NFL Nation: Aaron Donald

Rams rookie review: Week 1

September, 8, 2014
Sep 8
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A look at playing time and production of each of the St. Louis Rams' drafted rookies and a quick glimpse at the undrafted rookie class in Sunday's 34-6 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

OL Greg Robinson, first round, No. 2 overall: As expected, Robinson did not start on the offensive line with Davin Joseph and Rodger Saffold handling right and left guard duties, respectively. Also as expected, Robinson found his way into the game when Saffold departed with a neck injury late in the game. Robinson played nine snaps on offense and three as a blocker on special teams. Watching how the offensive line fared without him, it's hard to imagine Robinson couldn't have turned in a similar pass-blocking performance at worst and represented an upgrade in the run game at best.

DT Aaron Donald, first round, No. 13 overall: Donald delivered on some of the promise he showed in the early stages of camp with four tackles, including two for a loss against Minnesota's vaunted run game. Most of his 29 defensive snaps came on clear passing downs as Donald entered on third downs inside with Eugene Sims joining him at tackle and Chris Long and Robert Quinn on the ends. There weren't a lot of bright spots among the members of this class, but Donald had his moments.

DB Lamarcus Joyner, second round, No. 41 overall: The Vikings' run-heavy approach didn't allow for the Rams to be in the nickel much, leaving Joyner with just 23 defensive snaps and a dozen more on special teams. He finished with two tackles on defense and another on special teams in a mostly nondescript debut.

RB Tre Mason, third round, No. 75 overall: Mason struggled in the preseason and doesn't provide help on special teams which rendered him inactive for his first NFL game. Of the team's five running backs, Mason was the only one inactive against the Vikings.

S Maurice Alexander, fourth round, No. 110 overall: In a mild surprise, Alexander was also inactive Sunday. It's not a surprise in the sense that Alexander wasn't expected to help on defense right away, but he figured to help on special teams. Rookie cornerback Marcus Roberson was active instead.

CB E.J. Gaines, sixth round, No. 188 overall: The only rookie to start, Gaines got the call in place of the injured Trumaine Johnson. Gaines played 56 defensive snaps (97 percent of the total) and six more on special teams. In the process, he had three tackles and two pass breakups, nearly coming up with an interception early in the game.

C Demetrius Rhaney, seventh round, No. 250 overall: Rhaney is on injured reserve for the season with a knee injury.

Undrafted rookie roundup: Roberson played 11 snaps on special teams and running back Trey Watts played nine there also, neither registered a tackle in the unofficial statistics. ... Tight end Alex Bayer and defensive lineman Ethan Westbrooks were pregame inactives.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers appear ready to go forward with JC Tretter as their starting center even if coach Mike McCarthy won't put that in stone just yet.

Tretter has passed every test McCarthy and his coaching staff has put in front of the second-year pro. From the offseason work to the full-pads practices of training camp and through the first preseason game, there has been nothing to suggest that Tretter won't line up in front of quarterback Aaron Rodgers when the regular season opens on Sept. 4 at the Seattle Seahawks.

[+] EnlargeJC Tretter
Jim Brown/USA TODAY SportsJC Tretter battled through harsh playing conditions in his first game at center last Saturday at Tennessee.
"Every day he's gotten better at something and he continues to grow that way," Packers offensive line coach James Campen said. "And a lot of that is because he knows what to do. He doesn't have to sit there and think and have that hold him back. He knows his assignments so well and knows what everyone else is doing, so that just accelerates his growth."

The Packers could not have asked for a tougher assignment for Tretter's first start last Saturday at Tennessee. The monsoon-like conditions made the ball tough to handle, but Tretter and quarterback Matt Flynn did not have a single problem with an exchange in their 16 snaps together.

It won't get any easier on Saturday at St. Louis -- although the weather won't be a factor in the Edward Jones Dome -- where Tretter will have to deal with the defensive tackle combination of Michael Brockers and Aaron Donald, a pair of first-round picks.

"I think JC's off to a great start," McCarthy said. "I think the Tennessee game was definitely impressive. I want to see him stack success anytime you play well. We're getting ready to play against an extremely talented, very good defensive front, so this will be great work for us."

Against the Titans, Tretter handled both his pass-protection and run-blocking duties with only one correction -- a technique mistake -- needed in the postgame film review.

"Talking with the other offensive linemen, they feel comfortable with him," said Flynn, who started in place of Rodgers. "It was nice that he played really well this past weekend. That was a good sign, and I think he's going to grow more and more and faster because of the two guards [T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton] around him."

But one game does not make an NFL center. Before last Saturday, Tretter had never played in an NFL game and had never snapped a ball at any level. He spent his entire college career as a tackle at Cornell and then did not play at all last season as a rookie after breaking his ankle in his first OTA practice.

"I still think I haven’t made the transition fully yet," Tretter said. "It's still a work in progress. It's kind of a mentality, it's kind of a mindset that we came into it understanding that there was going to be bumps. There are going to be days where it didn't look good but as long as we continued to correct our mistakes and build off our successes, I'd continue to become a better player and that's kind of how we went into it and that's how we kind of stayed throughout."
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams have made it through the collectively bargained opening days of training camp. Now the real football can begin.

