In order to understand the NFL draft and all its commercial money making glory, one must take it with a grain of salt. It is a money making machine and doesn’t necessarily make playoff teams. For months, analysts, ex players, fans, random people, gamblers and assorted businessmen pick their mock drafts and play matchmaker. It’s a wild hype machine and leads up to four days of maniac team management studies as 32 NFL teams take their picks at the finely cropped college talent. Some teams pick the future of their franchise while most simply fill holes that they can’t afford to designate a few million dollars to. When you can’t afford to buy that free agent you go to the farm or in this case, the draft.
What fans forget to grasp is that a playoff team isn’t built in one single draft yet becomes a strong force over the course of 2-3 drafts. The hardest thing to teach a sports fan is patience. Rams fans know this tactic far too well and fight it yearly. The Rams haven’t finished 8-8 or better since 2006 and have spent the better part of the past decade in utter disappointment, which leads to lots of draft hype tactics.
Every year the draft comes around, their team is picking high and they hope the management scores the next great NFL talent. Last year, the Rams took the best receiver in the draft, Tavon Austin, and fans simply went berserk. I was a part of that group. For a few days, I thought the team had found Deion Sanders, Marvin Harrison and Issac Bruce rolled into one fabulous young player. Jeff Fisher smiled after the pick. The Rams had found a target for Sam Bradford to throw to. With the acquisition of Austin, the Rams were picked to climb into a jet and race into the future and right into the playoffs. Fisher and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer abandoned the run first approach featured in many Fisher teams and decided to spread it out and attack teams through the air.
Well, that didn’t work. The Rams couldn’t score and started the season 3-3 and won on the backbone of their strong defensive front seven. Bradford got hurt, and the team adapted a ground and pound mentality that Fisher favored. Austin caught a few deep passes from backup Kellen Clemens and showed flashes of big time playmaking ability, but remained a project, like fellow young receivers Brian Quick and Chris Givens. People expected with the pick of Austin that the Rams would turn into the Greatest Show on Turf again, or at least on social media they did. It was eureka all over again! Too bad they forgot Fisher handed the running back starter job to an ill equipped Darryl Richardson and not the current one, Zac Stacy.
The Rams built up the smoke screen this year, talking about drafting Johnny Manziel and trading Sam Bradford to Minnesota. Throw out the playbook, write a three page one that included “Hand off to Stacy”, “Johnny Keeps it and runs around”, and “Johnny keeps it and burns the play clock and runs around more”. I believed it for about an hour. Manziel could sell tickets and put people in the seats. He was Tim Tebow, with a better arm, more talent, and without the God worshiping and kneeling baggage. Fisher and GM Les Snead did this to build up the idea of another team getting antsy and wanting Manziel and that didn’t work.
Thursday came and the Rams turned into smart minds and took impact players. Greg Robinson isn’t Manziel and can’t throw 50 yards on the run, but he can stuff the run and manhandle opposing defensive backs and did it with an NFL style offense at Auburn. Aaron Donald was a force on the other side of the ball for Pittsburgh and will create a four man attack at the line that Rams’ opponents will fear and could cause the quarterbacks to think twice before taking the snap at the line of scrimmage. Lamarcus Joyner(CB), E.J. Gaines(CB) and Maurice Alexander(S) will hopefully strengthen a secondary that has been abused by opposing offenses the past couple of seasons. Garrett Gilbert, an Southern Methodist University transfer from Texas, will work under Bradford and Shaun Hill at quarterback. These are smart if incredibly safe picks for a football team slowly climbing up a steep hill. Just three years ago the team finished 2-14 and went 0-6 in their own division. Fisher and Snead are still putting together the finishing parts of this team in their third draft.
These first six selections won’t make Rams fans run to the ticket box this weekend and reserve their seats, but it should inspire hope that Fisher and company are truly building a strong young football team. The defense should only get better and with Stacy entrenched as the lead running back and Bradford back behind center, the offense should be more consistent.
It’s hard for me to look at fellow fans and demand them to love a team’s draft but I also can’t understand how you could hate the picks. The draft, like any other sports selections, is completely random and carries no guarantee. Blake Bortles didn’t look like a 3rd pick overall to me but he could help the Jaguars down the road. Jadeveon Clowney had a few outstanding highlight reels, took last season off, doesn’t compete on every single down but The Texans didn’t hesitate in making him the #1 pick. Only three quarterbacks went in the first round and Johnny Manziel didn’t go to Dallas but rightfully marched to Cleveland at #22. He may turn into Eric Crouch or he may become a healthier version of Michael Vick. Bortles could flake out or he could win a Super Bowl. Some teams need to sell tickets and others make that desperate grab to win now.
Everything in the NFL Draft is built on hype and not actual results, which creates a frenzy because of the toss up factor. When I look at the Rams picks right now, I see men who will be given an opportunity to fill a hole immediately and prosper under one of the greatest defensive football tandems(Fisher and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams) in the league. The Rams defense is good enough to compete in the playoffs for a Vince Lombardi trophy. With the picks this weekend and the returning health of key players, one hopes the offense can keep up. I won’t look at the 2014 draft as the reason the Rams have a chance to make the playoffs this coming season. I will put faith in the fact that coupled with the last 2 years of drafts, the complete product on the field at the Edward Jones Dome this fall is stronger than ever.
Or at least I hope.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the National Football League. Where kids are turned into men over the course of a summer training camp and older men are threatened by the laws of natural selection. The glimmer of retirement, hope for redemption and temptation of luxury all have a part of a football team’s fate.