COMMENTARY | Rokevious Watkins’ suspension provides a little clarity for the St. Louis Rams’ starting offensive line in 2013. The left guard spot thought to be won by either Watkins or rookie fourth-round pick Barrett Jones seems to be favoring the Alabama graduate–for a week, anyway.
Watkins was pegged as a key contributor last season after being selected in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL draft. He didn’t start, but he saw snaps in Week 1 against the Detroit Lions with Rodger Saffold and Scott Wells missing time.
Then he ended up injured as well, which kept him out of the Rams’ final 15 games. His sophomore bid for a complete slate of 16 regular-season appearances has been foiled before it began. Normally, a single position battle in an otherwise established offensive line wouldn’t attract much attention, but these are special circumstances.
Rams fans have grown accustomed to watching their O-linemen drop like dominoes even when the talent was subpar. As a result, the fan base is hypersensitive to any missed time by the guys up front–even if Jones has a chance to win the job outright.
That’s why the No. 113 pick was such a good one. It was invested in a three-time All-American: a player who earned honors at a different position each time. A guy who’s in the top five of his college coach’s former player power rankings.
That’s saying something.
Nick Saban saw five of his former players get their names called before Jones was selected in 2013. Three made it into the top 11 overall. Eleven of the last 96 first-round picks called Saban their coach.
An argument against Jones’ potential success hinges around the presence of his all-star teammates surrounding him in college. Alabama linemen Chance Warmack (No. 10 overall, Tennessee Titans) and D.J. Fluker (No. 11, San Diego Chargers) were snatched up even before the first quarterback heard his name called in the 2013 draft.
Running with those guys as a collegiate unit will make a lot of players look good.
For the first time in a long time, St. Louis’ offensive front is also very accomplished. Jake Long, a four-time Pro Bowler, was the first offensive tackle taken first overall since the Rams nabbed Orlando Pace in 1997. Wells is a Pro Bowler and a Super Bowl champion. Right guard Harvey Dahl started 43 games in front of Matt Ryan with the Atlanta Falcons, despite going undrafted in 2005.
Saffold, a former No. 33 overall pick, has 35 NFL starts at left tackle under his belt. He’s scheduled to be on the right side this fall.
Shelley Smith figures to factor into the decision at starting left guard, too. The former Houston Texans practice squad member will participate in his first training camp with St. Louis this summer.
Starting spots have to be earned on a week-to-week basis, especially by unproven players like Watkins, Jones and Smith. Still, if Jones finds himself between Long and Wells when the lights come on in Week 1 and performs well, it would be a positive sign for the rest of his rookie season.
Although his stance was likely driven by necessity, Jeff Fisher has already shown his willingness to rely on late-round draft picks in 2012. Watkins was a fifth-rounder. Kicker Greg Zuerlein got field-goal opportunities from ridiculous distances after being taken at No. 171 in the sixth. Daryl Richardson had the second-most rushing attempts (98) for St. Louis despite being selected as the Rams’ second running back in the draft at No. 252 overall.
The squad’s leading receiver was, like Jones in 2013, a fourth-round rookie: Chris Givens covered 698 yards on 42 receptions.