Is it ever too early to look towards next year’s NFL draft? With two first round picks in their possession, the St. Louis Rams continue to have the power to shape their youthful roster into a Superbowl contender.
Over the next 12 months, Rams scouts will tirelessly evaluate college football players in an attempt to find future NFL stars. However, certain positions will probably get some special attention from the Rams front office. Although the draft stock of many players will drastically change after the 2013 college football season, it doesn’t hurt to keep an eye out for talent.
Here are three players that Rams fans should pay attention to during the 2013 football season:
Marqise Lee – WR, USC
Let’s get one thing out of the way. Marqise Lee will be a top 10 pick in the 2014 NFL draft. It is likely that neither one of the St. Louis Rams draft selections will be in the top 10 but as we saw this past April, having two first round selections can give a team the power to move up.
Though there is a lot of youth and promise in the St. Louis Rams receiving core, there is also a lot that has been unproven. 2012 second-round pick Brian Quick has yet to develop into a big contributor in the Rams offense, and even starting wide receiver Chris Givens will need to continue his development for quarterback Sam Bradford to succeed. In the 2013 NFL draft, the Rams chose two wide receivers from West Virginia in Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, but neither has even caught a pass in the NFL. When April comes back around in 2014, we could still be talking about how the Rams can add more firepower to an average receiving core. Marqise Lee would definitely provide that firepower.
Lee is an explosive receiver who can produce down the field as well in shorter routes. He is a physical wide receiver that tends to make defensive backs work very hard to keep up with him. His combination of route running skills, big play ability, and physicality make him the complete package as an NFL receiver. The big question is how well Lee produces without 2013 draft selections Matt Barkley and Robert Woods. Personally, I’m not worried. The USC offense relied on Lee’s 118 receptions last year and USC will continue to need Marqise Lee to produce for the USC offense to succeed in 2013.
Antonio Richardson - OT, Tennessee
Some would say the offensive line in St. Louis has finally been solidified with the addition of Jake Long. It’s important to keep in mind that the 2014 team may look a little different. Current starting right tackle Rodger Saffold has made it public that he isn’t exactly excited about switching positions this season. With only one year left on his contract, Saffold may seek out a starting left tackle position in free agency after 2013. A move like this would leave the Rams with yet another hole on their offensive line.
Antonio Richardson would be an ideal fit at right tackle. Although Richardson spent the 2012 campaign protecting quarterback Tyler Bray’s blind side, his size and strength make him an interesting right tackle prospect. At 6’6 and 332 pounds, Richardson has a deceiving amount of mobility and athleticism. His raw physical talent forced 2013 third round pick Dallas Thomas to move over to guard last season. If he can improve his balance as a pass protector, he will physically dominate defensive ends in the NFL.
Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix – S, Alabama
Six SEC defensive backs were taken in the first two rounds of the 2013 NFL Draft. Of those six DBs, only Mississippi State’s Darius Slay picked off as many passes as Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix in 2012.
As a sophomore at Alabama, Clinton-Dix filled the very large shoes left by former first round pick Mark Barron. Clinton-Dix got better as the 2012 season went along and even recorded an interception in each of Alabama’s last three games. He continued to develop as a playmaker last season, and he should continue to do so in the NFL. Clinton-Dix’s range, instincts, and ball-skills make him an ideal prospect at free safety. He is bigger than most free safeties at 6’1 and 210 pounds, but Clinton-Dix has the range and physicality to be one of the most interesting athletes in all of college football.
Continued production in 2013 could propel Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix to be the first defensive back taken in the 2014 NFL draft.
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