There was an emphasis on the offensive side of the ball in the 2017 NFL draft. The first under first-year head coach Sean McVay. They used three of their first four picks on the offensive skill positions at both tight end and wide receiver. All three of those picks saw significant playing time, with Cooper Kupp leading the way. With an offensive minded coach coming to coach the 32nd ranked offense, it shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone where the emphasis would be in the early rounds.
Fast forward one year and the Rams face four of their defensive starters heading toward unrestricted free agent status. If you count safety Cody Davis, there are five such starters. A lot can change between now and the draft in April, but the defense will most likely need addressing. Specifically at the cornerback position. Their slot cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman was magnificent in 2017 but was only signed for one year. Trumaine Johnson has had the franchise tag placed on him two years in a row. Not to mention he was almost traded to New Orleans last year. Finally, offseason addition Kayvon Webster ruptured his Achilles in week 14. A position of strength is now a major question heading into the 2018 season.
For this first mock draft, I must lay some things out. If a player is under contract, he will be assumed to be on the team come the start of the 2018 season. We won’t be doing hypotheticals on who may be cut due to their contract. Since it has been reported that wide receiver Sammy Watkins will most likely be tagged if a contract is not reached, he will be assumed to be with the Rams for next season. Though I see a likelihood that Trumaine Johnson re-signs, this mock draft will assume he doesn’t. And finally, I don’t see a scenario where safety Lamarcus Joyner isn’t re-signed so he will presumably be on the team for next season. Other than those three things, I will act as if all other players reach unrestricted free agency. Because of that, this will change as free agency and the combine happen.
Using the FanSpeak On The Clock Mock Draft Simulator, I chose Matt Miller of Bleacher Report’s big board and made all of the Rams’ draft selections. Compensatory picks are projected and the Rams don’t have any. At this time, they own six draft picks with a potential for one more. Their Chris Givens trade with Baltimore had a conditional seventh-round pick that has not been confirmed for 2018. For an update, they don’t have a second (Watkins trade), their own seventh (Derek Carrier trade), but do have an extra sixth (Watkins trade). With that, I bring you the first Rams mock draft for the 2018 season.
Round 1, pick 23: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
Ward is one of the fastest cornerbacks in the class and has a knack for getting his hands on the ball. He has broken up 19 passes over the last two seasons while intercepting two more. He’s listed 5’10” 190 lbs. and will bring question marks about his ability to cover bigger receivers. However, he plays a physical game and is also not afraid to get involved in the run game. After sitting behind 2017 first round picks Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley, Ward shined in 2017.
Round 3, pick 87: Hercules Mata’afa, ED, Washington State
This pick takes some projection as he has spent most of his career on the interior line. His production has been ridiculous, but at his listed 6’2″ 252 lbs. there is no way he plays that role on a regular basis. Mata’afa is very quick with strong hands and should have no problem moving to the outside. 2017 saw him generate 10 quarterback sacks, bringing his college total to 23 in three seasons. For an added bonus he could kick inside on obvious pass-rushing downs to create more havoc.
Round 4, pick 126: B.J. Hill, DT, North Carolina State
Hill received a lot of attention for his practices leading up to the Senior Bowl recently. Deservedly so. He will be the guy that lines up between Michael Brockers and Aaron Donald with his big 6’3″ 321-pound frame. After finishing 28th in rush yards per game allowed, he is the needed force in the middle that stuffs the run and gets his linebackers free from second level blockers. He has some impressive moves for a guy his size and can get home with the pass-rush as well.
Round 5, pick 162: Holton Hill, CB, Texas
Hill was too hard to pass up here with his skill and the unknown status of the Rams’ cornerbacks. He is a very long 6’3 cornerback with the speed to match the best receivers on the other team. He is very physical and has no problem coming down to deliver punishing hits in the run game. Though he missed the Longhorns’ final three games due to suspension, Hill recorded two interceptions and five pass breakups in nine games. With this pick, the Rams’ secondary will be set for years to come.
Round 6, pick 197: Zachary Crabtree, OT, Oklahoma
With Orlando Brown getting all the hype on the Sooners’ offensive line, it’s easy to forget Crabtree. He is a massive 6’7″ 310 pounds and is coming off his two best seasons in 2016 and 2017. His strength comes in the passing game where his technique has improved quite a bit. It’s only fitting that he learn from the man they call “Big Whit” (Andrew Whitworth) while his career winds down. With his size and athleticism, the transition could be seamless.
Round 6, Pick 198: Bradley Bozeman, C, Alabama
Bozeman has been very impressive over the course of his last two seasons at Alabama. He is rarely, if ever, beaten by interior pass-rushers. He’s good at handling both quickness and power. He himself admitted that he wasn’t the best athlete, but is a “try hard guy.” If that doesn’t scream McVay, I don’t know what does. We all saw what happened with improved play from the line in 2017 and with John Sullivan set to hit free agency, they’ll need someone like Bozeman.
Like I said before, the picks are bound to change as the draft approaches and needs become more clear. At this time, this is what the Rams need and I tried to match that up with value as best I could. I’d imagine a draft like this would get Wade Phillips jumping up and down. And with an offense like fans saw last year, they should be as well.
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