense will hold the team down and keep them in games. And sure, they'll even win a couple on their own the way they have the last two years. But the Rams haven't had a winning record since 2003. And despite the job HC Jeff Fisher and GM Les Snead have done to get the Rams out of the bottom tier of the NFL, mediocrity doesn't help you keep your job all that long in this league. Do I think they make noise in 2014? I definitely hope so. It's been too damn long.