With a practice scheduled for 4:30 p.m. ET Tuesday, the Rams are set to put on the pads for the first time in this camp. Here's a look at some things I'll be watching as the physical contact and, presumably, the intensity takes a step up.

Catching up

It's pretty normal for the defense to be well ahead of the offense in the opening days of camp, but it's fair to say that if you play offense, especially on the line, in St. Louis, the pads aren't coming on a moment too soon. The hope is that adding pads will help neutralize things a bit and the offensive line will be able to go toe to toe with the dominant defensive line on a more consistent basis. So far, the defense has been so aggressive that it's been difficult for quarterback Sam Bradford and the top offense to get much of anything going. In most of the team drills, Bradford hasn't even had time to throw, and when he has, he's often done it in the face of a defender or two. Rams coach Jeff Fisher intimated that the No. 1 offense and No. 1 defense won't square off as much as they did during the opening days of camp, either. That could be a positive development for the top offense, which needs to get into a rhythm and gain some confidence as preseason games draw closer. If the starters begin seeing more backups opposite them, the real loser is the poor second-string offensive line charged with stopping the first-team defensive line.


My personal favorite drill to watch in training camp is the one-on-one pass-rushing drills. I pay attention to the lines before the pads come on, but you can't really get a feel for them until the pads are on. So even though the pass-rush drills take place during seven-on-seven passing drills, I often find myself gravitating toward the big men on the other end of the field. That won't change this year. I'm most interested to see how the two first-round picks fare in these drills -- offensive lineman Greg Robinson and defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Robinson had the unfortunate task of getting tossed in against Robert Quinn in the opening days, and he's expected to take reps at tackle and guard in these drills so we should get to see him try his hand against Quinn again and against Donald as well. As for Donald, I'm curious to see if the addition of pads will slow him down any (my guess: a resounding no), and I want to see him against Rodger Saffold on the inside. A good look at new defensive tackle Alex Carrington and some of the young linemen jockeying for position will also be worth watching.

Getting physical

There's been plenty of hype surrounding receiver Kenny Britt since his arrival and his performance in organized team activities and even in the early days of camp. Some of that has trickled down to other wideouts such as Brian Quick, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin. But it's been difficult to evaluate how they're really faring since the cornerbacks have been unable to do what many expect them to under the guidance of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Which is to say, they haven't really been able to be as physical in press coverage as perhaps Williams wants them to be. One-on-one, seven-on-seven and team drills should give us a better glimpse at not only what Williams wants to do coverage-wise, but also a better gauge of what's real and what's not when it comes to receiver potential for the season.

Rams Camp Report: Day 1

July, 25, 2014
Jul 25
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A daily review of the highlights from St. Louis Rams training camp:

  • Quarterback Sam Bradford has been cleared to be a full participant in this camp and took the repetitions with the first-team offense Friday afternoon. Coach Jeff Fisher indicated that Bradford can do everything and actually embarrassed a few players he didn't want to name in the team's conditioning test. According to Fisher, Bradford might not do everything in camp and the preseason, but they aren't going to have any hesitation to use him, and if they back him off, it will be a decision made at the time because of soreness rather than a set schedule.
  • Fisher said the Rams still expect left tackle Jake Long to be ready to go for the season opener. What's interesting is the plan in the meantime. Fisher said the offensive line will rotate the linemen to different positions throughout camp to give everybody a look at a different spot. Rodger Saffold told me the Rams gave him a schedule that actually has what position he'll be playing and when at various times during different practices. On Friday, it was a little bit of a surprise to see rookie Greg Robinson at left tackle rather than left guard. Robinson played some left tackle in the rookies-only portion of practice earlier this week, but he's going to get a lot of opportunities to do both during this camp. For what it's worth, Saffold lined up at left guard with Robinson at left tackle and Davin Joseph at right guard. Tim Barnes took the reps with the first team at center, and Joe Barksdale handled his usual spot at right tackle.
  • Speaking of center, Scott Wells did not participate in practice, though he did light running on the side in the warm-ups and other parts of practice. With Wells not participating, Barnes handled the bulk of the reps in the middle with the first-team offense.Joining Wells on the did-not-participate list: Long, defensive end William Hayes, safety Christian Bryant, fullback Kadeem Jones, linebacker Johnny Millard, defensive end Sammy Brown and defensive tackle Ethan Westbrooks.
  • As for the happenings on the practice field, it's more than fair to say the defense is ahead of the offense at this early stage. That should be no surprise, as that's often the case, but it was tough sledding for most of the day with a few early exceptions in seven-on-seven when Bradford connected with tight end Lance Kendricks a couple of times. Once team drills began, though, life became even more difficult with the defensive line consistently wreaking havoc on Bradford. When Bradford did get a pass off, it usually came a beat or two after he would have been sacked in normal game speed. Bradford and receiver Stedman Bailey had a clear miscommunication on one deep ball early in practice that fell easily into the waiting hands of cornerback Brandon McGee for an interception. Bradford looked a bit rusty overall and lacked zip on some of his throws (perhaps because of the pressure), but he did move well. He said after practice he believes the added challenge from the top defense should only serve to make the offense better.
  • Working mostly with the second-team defense, rookie defensive tackle Aaron Donald continues to be a terror. He made life miserable for the second-team offensive line and quarterback Shaun Hill. Hard to tell what's going to be more difficult: keeping Donald off the field or trying to block him.
  • Quick roster note: The Rams signed defensive end Kourtnei Brown and released wide receiver Austin Franklin. Brown is wearing No. 93.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Before last Thursday night, if you wanted to come to the conclusion that the St. Louis Rams had a "type" when it comes to their defensive tackles, it would have been easy to see what it was.

