Saturday, March 26, 2011

Jonathan Baldwin: The Best of the Rest

The entire country witnessed the sorry state of the St. Louis receivers during their 2010 prime time season finale against the Seattle Seahawks.

The Rams and Seahawks played head-to-head in Seattle, with the division title at stake, and they were only able to accumulate 155 passing yards. The leading receiver for the Rams that game was running-back Steven Jackson, who had only four catches for 39 yards.

Quarterback Sam Bradford was able to hit the team's only down-field threat, Danario Alexander, with the deep ball on two occasions, but only to have Alexander drop both of the passes. Both of the drops were lost opportunities that could have changed the outcome of the game. It was a smudge on an otherwise superb rookie effort by Alexander throughout 2010.

At the end of the fiasco, the Rams longest reception was a 20 yard catch by Jackson (their biggest offensive play of the game), and the anemic offense scored only six total points, which resulted in a flat out embarrassment on national television with the final score of 16-6.

The Rams' inability to throw down field was not just a problem in the Seattle game, but it was a problem all season.

Every single game the Rams lost in 2010 was at least in part due to a predictable offense, which stemmed from their lack of play makers at the wide-receiver position. It is probably safe to say that their receivers lost more games for the team than any other position, which means that it is by far their biggest need.

The Rams need to correct this problem through the draft, especially since there may not be any free-agent signings this Spring (due to no CBA).

AJ Green is the best option in the draft. He has drawn comparisons to Calvin Johnson, and may become the next elite receiver in the league. But the Rams would be foolish to expect to come away from the draft with Green, unless they are planning on trading up.

Julio Jones would be the next best option. His size and athleticism could make him a suitable number one receiver in this league.

However, Jones had a fantastic combine. He ran a 4.34 second 40-yard dash, which is blazing speed for someone his size, and he also jumped over 11 feet in the broad jump. Those numbers, combined with his game film, make it hard to believe he will make it out of the top 10.

So, if those two guys are out of the picture, what are the Rams supposed to do with their pressing need at receiver? Two words- Jonathan Baldwin.

Baldwin measured in at 6'4" and 228 pounds at the combine, and that size comes with an incredible leaping ability. His physical skills are exactly what the Rams need in the red-zone, and for the deep ball.

Baldwin could be a blessing for St. Louis in the second round. 
Baldwin had terribly inaccurate quarterbacks at Pittsburgh in Bill Stull and Tino Sunseri, as it seems like Baldwin had to jump, or leap for every pass thrown his way. Yet he was still able to put up impressive numbers in 2009 (57 receptions for 1111 yards) and 2010 (53 receptions for 822 yards), which begs the question- What is Baldwin capable of with an extremely accurate quarterback like Sam Bradford?

But, of course, there is a reason why Baldwin will possibly be available to the Rams in the second round, and that reason is his off-the-field issues.

In 2009, Baldwin was charged with indecent assault and harassment. But to be fair, he was found innocent of the charges by a non-jury trial.

It is also worth mentioning that Pittsburgh ranked No. 1 in Sports Illustrated's list of programs with the most criminals. So if you take a guy like Baldwin out of an environment like that, and stick him with the Rams, who are filled with high-character players (thanks to coach Steve Spagnuolo's 'Four Pillars' philosophy), then he just might be able to thrive.

Outside of the legal incident, he is mostly just known as childish. He was caught on video once admitting to staying up until 3AM playing video games the night before team activities.

On top of that, he was caught speaking a little too frankly about his team before his final game at Pittsburgh in 2010. When asked if he would enter the 2011 draft, Baldwin replied "Heck yeah I'm leaving. It can only get worse. They had me running a lot of deep routes (this year) and yards were hard to come by. I barely ran intermediate routes; it felt like they were purposely disrupt my draft stock."

It was a childish quote, of course, but it was also a true quote (other than the part about the team purposely disrupting his stock). Baldwin was never allowed to reach his potential at Pittsburgh.
pt my draft stock.
There is no question that he has a bit of maturing to do, like many 21 year olds. It probably would be fair to compare him to Dez Bryant in that department. Not overly venomous, just immature, and it seemed to work out for Dez so far.

The Rams need to decide if he is worth the risk, and if the teams exits the first round of the 2011 draft without a new wide-receiver, then Baldwin could very well be worth it. There are other options, such as Leonard Hankerson and Torrey Smith, but neither of them have the monstrous size that Baldwin would bring, which is what the Rams are missing.

There are numerous occasions where "questionable character" athletes crumble and fail, but on occasion the gamble pays off (See- Mike Williams and LaGarrette Blount).

Friday, March 25, 2011

What Is Plan C For The Rams?

There seems to be an agreement amongst everyone who knows anything about the NFL that the Rams would prefer to grab either of the top two receivers (AJ Green, Julio Jones) with their #14 overall pick. It it by far the biggest need for the team, and if either player slips to the 14 spot, then they'll easily be the best player available.

At this point, however, it seems as if the availability of either of them at that spot would be a surprise. It's not out of the realm of possibility, but the team is likely planning on looking elsewhere for their guy.

St. Louis fans and sportswriters seem to be in agreement on the Rams 'Plan B', and that is to pick the best defensive-lineman available. That strategy would likely generate a solid player for the team, as the top 15 (and the entire draft for that matter) is loaded with defensive-line talent.

The ideal situation would be to pick one of the receivers, if available, and if not, pick up the best lineman. It sounds like a simple strategy, but the lack of any elite quarterback or left-tackle talent in this draft could complicate things.

It is assumed that Tyrone Smith, Blaine Gabbert, and Cam Newton will all be selected before the Rams pick. But neither Gabbert or Newton are truly elite quarterback talents, and Tyrone Smith is certainly not a lock for the top 15.

So what if only one, or even none of those players get selected before St. Louis? It's not a likely scenario, but it would not be overly shocking if Gabbert was the only one selected ahead of the Rams. Stranger things have definitely happened on draft day.

This would mean that the Rams' defensive-line options would be greatly diminished. Robert Quinn, JJ Watt, and Nick Fairley are probably gone no matter what, so they were never possibilities. But this scenario could mean that guys like Aldon Smith and Ryan Kerrigan will be off the board.

So what are some other options, in case their favorite defensive-linemen are gone?

1) Mike Pouncey OG Florida
This pick would be very similar to the Roger Saffold pick last year. It would be very unexpected, not flashy at all, but very solid. It would be a reach, but Pouncey would be a day one starter at a position of great need. If you can't find the new franchise quarterback Sam Bradford any weapons at #14, then find him more protection.

2) Mark Ingram RB Alabama
It is usually not ideal to draft a back-up player in the first round, and Ingram would certainly be a back-up to Steven Jackson. However, Ingram is the only every-down back in the first round. He would add a weapon to the offense, and he would be able to keep Steven Jackson fresh for all four quarters, which would be an invaluable gift to the team. Not too mention, Jackson won't be around forever.

3) Jimmy Smith CB Colorado
Many people are satisfied with Ron Bartell and Bradley Fletcher at cornerback, but the secondary was the weak point of the Rams defense, and the departure of free-safety OJ Atogwe doesn't help the situation. Adding Smith to the roster would provide some depth, and possibly allow coach Steve Spagnuolo to be more creative with the personnel in an attempt to fill the void.