Thursday, May 8, 2014
Rams muscle up for NFC West
By Nick Wagoner
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.
Greg 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."
Opponents 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.