Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Rams combine countdown: No. 3
By Nick Wagoner
The workout portion of the NFL scouting combine begins on Feb. 22 with the entire football world closely watching every prospect's every move. With that in mind, we're counting down the top five things the Rams and their fans should be watching as the NFL converges on Indianapolis.
The St. Louis Rams defense has been a focal point of the team's rebuilding efforts and when it comes to building a top 10 or even top five unit, the Rams are growing closer every year. Entering this offseason, St. Louis must add some key pieces to the secondary in order to take the next step.
Be it cornerback or safety, the Rams could use some help to solidify the back end of the defense and complement a talented front seven. In recent years, the top cornerbacks and safeties have been pretty clear by the time the scouting combine rolls around. This year, however, there doesn't appear to be any defensive backs worthy of a top 10 pick, let alone a spot in the lofty range of the Rams' No. 2 selection.
More likely, if the Rams would look to address the secondary in the first round it would come with their second first-round selection. Which brings us to the No. 3 pressing question for the Rams this week: Will any of the defensive backs solidify themselves as worthy top 15 picks in Indianapolis?
Early projections from ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay indicate that cornerbacks Justin Gilbert and Darqueze Dennard and safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor could ascend to top 10 to 15 status before all is said and done. That said, nobody has emerged as a surefire choice such as Patrick Peterson or Eric Berry.
Still, with a team like the Seattle Seahawks winning the Super Bowl in no small part because of the strength of its dominant secondary, teams are looking for the next big thing to bolster the defensive backfield.
At cornerback, the Rams like the potential of young corners Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson and even Brandon McGee. Cortland Finnegan could theoretically be retained on a restructured contract. But the team needs to find another corner somewhere and the draft could provide some solid options.
New defensive coordinator Gregg Williams likes having corners who are bigger and physical enough to hold up in press coverage while his exotic blitz packages get after opposing quarterbacks. Johnson fits the mold and Jenkins is better suited for that style though he's on the smaller side.
Beyond the usual 40-yard dash times, some of the most important information that comes out of the combine in terms of cornerbacks could be as simple as reading a tape measure. Gilbert is listed at 6-feet, 200 pounds and Dennard is marked down as 5-11, 197 pounds. It would help both to hit those measurements or better and would boost their stock even more if they were able to show off impressive wing spans.
The Rams used a third-round choice on T.J. McDonald last year and he appears to be set in the sort of box safety role Williams likes to use in blitz packages and closer to the line of scrimmage in general. Rodney McLeod handled the other spot last year and though he showed signs of improvement as the year went on, the Rams could clearly use an upgrade. If nothing else, fellow safeties Darian Stewart and Matt Giordano are scheduled for free agency which means the Rams will need to add one or two somewhere along the way.
Ideally, the Rams could add an athletic, rangy type to complement the more physical McDonald. Measurements won't be as important here as it is at cornerback but this is where speed and agility drills will be of utmost importance.
Clinton-Dix is generally considered the type of safety who could fit the bill because of his range so his speed and change of direction should be under scrutiny this week. The same applies to Pryor, who is known for his hard hitting ways more than his range.
The defensive backs are scheduled to work out a week from today on the combine's final day. Expect it to be one the Rams watch closely.