The tackles brought in since the arrival of coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead in 2012 all cut an imposing shadow. Michael Brockers is 6-foot-5, 326 pounds, Kendall Langford checks in at 6-6, 313 pounds, Matt Conrath is 6-7, 284 pounds and newly-signed Alex Carrington is 6-5, 301 pounds. The only outlier is Jermelle Cudjo, who is 6-2, 304 pounds, but he is also the line holdover from the previous regime.

If those measurements were your sole way of viewing what the Rams value at the position, you probably were a bit surprised when they used the 13th overall pick in the NFL draft on defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Donald is listed at just under 6-1, 285 pounds. In a land of giants, Donald doesn't seem to fit.

[+] EnlargeAaron Donald
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesRams rookie defensive tackle Aaron Donald makes up for a lack of size with agility and athleticism.
And that's precisely the point.

"His game is not size," Snead said. "I think his game is speed, quickness. So I think getting bigger really doesn’t help him, and one of the reasons we were fine with the pick is he’s short so he always has leverage and he’s just a strong kid. He had very high, I forget his bench reps, but it translates to the field. He knows how to use his hands, get low and take on a double team. ... His game is to penetrate.”

In adding Donald, the Rams are getting the exact genre of defensive tackle that they've lacked. On a defensive line flush with talent, Donald provides a pass-rushing, penetrating style that has drawn comparisons to the likes of Cincinnati's Geno Atkins and former Vikings defensive tackle John Randle.

Tired of having to bump ends William Hayes and Eugene Sims inside all the time to collapse the pocket on passing downs, the Rams clearly made adding more push up the middle an offseason priority.

They signed Carrington after having discussions with other possible free-agent fits such as Antonio Smith and Henry Melton. In the pre-draft process, they hosted seven possible fits for the interior, Donald included.

But none of those players come with the resume of Donald. He won every major award for which he was eligible in 2013, including the Nagurski (nation's top defensive player), the Bednarik (defensive player of the year), the Outland (nation's best interior lineman) and the Lombardi (nation's top lineman or linebacker).

Those awards came after a season in which Donald posted 28.5 tackles for loss, the most in college football's Bowl Subdivision, and 11 sacks.

All of that was enough to land Donald in the top eight of the Rams' draft board, according to Fisher. Most teams say they were "surprised" when a player they draft falls to them but in this case, the Rams really meant it.

“We were," Fisher said. "Les’ guys did a great job with the research and we felt like there was a pretty good chance that he would disappear, and then a couple things happened. We were rubbing our lucky coin and he was there.”

Donald will join a line where he won't be asked to carry such a heavy load right away. The Rams' defensive linemen accounted for 47 sacks in 2013, the most by any group in the NFL. Flanked by ends like Robert Quinn, Chris Long, Hayes and Sims, Donald should see fewer double-teams on passing downs, where his immediate contributions will likely reside.

“I’m real excited just to have those veteran guys like that around me," Donald said. "I can learn from them and if I need something, anything answered that I feel like I’m struggling with, I can ask those guys and they can push me and help me to take my game to another level, so I’m real excited about it.”

Donald's production despite a lack of size compared to others at his position can be directly attributed to his athleticism. Donald ran the 40-yard dash in 4.68 seconds and bench pressed 225 pounds 35 times at the scouting combine. On Tuesday, he told that he can dunk a basketball on a regulation 10-foot rim and has been able to do so since about his sophomore year of high school.

Adding to that athleticism is the type of technique that had Fisher gushing soon after drafting Donald.

"[He] is very, very productive; he’s an outstanding young man," Fisher said. "He’s way ahead in hand use on the line of scrimmage. He does an outstanding job with his hands.”

St. Louis Rams draft wrap-up

May, 10, 2014
May 10
NFC wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A wrap-up of the St. Louis Rams' draft.

Best move: Putting football aside, the Rams made a historic move in using the 249th overall pick on Missouri defensive end Michael Sam. Sam became the first openly gay player drafted to the NFL. There will be plenty of time to discuss how he fits the defense, his chances of making the roster and everything else a draft pick entails. But for now, the Rams should be applauded for taking an important step that will have a lasting impact well beyond the confines of a football field.

[+] EnlargeGreg Robinson
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhThe Rams strengthened both lines with their two first-round picks, starting with offensive tackle Greg Robinson at No. 2 overall.
Best move, II: Using their two first-round picks to bulk up on the lines. The Rams could have gone many ways with the Nos. 2 and 13 picks in the first round, and there were other avenues that would have been fine, but they showed a lot of self-awareness by staying at those spots and grabbing Auburn offensive lineman Greg Robinson and Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald. The NFC West is the toughest, most physical division in football. Most games in this league are won up front, but all games in the NFC West are. It's not going to be easy to outmuscle the likes of the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals, but the Rams proved capable of it two seasons ago before taking a step back last season. The first two picks are a sign they don't intend to have their lunch money stolen as often in 2014.

