The Rams should not draft Ndamukong Suh.
Written by Curt Popejoy on 12/21/2009
I was talking to a couple of buddies of mine, one a Rams fan and the other a Chiefs fan over the weekend. Both guys are very frustrated with their teams this year, and wanted to pick my brain about what their next moves should be in terms of the draft. I told them that even though both are picking in the top 5 or 6, they are in very different situations in terms of talent. My friend the Rams fan was adamant that his team's only hope was to draft Ndamukong Suh no.1 overall to help re-build their defense. The Chiefs fan agreed and I reminded him how that was going in KC with a first round pick on a 3-4 defensive end. But rather than lay on the sarcasm, I wanted to help my struggling friend out, who is hanging his franchise hopes on this giant man from Portland Oregon.
The Rams are a team of real positives and negatives. You look across their roster and you don't get the same feeling you get when you look at the Chiefs. There's some real high end talent on this team. Steven Jackson is one of the top running backs in the game, and is not given the credit he deserves. But beyond that, this is a team that has been brutalized by injuries all season long to key players. Everyone on the field healthy, and no way is this team only 1-13.
But all I keep hearing is that Suh has to be the pick and I want to caution Rams fans looking to pin their dreams to Suh are don't press the stats too hard. Yes, statistically this team is ranked near the bottom of the league on defense. But it's a chicken or egg debate. Does good offense make defense better or vice versa? I've always felt like an offense that can dictate tempo and scoring can vastly improve even an average defense because 1) they can score points, and scoring points helps dictate what the other team's offense is going to do and 2) an offense that can sustain drives keeps their defense on the field and rested. More on the second point, one huge part of sustaining drives is converting third down situations that require a quarterback who can get the ball downfield. We'd all love for our teams to see nothing but 3rd and 1 and 3rd and 2 but that's not how it works. A team is measured by how it does in 3rd and 5 and longer for me. And being successful in those situtations requires a quarterback who can make plays.
Do the Rams have that kind of player on their roster right now? I suppose it depends on who you ask, but to me, it doesn't seem as it the answer to this franchise signal caller is on the roster now. And we don't play in a league that allows for a caretaker of an offense to win Super Bowls. Those days are long gone. Look at the top teams in the league right now, and show me the journeyman QB who just does the bare minimum and tries not to lose the game for their team. They aren't there anymore. Every team must have a player under center who can lead their team and make a play when the rest of the team can't. It's just the hard facts.
Having said all that, I think Ndamukong Suh is a devistating player, but would make the Rams no better next year, and probably the next 2 or 3 years if they take him number one overall. He's an incredible talent no doubt, but show me the last Super Bowl team who won a title with a mediocore QB but dominant defensive tackle. Yeah, it's not around.
The Rams are in an enviable position this year that doesn't always happen. A no.1 pick in a draft with a player some other team may want. Suh is going to be the league man crush for the next 4 months. If I am the Rams front office if my team ends the season with the no.1 overall pick, I am entertaining offers starting that day. And I don't ask for the world, but I make sure to get a great deal. And I won't be shocked if some team goes up and over pays for Suh. He's that kind of player and on a team that already has their QB in place, like say Detroit who will also be picking high, could be a 300lb carrot out there for them to take a bite of.
But even if the Rams get no offers, I don't draft Suh. St. Louis is a great city with passionate football fans, and they deserve a guy they can rally around, and get excited about. As great as Suh was in college and the highlight reel he put together I am not sure he can be that guy. On the other hand, you look at the influence a guy like Matt Ryan has had in Atlanta or Joe Flacco in Baltimore. Or better yet Drew Brees in New Orleans even though techincally they didn't draft Brees, they made the move to get him, when they had other needs.
So, what do I do if I am the Rams GM and I am sitting at no.1? First I try and deal the pick, but not to move lower than 3 or 4 in the first. Why? Because even if I don't want to draft Suh, I still want to get my guy. And who is that you might ask? Well, for me its' Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen. Going into the season I wanted to see development out of Clausen and he has delivered. If you didn't watch him as a Sophomore, it's hard to see just how much better he is this year, particularly in his reads and decision making. 8.8 yards per attempt is a huge number and that's a mark of a player who's getting through his progressions quickly and making accurate throws. Theses aren't 3 yard throws and long runs. He throws a great deep ball and has done a great job minimizing his mistakes(only 4 ints in 2009).
With players like Steven Jackson, Donnie Avery, Randy McMichael, and Brandon Gibson on the team, there's no reason to think this team can't move the ball and put up points. Clausen has played well all season long with by college standards an average offensive line, against really good defenses and come up big. And make no mistake, Clausen plays with a lot of attitude and confidence and is a great leader on the field.
Now, before I get mail, I realize that the Rams have lots of needs. Yes, they need a rush end, and yes they need outside linebackers, and yes they need offensive line help. And with this 2010 free agent class you can get all those guys. I think that's a point that is missed in draft talk. The first round of Free agency comes before the draft, and teams look at their needs there as well. If Rams ownership want to, they can make hay in this free agency group at several spots, but one thing they cannot get is a franchise quarterback.
So let me appeal to the Rams front office. You have a franchise with some great fans. Even last week in a stadium far from full, when the Rams made a play, you heard those fans. But those fans are frustrated. They want a winner on the field and they deserve one. And the players you have. The core of guys like Steven Jackson, Chris Long, Donnie Avery, and James Laurinaitis deserve to have a winner. These are great young talents. Give these fans and these players someone to get excited about. Give them a franchise QB. Do you think fans are going to pay big bucks to come watch a defensive tackle get 4 tackles, half a sack and a pass defended? Of course not. But they will come watch a dynamic and exciting player like Clausen.
My endorsement of Clausen over Suh has nothing to do with Suh as a player. I think Suh is the no.1 player in the draft and by a good margin. But there's a distinction between being the no.1 player and the no.1 pick. The no.1 player is a constant, but the no.1 pick is dependent on who makes that pick. If Tampa or Detroit are picking no.1 it's Suh without a doubt. If the Rams or say the Browns are up there, it has to be a quarterback. Now if KC were to fall into the no.1 spot all bets are off, because Suh has no spot on that 3-4 line and they already have their QB. But that's another story.
Now, am I saying that Clausen is a sure thing? Of course not. First round quarterbacks are generally a 50/50 proposition. But if I have the chance and the need I will always error on the side of that flip of the coin in the chance to get the next great franchise NFL quarterback. You just have to have a player like that to win in the league.
One final thought. The main reason I picked Clausen as the no.1 quarterback over my no.2 Sam Bradford is health. Bradford has injured his throwing shoulder twice this year, and the second time sent him to surgery. If I knew with 100 percent certainty right not, that the injury wouldn't impact his career, I'd probably have him first. But as it stands now, I am taking Clausen over Bradford knowing he's ready to play early and there isn't that risk of an old injury costing him future time.
Last Edited: 12/21/2009