2011 NFL Draft: DL or DB for the Rams?

David from Whitehall, Pa., writes: Being the big St. Louis Rams fan I am, I browse around daily looking at possible draft choices for the Rams this year. Everything I read seems to put defensive back at low priority and defensive line at a higher priority. This confuses me because last season the Rams ranked 19th in pass defense and 17th in run defense. They also ranked 21st in interceptions and an amazing seventh in sacks.

To me, it seems like the defensive line had a better year than the defensive backs and while the defensive line is still the same players, they lost Oshiomogho Atogwe at free safety, which hurts them some more.

I understand that two of their front four are in their 30s, but wouldn't it be better to get some to help with pass coverage, rather than a backup defensive lineman with their first pick? Or maybe even an outside linebacker that can help with the run and pass. This situation reminds me of the saying, "Don't fix what isn't broken" -- and with their superb play last season, I don't think their defensive line needs much fixing at this point.

Mike Sando: This issue ties into the previous item looking at how teams have never drafted a cornerback first overall.

Teams feel as though their scheming can mask issues in the secondary more than it can mask deficiencies on the line. Dominant defensive tackles such as Ndamukong Suh or Cortez Kennedy will cause more immediate problems for offenses than talented safeties or cornerbacks will ever cause. Offenses can always throw away from defensive backs. They cannot avoid huge men lining up within a few feet of their quarterback.

Those early picks are valuable, so teams like to use them for the most important positions. Teams see the secondary as less important than the front seven.

Your point about considering a linebacker is one to keep in mind. Again, though, teams can more readily find linebackers outside the first round. James Laurinaitis are Lofa Tatupu are two examples in the NFC West. I would rather take Chris Long second overall than Aaron Curry fourth overall, even if Curry played as well as Long has been playing. That changes if the linebacker is also a pass-rusher, but then we're usually talking about an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.

The age issues you cited regarding the Rams' defensive line must come into play. James Hall and Fred Robbins might have another year or two left, realistically.

Even with Robbins, the Rams needed another disruptive force inside. They've missed on too many defensive tackles in the draft over the years, from Jimmy Kennedy to Adam Carriker. I think the team's current leadership has shown a better eye for talent in the draft. The Rams can't go wrong strengthening the front seven early, then finding other ways -- including free agency -- to help the back end of the defense.