Riskiest move: Waiting until the sixth round to take a quarterback. There, the Rams selected Southern Methodist's Garrett Gilbert. In the run up to the draft, the Rams insisted that not only did they want to get a quarterback, they wanted to land someone capable of pushing starter Sam Bradford. Apparently, they didn't feel too strongly about that. The Rams should be set at the backup spot with free-agent addition Shaun Hill on the roster, but the future of the position remains up in the air. Bradford has two years remaining on his contract but needs to prove his durability and produce at a higher level for a full season before the team commits to him for the long haul. It's not impossible for Gilbert to develop into a solid backup, but counting on him to provide a possible long-term solution or push Bradford for the job is folly.

Most surprising move: Spending a third-round pick on running back Tre Mason. This isn't to say the Rams didn't need help at the position. Starter Zac Stacy has had issues with minor injuries costing him a series here or a quarter there. Benny Cunningham has flashed potential, but the sample size is small. This isn't anything against Mason, who is a good back with outstanding college production. It's just more of a surprise that the team went with a back with more pressing needs to be filled. The Rams insist Mason was too much value to resist, but it's fair to wonder whether they could have waited to get a back capable of contributing. After all, they landed Stacy in the fifth round a year ago.

File it away: Keep an eye on Missouri cornerback E.J. Gaines, the team's first sixth-round pick, taken at No. 188 overall. The Rams drafted Lamarcus Joyner to handle the nickel duties, and he'll step in right away at that spot, but Gaines played outside on both sides and showed the flexibility to play inside for the Tigers. That versatility should give Gaines a chance to contribute right away and potentially become the primary backup at all three spots. Gaines started 37 games in his career, including a strong performance against Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans in a 2013 matchup. Evans had just four catches for 8 yards in that game. Although A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel wasn't at full strength, Gaines earned rave reviews for that performance from scouts in the pre-draft process. Gaines was a sixth-round pick, so expectations won't be too high, but that also puts him in position to exceed the ones that exist.

Rams sit still to add quality

May, 10, 2014
May 10
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- For the past two years under coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead, the St. Louis Rams have undergone a complete reconstruction of a roster that was one of the worst in the league.

On Friday night, the Rams offered two more indications that they are saying goodbye to frantically moving down in the draft to accumulate picks and hello to a brave new world in which the chronically trade-happy decision makers can sit still and simply select the best player available.

"It's been, I don't want to say easy, but it's been good," Fisher said. "The board is good, the value is there and we feel good about where we are and we also feel good about finishing strong tomorrow."

The Rams threw their first curveball of this year's draft Friday night when they opted to pass on more obvious needs and choose a running back in the third round.

Not that the Rams couldn't use another back, but the selection of Auburn running back Tre Mason with the 75th overall pick was a prime example of the prism through which the team now views itself. Almost since arrival, Fisher, Snead and most others associated with the Rams quietly held to the idea that 2014 would be the team's breakthrough season.

That vow moved closer to a promise this offseason as the previously silent notion became an open discussion. A mostly inactive free-agent period offered one clue that the Rams believe the current roster is close to taking the next step.

The first three rounds of this draft has offered more evidence.

With other positions of more clear need available to them with the 75th pick, the Rams selected Mason to add to a backfield in which Zac Stacy, the team's leading rusher a year ago, already resides.

When asked why the Rams opted for Mason with the third-round choice, Fisher offered a telling response in making it clear that Mason was too much value to turn down.

"That was the nature of the pick," Fisher said. "That's where we are right now is we just couldn't pass him up."

In the Rams' first two drafts under Snead and Fisher, the team made six draft-day trades, moving down four times and up twice. Aside from a late-round deal in 2013 to land Stacy, all of those deals have been in the early rounds of the draft.

The idea was simple: accumulate as many picks as possible even if it meant sacrificing possible quality in favor of quantity. If the success of a draft pick is a veritable coin flip, the Rams wanted to flip as many coins as possible.

The progress on the field has been evident as a team that won 15 games over the previous five seasons won 14 the past two years but it still has been far from enough. A lack of true difference makers the caliber of star defensive end Robert Quinn has kept the Rams from reaching the next level.

Nobody knows for sure whether players like Mason, Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson, Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald or defensive back Lamarcus Joyner will turn into that type of player, but the stay-at-home attitude the Rams have adopted for most of this draft would indicate they believe roster spots are hard to come by and game changers were there to be had in their original spots.

Perhaps in fear of developing a nervous tick by having to wait so long to make some sort of deal, Fisher and Snead did make one deal on Friday night, trading up three spots to nab Joyner at No. 44 overall before Tennessee could pick him. Even that move indicates the Rams are placing a premium on the player rather than a pile of picks.

It's a trend that will continue Saturday when the Rams make their remaining seven choices.

"We're going to look at our roster, who fills a role and whatever role that is, if it helps us become a more successful team, that's kind of what you try to do," Snead said. "You'll have fun with the last picks."

For the first time in awhile, the Rams' insistence that they're close is backed by their actions. Only time will tell if they're right.
PITTSBURGH -- Ryan Shazier posed with a No. 50 Steelers jersey presented to him by team president Art Rooney II Friday afternoon.

There was a potential problem and it had nothing to do with the shirt per se that Shazier and Rooney held up as photographers snapped pictures in the Steelers’ media room.

