Fisher on draft: 'It couldn't have gone better for us'

News-DemocratApril 28, 2013 

St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher.

ZIA NIZAMI/BND

— Coach Jeff Fisher thinks the St. Louis Rams' roster got a significant infusion of talent during the 2013 NFL draft.

The Rams added seven players, including two first-rounders, two third-rounders and two fifth-rounders during the draft.

"From top to bottom, it couldn't have gone better for us," Fisher said. "We certainly took advantage of what we started last year with the Washington trade. Obviously, we're looking forward to continuing that again next year. We feel like, not only through free agency, but also through the last three days that we've improved this football team."

The Rams had two first-rounders thanks to the trade last year with the Redskins. They'll also have Washington's first-rounder next year as the final piece in the megadeal that enabled the Redskins to draft quarterback Robert Griffin III with the second overall pick in 2012.

The Rams made three more trades this year, starting off with a move up from 16th overall to eighth overall in the first round so they could nab West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin, who was widely considered as the best offensive playmaker in the draft.

Despite standing 5-foot-9 and weighing 172 pounds, Austin brings big-play ability to the Rams' offense.

"I've been small my whole life," Austin said. "It's not going to change. I'm 5-9, but my heart plays like I'm six feet. I try to keep that mindset, keep being smart on the field, knowing when to get down, knowing when not to get down and get the first down. That's really what it boils down to."

The Rams added more offensive firepower by drafting Austin's teammate, highly productive wide receiver Stedman Bailey, in the third round and Vanderbilt running back Zac Story in the fifth round.

"We've upgraded speed, upgraded play-making ability," Fisher said. "Don't forget, we got (tight end) Jared (Cook in free agency), so we've got skill players at all the positions. With (running back) Isaiah (Pead) who can run and (running back) Daryl (Richardson) who can run, we've got exceptional speed on offense."

The Rams traded down with the second of their two first-round picks, but they still got the player they coveted, Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree.

Fisher compared Ogletree to former Tennessee linebacker Keith Bulluck, a three-time All-Pro selection.

"There are a lot of similarities when you watch him on tape," Fisher said. "Long arms, quickness, slippery, can take on, can tackle sideline-to-sideline. Very explosive player."

Ogletree has some off-the-field baggage, but the Rams believed they needed more speed at linebacker playing in the NFC West, which features mobile quarterbacks in Colin Kaepernick of San Francisco and Seattle's Russell Wilson.

"I'm definitely up for the challenge," Ogletree said. " I'm very comfortable in my ability to tackle someone and run them down. I feel like when we're in between the lines, no one's faster than me. I definitely look forward to the challenge of facing two of the great quarterbacks in the league this year."

Bailey, whose mom named him after Oprah Winfrey's longtime boyfriend Stedman Graham, caught 114 passes for 1,622 yards and 25 touchdowns last season at West Virginia.

Austin and Bailey wowed the Rams' brass during a private workout with backup quarterbacks Kellen Clemens and Austin Davis.

"I think ESPN or whoever said he's got some of the best hands in the draft," Rams General Manager Les Snead said. "That's kind of what's been reported, but to hear the quarterback say, 'This guy is 5-11, but it's like throwing to a 6-foot-3 guy. He goes up and gets the ball.' So I think that private workout really helped solidify that pick for us."

Taken in the third round out of Southern Cal, safety T.J. McDonald has a NFL pedigree. He's the son of former NFL safety Tim McDonald, who was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1987, the year before the franchise's relocation to Arizona.

Fisher coached McDonald for a season with the San Francisco 49ers.

"His dad played a little heavier when we had him than T.J. is now, but T.J. is a fine athlete," Fisher said. "You watch him match up against Tyler Eifert (a tight end taken by Cincinnati with 21st overall pick) on a couple plays in the Notre Dame game and win. He's one of those guys that has the cover skills. He sees things. He anticipates. He gets the game. He plays the position well."

The Rams added versatile interior lineman Barrett Jones from Alabama's national championship squad in the fourth round.

Jones can play center or guard.

"Never makes an assignment mistake," Fisher said of Jones. "He's got great feet and hands. They work very well together up front, especially with Chance (Warmack) on his left side. It's a pro-style offense that Alabama runs. They do a good job, so him stepping up to this level is going to be a lot easier."

In a little over a year, Fisher and Snead have totally reshaped the Rams.

"Well, on opening day last year, 24 previous players on the roster were out of the NFL, and obviously we had some work to do," Fisher said. "You fill holes and then you create competition."

The Rams were the youngest team in the NFL last year, and they could be even younger this year.

Of the 59 players on their roster coming out of draft, 44 were 25 years old or younger.

"The rewards come from watching them improve, watching them become pros," Fisher said of working with young players.

Contact reporter Steve Korte at skorte@bnd.com or 239-2522.

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