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Rams draft preview: Defensive line

4/26/2015

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The NFL draft is set to begin April 30 and the St. Louis Rams hold six picks in this year's selection process. For the next week and a half, we'll take a look at a different position every day with what the Rams have in place at a position, what they need, when they might address it and some possible fits.

We continue the countdown with a look at this year's crop of defensive linemen.

In place: Robert Quinn, Chris Long, William Hayes, Eugene Sims, Ethan Westbrooks, Michael Brockers, Aaron Donald, Nick Fairley, Mason Brodine, Doug Worthington.

What's needed: Looking at the names listed above, the easy answer here would be "nothing." But that's actually pretty shortsighted. The Rams have no immediate need for help on the defensive line. Quinn and Long are the starters outside with Brockers and Donald on the inside. Hayes, Sims and Fairley are all in the mix to provide depth. That's seven players and doesn't even include the talented young Westbrooks. All figure to have a spot moving forward. So there's no pressing situation here for the Rams to add for 2015. It's what's set to happen after 2015 that might raise some alarms on where the team stands on the defensive line. Long is due to count $14.25 million against the salary cap next season, a hefty number for a player who is still bouncing back from last year's injury. Hayes and Sims will be unrestricted free agents. The Rams are likely to keep Brockers on his fifth-year option and possibly negotiate an extension with him but until either of those things are done, only Donald is under team control for 2016 at this moment amongst tackles. So it might behoove the Rams to plan for the future, especially at end, in this year's draft. That's particularly true given that this year's draft class appears loaded with pass-rushers.

Possible fits: There's no shortage of talent available this year on the defensive line, though most of that is in the form of pass-rushers and there are questions whether those pass-rushers actually fit into roles as ends in 4-3 defenses or are more stand-up linebackers in a 3-4. USC's Leonard Williams is regarded as the best prospect among down linemen but will almost certainly go before the Rams pick. After that, Florida's Dante Fowler Jr., Clemson's Vic Beasley and Missouri's Shane Ray are also considered top talents with Kentucky's Bud Dupree and Nebraska's Randy Gregory also will garner plenty of attention. Gregory is the biggest conundrum because of off the field issues but is probably a top five talent on the field. Of that group, Ray, Beasley, Dupree and Fowler are probably the players with the size or the frame to add the size to fit in with the Rams. Likewise, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is as adept as any coach in the league at finding the best way to use pass-rushers. At tackle, only Danny Shelton really stands out in a fairly weak crop, though players like Oklahoma's Jordan Phillips, Florida State's Eddie Goldman and Texas' Malcom Brown should also get early consideration.

Verdict: It probably wouldn't go over very well with the fan base but it can't be ruled out that the Rams might find the value of a top pass-rusher too good to pass on. I wouldn't expect them to make much of a move on a defensive tackle, though it wouldn't be a huge surprise if they took one later in the draft. But as for early picks, if someone like Fowler, Beasley or Ray slipped to 10 and the Rams have him rated the highest player on the board, it wouldn't surprise if they took one. Plus, Rams coach Jeff Fisher has never been one to shy away from stockpiling pass-rushers. At No. 10, the Rams simply aren't in a great spot to marry value and need so they might find value in one of the pass-rushers that's just too good to pass up.