The No. 50, however, previously belonged to former Steelers linebacker Larry Foote.

[+] EnlargeRyan Shazier
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteRyan Shazier started at Ohio State as a true freshman. Will he impress the Steelers enough this summer to start as a rookie?
Foote played his college ball at Michigan and Shazier is an Ohio State product.

The question, asked in a light vein, of whether he was OK taking a number that had been worn by a Michigan man left Shazier a tad flustered.

But what emerged from his latest stop in what has been a whirlwind since the Steelers made him the 15th overall pick of the draft is that Shazier has long been comfortable in whatever he is wearing.

That is especially true of his own skin.

Shazier overcame childhood taunts while growing up in South Florida, and he continues to have the last laugh over those who teased him when Alopecia, a condition in which the immune system attacks hair follicles, robbed him of his hair.

“I was probably the only little kid walking around with a bald head,” Shazier said. “It was tough because kids are mean. I just embraced it. I feel like if you didn’t like me for who I am, it’s a problem with you. I feel like it’s my signature now. I love having Alopecia. Having a bald head actually saves me a lot of money.”

Shazier will cost the Steelers a few bucks, especially if he comes anywhere close to living up the effusive praise that general manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin lavished on him Thursday night.

Reaction to the Steelers picking Shazier has been mixed at best, and it has little to do with the player who piled up 143 tackles, including 22 for losses, and six sacks in 2013 and is only 21 years old.

Many fans wanted the Steelers to take a cornerback or wide receiver in the first round. When they went in a different direction some wondered why the Steelers didn’t try to trade down in the first round and still get Shazier.

There actually is a very good reason why the Steelers stayed where they were: the Cowboys were ready to pick Shazier if he made it past the Steelers.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Shazier, UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr, Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald and Notre Dame offensive tackle Zack Martin had been targeted by Dallas for its first-round pick.

The Cowboys would have picked between Shazier and Martin but the Steelers did not provide them with that option, and they drafted Martin.

“My dad said that people were hinting to him that the Cowboys were going to draft me with the next pick,” Shazier said. “I’m happy that the Steelers drafted me. I can’t wait to go to Heinz Field and go out there and play in a Steelers jersey.”

The real work for Shazier starts next week when the Steelers hold rookie minicamp.

It will be the first look the Steelers get at Shazier and the rest of the first-year players on the field. And Shazier will be among those who feel utterly lost at times because the 6-foot-1, 237-pounder is learning a new and complex system.

But if Shazier, who played as a true freshman at Ohio State, makes steady progress during offseason practices he will go to training camp with a good chance of winning a starting job.

Such progress will start after his feet touch down and are back firmly planted on the ground.

“It’s just amazing to be in a great city like this with the greatest franchise,” Shazier said of getting drafted by the Steelers. “The plan is to come here and get a seventh [Super Bowl] trophy.”
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams might have caught some by surprise when they chose Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald with the 13th pick in Thursday night's first round of the NFL draft.

But for those paying attention, the Rams have been in search of a certain style of defensive tackle to join the rotation, a style they don't currently have. Which is to say they wanted a 3-technique tackle capable of collapsing the pocket.

Donald's statistics strongly indicate he fills that role. This isn't about being disappointed with Michael Brockers or Kendall Langford's performance, it's about finding a complement to them. Donald had 11 sacks and led the nation with 28 1/2 tackles for loss last year. The Rams wanted someone who can come in on third down and sure passing situations to wreak havoc while Langford and Brockers handle run-stuffing duties.

It also allows the Rams to use William Hayes more at defensive end instead of having to move him around so much. That helps the defensive line rotation.

While Donald's numbers speak for themselves, let's turn it over to someone who has watched him play quite a bit. ESPN's Notre Dame/ACC reporter Matt Fortuna offered this scouting report:
"Aaron Donald was the best defensive player in college football last season. As Pitt was quick [and correct] to remind us, he may have been the game's best defensive lineman in recent memory. The school sent out graphics last season comparing Donald's campaign to that of Ndamukong Suh's famed 2009 season at Nebraska, and Donald's more than stacked up.

Donald's trophy case speaks for itself, as does the fact that he had a tackle for loss in all but one game last season (a Nov. 9 win over Notre Dame). One can argue he single-handedly took the Panthers to the postseason in their first year of ACC play, as his 3 1/2 tackles for loss, two quarterback hurries and blocked extra point in a 17-16 win at Syracuse on Nov. 23 notched win No. 6 for his team. His performance in a Nov. 2 loss at Georgia Tech may have been more impressive, with the defensive tackle notching six tackles for loss against a Yellow Jackets team that ran just 63 offensive plays — meaning nearly 10 percent of said plays ended with Donald making a stop behind the line of scrimmage.

Of course, there were other numbers that often got thrown last fall whenever someone spoke of Donald — 6-foot-1, 285 pounds. While the frame is less than ideal for an interior lineman, Donald has proven through both his play and his combine performances that the issue should be mitigated, as he possesses a strong first step and great leverage, with a work ethic that should compensate for his physical shortcomings."
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Much has been made of St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher's history of passing on offensive linemen in the first round as a head coach. Entering Thursday night, Fisher had held 17 picks in the first round as a head coach and never selected one in the opening round.

But Fisher long insisted that his avoidance of linemen in the first was not intentional and more a matter of circumstance. His Titans/Oilers teams had players like Brad Hopkins entrenched in their spots.

[+] EnlargeZack Martin
AP Photo/G.M. AndrewsThe Rams pursued avenues to land Zack Martin, which would've given them two offensive linemen from their first-round haul.
On Thursday night, Fisher bucked the trend and darn near blew it away completely by taking not one but two big uglies for his offensive line.

After using the No. 2 overall pick on Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson, the Rams were surprised to see a few of their favorite targets tumble down the board to their second pick at No. 13. Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald was ultimately too much value for the Rams to pass up but had he been gone, the Rams would have gone the way of San Francisco circa 2010 and doubled down on offensive linemen.

The target was Notre Dame's Zack Martin, a player the Rams had been eyeing as a possible pick for some time. Even after passing on Martin, though, the Rams almost made the boldest of moves to add him to the haul that already included Robinson and Donald.

“We actually made an effort just a few minutes ago to go back up to try to get Martin but we were unsuccessful,” Fisher said.

After the Rams took Donald, Chicago drafted Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller and Pittsburgh grabbed Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier. The Rams commenced conversations with Baltimore at No. 17 about moving up for Martin.

That would have meant a move from the second round at No. 44 overall and probably cost the Rams a boatload of picks or, perhaps, a first-round pick in 2015.

"It would’ve been pricey but worth it," Fisher said. "It was a good pick for the Cowboys.”

Dallas quickly stamped out that possibility by drafting Martin at No. 16. Another player the Rams really liked at No. 13, Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley, remained on the board and also had the Rams' attention but the Ravens took him right after Martin went to the Cowboys.

“They all went," general manager Les Snead said. "I had left and then I came back and said, 'Mosley went right after Martin.' When we got down to two, it was those three. Donald was No. 1 and it worked out for us.”

As for a possible trade with the No. 2 pick, Snead said nothing ever got too serious though Buffalo, which eventually traded up to No. 4 from No. 9, did inquire.

"They were probably the one team that was the most motivated," Snead said.

Rams muscle up for NFC West

May, 8, 2014
May 8

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- In the roughest neighborhood in the NFL, the NFC West, you're either the bully or the one being bullied. There's no in-between.

After sitting still at Nos. 2 and 13 to make their picks, it's clear the St. Louis Rams would like a change in role.

Eschewing their annual tradition of making first-round trades and the almost two-decade history of coach Jeff Fisher not taking an offensive lineman in the first round, the Rams dedicated their Thursday night to adding players who are more likely to take your lunch money than surrender it.

As widely predicted, St. Louis took Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson at No. 2. And in a move that came as a great surprise even to them, the Rams chose Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald with the 13th pick. Robinson was the first offensive tackle selected and Donald the first defensive tackle.

[+] EnlargeGreg Robinson
Allen Kee/ESPN ImagesGreg Robinson is likely to begin his NFL career on the inside at guard.
The explanation for the moves didn't come with much sizzle but there's plenty of steak.

"We felt like we definitely needed to address both sides of the ball upfront," Fisher said. "I really felt like this was the best thing for our football team right now."

General manager Les Snead put a finer point on it.

"Football teams, you build from the inside out," Snead said. "I always say that's when you are building your foundation. At the end of the day, when you lay your foundation for your skyscraper it's probably the least exciting thing that you do but that's the thing that holds that skyscraper up for a lot of years. But it was definitely a strategy to say 'You know what, we're going to get our foundation stronger' and I think that's going to help us."

This draft came with nobody bigger, badder or more equipped to do battle in the NFC West than Robinson. At 6-foot-5, 332 pounds, Robinson is the football version of Deebo from the movie "Friday." He takes what he wants when he wants it, especially in the running game.

While Robinson's pass protection will need refining, he'll have plenty of time to get it right under offensive line coach Paul Boudreau as he's likely to begin his NFL career on the inside at guard. For a team that finished the season getting owned upfront by Seattle to the tune of 18 yards on 13 carries, Robinson is a much-needed hammer.

"We felt like Greg was a piece of the puzzle that's going to help us control that line of scrimmage," Snead said. "In our division, you have got to be physical. All three of those teams have really good front sevens."

[+] EnlargeAaron Donald
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicOpponents can expect Aaron Donald to make himself a presence in their offensive backfields.
Donald isn't as physically imposing as Robinson but wreaks plenty of havoc of his own. Donald uses quickness off the ball and strong hands to spend large chunks of time in the offensive backfield. Donald finished 2013 with 11 sacks and a nation-leading 28.5 tackles for loss.

Most expected Donald to go in the top 10 but the Rams had him in their top eight players, making him too good to pass on at No. 13.

While defensive tackle wasn't the most pressing need, the Rams did lack a three-technique capable of pushing the pocket consistently. The 6-foot, 285-pound Donald is one of the rare prospects with natural skills in that realm.

Adding a fourth first-round pick to an already strong defensive line might seem excessive but to that, Snead offered three simple words.

"Feed the beast," Snead said. "Feed the beast."

Snead was referring specifically to the defensive line but he might as well have been talking about the team at large.

The Rams still have plenty of work to do to make up ground in the rough and tumble NFC West but Thursday's picks offered proof the Rams don't plan on being pushed around anymore.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The pick: Aaron Donald, defensive tackle, Pittsburgh

My take: On the surface this looks like an obvious best-player-available choice, but the Rams clearly viewed defensive tackle as more of a need than others after spending much of the pre-draft process scouting the position. Donald is the best defensive tackle in the draft and a pure three-technique with premium pass-rush skills. When I mocked Donald to the Rams in our NFL Nation mock draft earlier this week, I made the pick believing it was not only a great value, but a great fit. Donald gives the Rams the type of defensive tackle they don't have. They have big run-stuffers in Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford. What they don't have is someone who can push the pocket on a consistent basis. Donald provides that after posting 11 sacks and 28.5 tackles for loss in 2013.

Win the line: There's no denying the obvious overtones of the Rams' first two picks. The Seattle Seahawks proved that you have to win the line of scrimmage to win in the West, and San Francisco and Arizona dominated the Rams in that regard in the Rams' divisional road trips last year. Adding Donald to the defensive line and Robinson to the offensive line should boost the Rams' chances of keeping up with the powerful fronts the other three teams possess. Expect Donald to step in as part of the rotation right away, especially on passing downs.

What's next: The Rams' decision-makers might be developing a bit of a nervous tick after not making a trade in the first round, but they still have 10 more picks to make over the next two days. Expect secondary and receiver to get some much-needed attention as we head into Friday.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- We've finally arrived at draft day and the next few hours will provide our final chances at speculating on what could happen instead of evaluating what has happened.

With that in mind, let's make the most of that time and go through five scenarios that could play out for the St. Louis Rams with the No. 13 pick when they come on the clock tonight. Since there are many more possibilities at 13, we'll do our best to narrow them down.

It's been awfully difficult to sift through the smoke in this pre-draft process, but these are the five things I believe the Rams will consider for the 13th pick in order of how I think the team will prioritize them.

1. Trade down

Once again, this is general manager Les Snead and coach Jeff Fisher we're talking about here. They have traded every first-round pick they have had since arriving in 2012. There is no reason to think they wouldn't do so again.

It's harder to project who teams could target in a move up here, but if one of the top players falls, there are plenty of teams that could look to move up. A top quarterback such as Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel or Central Florida's Blake Bortles might draw some attention, as could a top offensive lineman like Notre Dame's Zack Martin or Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

If they make a trade, the Rams could still likely have their pick of a top cornerback, safety, linebacker or another position of need.

2. Draft a top player who surprisingly falls

Much has been made of the potential for the Rams to draft Manziel. While it's likely he'll be gone by this point, if he does fall, don't be surprised if the Rams pull the trigger on him with this pick (though a trade could also materialize). There are other top players who seem destined to go in the 12, but could slide to St. Louis and become intriguing options.

In our NFL Nation mock draft, Donald slipped to 13 and I chose him for the Rams. I think they would do the same if he somehow made it to them but again, that is not expected because three-technique tackles capable of rushing the passer are so hard to find.

3. Draft the best player available

This isn't much different than the above category with this exception: in this instance, I'm not accounting for a player who would be regarded as a surprise should he fall to this spot. Heading up the list of players worth watching at this spot is Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley. He hasn't been linked to the Rams much in the pre-draft process (though our Todd McShay has mocked him to St. Louis a couple of times) but I've been told the Rams think highly of him and believe he could be the perfect final piece to round out their linebacking corps.

Martin is another player who fits this mold and could be an easy pick for the Rams here, especially if they don't take a tackle with their earlier pick.

4. Draft a top cornerback

It is not often that needs meet value perfectly, but this is one spot in the draft where that could happen. The Rams seem content with Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson as starters but they have also spent plenty of time vetting the top cornerbacks in this year's draft. Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert, Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard and Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller are among the names that paid pre-draft visits to Rams Park, and it's possible all could be available at this point.

If that's the case, the Rams could have a decision to make if they choose to go this direction. Although Dennard is believed to be the best scheme fit, I believe the Rams might view Gilbert as the better player. Adding a top corner here would certainly help a secondary in need but it seems other top players at positions of lesser need would have to be gone first. A first-round corner feels more likely in a trade down scenario but the Rams could go that direction here if there isn't a better value here.

5. Draft a safety

Most signs indicate that the Rams aren't sold enough on either of the top two safeties -- Louisville's Calvin Pryor or Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix -- to draft one at No. 13 considering the other options that figure to be available. Again, this seems like an alternative possibility should the Rams find a trade-down partner with this pick. For what it's worth, I believe the Rams actually prefer Pryor to Clinton-Dix, but most indications are that they are more likely to wait until the second or third round to pick this position.
Calvin Pryor Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesSafety Calvin Pryor forced nine fumbles over his last three years at Louisville.
Draft day is here, and the Chicago Bears are hours away from being on the clock with the 14th overall pick in the first round (assuming they don't trade down). Who would our Bears writers take if they were running the war room at Halas Hall?

Michael C. Wright: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville

A defensive tackle probably provides more value at No. 14, but more than likely, a player such as Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald will be gone once the Bears go on the clock. So the next best thing would be to address the club's glaring need at safety, which is why I'd take Louisville safety Calvin Pryor in the first round.

Of all the team's position needs headed into the draft, safety is the only one that's absolutely imperative for the Bears to address at some point this weekend.


Which need should the Bears address with their first-round pick?


Discuss (Total votes: 7,600)

Cornerback makes sense as well in the first round, but let's remember the Bears already have a pair of starters (very good ones, too) in Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings.

At safety, the Bears signed Ryan Mundy, M.D. Jennings and Danny McCray during free agency, and although this trio has started games in the NFL, is anyone absolutely confident any of these guys can get it done consistently for an entire regular season? I'm not, and that's not to say they can't. Maybe they can. But I certainly wouldn't leave it up to chance without doing everything in my power to strengthen the position.

As it stands now, both starting safety spots are up for grabs, according to general manager Phil Emery. So why not add a young, intimidating, physical presence such as Pryor to throw into the mix with the other players on the roster for a training camp competition to determine the starting two on the back end?

Compared side by side with Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who is considered the better pass defender, Pryor's numbers stack up favorably. Over his last three seasons in college, Pryor, like Clinton-Dix, picked off seven passes.

The difference in my opinion is Pryor has delivered more crushing, knockout blows on opponents; the type of hits that set the tone and energize an entire defense, while striking absolute fear in the opponent. Perhaps that's how Pryor forced nine fumbles over his last three years at Louisville, while Clinton-Dix forced only one in the same span at Alabama.

The Bears can't go wrong with either player at No. 14, because both would address an immediate need. But my preference is Pryor just because I like his style of play and believe it would transfer well in Chicago. He reminds me a lot of former Bears safety Mike Brown.

Jeff Dickerson: Pryor or trade down

The greatest unknown in tonight's opening round of the NFL draft centers around the quarterback position.

Exactly how many of the quarterbacks (Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, etc.) will be taken before the Bears are on the clock at No. 14? That is the key question of the draft for the Bears.

If two of the quarterbacks are selected prior to the 14th pick, the Bears likely will find a much better pool of players to choose from at No. 14, thereby diminishing the likelihood of a trade.

If available, Louisville safety Calvin Pryor makes sense for the Bears at No. 14 overall, especially if Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald is off the board.

Pryor would immediately add a physical and intimidating player to a defense that failed to scare anybody last season. Pryor isn't the best coverage safety in the draft (that distinction goes to Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix), but he dominates in run support. Remember, the Bears ranked a respectable 15th last season in passing defense, but 32nd (dead last) versus the run.

With the safety declared wide open by general manager Phil Emery, it's easy to envision Pryor stepping into the starting lineup from Day 1 and strengthening the middle of the Bears' defense.

Pryor also is an open book to the Bears. There are no secrets. One of his former college coaches at Louisville, Clint Hurtt, was added to the Bears' coaching staff in the offseason. The valuable inside information that Hurtt can provide on Pryor, and the rest of the college football landscape from his days as a recruiting coordinator for the Cardinals and University of Miami, cannot be overlooked.

Pryor, Donald, Clinton-Dix, Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert, Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard, Alabama inside linebacker C.J. Mosley and even UCLA OLB Anthony Barr seem logical candidates for the Bears to consider at No. 14, although Pryor appears to be the most feasible pick at this late juncture of the pre-draft process.

But what if the quarterbacks slide as many expect?

The Bears could be tempted to trade back in the first round to acquire more picks if a quarterback-hungry team presses the panic button and attempts to move up from Bortles or Manziel.

Maybe Emery can still grab Pryor a few picks later or in the 20s. If not, Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward, Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller and Minnesota defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman are among the strong options that should be available beyond No. 14.

In a draft rich with offensive talent, teams need to strike quickly to scoop up the top defensive players. Expect the Bears to address defense in Round 1. That's about the most definitive statement a media member can make regarding Emery's draft plans.

But that's what makes the draft so much fun, isn't it?
Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie wants to draft for the future, but he also needs an impact player with that first pick at No. 5 overall tonight who can step in and contribute immediately.

Basically, the opposite of McKenzie's first two drafts. In 2012 he did not have a pick until the final selection of the third round, which he used to draft Tony Bergstrom and his nine career games. In 2013, when McKenzie traded back from No. 3 to No. 12, he took the injured D.J. Hayden, who would appear in just eight games.


If Jadeveon Clowney, Khalil Mack and Sammy Watkins are all gone by the time Oakland's first-round turn comes up at No. 5, which of these things should the Raiders do?


Discuss (Total votes: 3,509)

The advice from this corner? With a seeming wish list topped by purported consensus No. 1 pick Jadeveon Clowney, the South Carolina defensive end, Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack and Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins, the Raiders should simply pick whichever one is still on the board when it is their turn.

Hey, it happened in our ESPN NFL Nation mock draft, Watkins fell into Oakland's lap.

But what if the three playmakers are gone in the first four selections?

The feeling here is the Raiders should try to trade back a few spots to acquire draft picks -- Oakland is without selections in the fifth and sixth rounds and have three picks in the seventh round -- and target someone like Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald or Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans.

Still, there's no guarantee a trade partner could be found. And if not, what then?

It's been apparent for weeks the Raiders are not much interested in using the No. 5 pick on a quarterback. Still. you have to wonder if McKenzie has something up his sleeve.

Vote for what you think the Raiders should do at No. 5 if Clowney, Mack and Watkins are all gone.




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