With Senior Bowl festivities in full swing, projections surrounding how the Rams will use their two first round picks are piling up everywhere. While crystal balling can be useful to an extent, taking a look back at Jeff Fisher’s draft history as a head coach may also help determine what route the team may take when they’re on the clock in May.
The first step in the process was obviously to gather the list of Fisher draftees from both his time as head coach of the Tennessee Titans (1995-2010) and combine it with his last two drafts as Rams head coach. The list was then segmented into individual positions and where they were selected in each of the draft’s seven rounds. Also, I used Pro Football Reference’s useful draft finder to help with the process. With everything broken down in this manner, we get a decent picture of Fisher’s draft tendencies that can perhaps be used for more accurately projecting the 2014 draft.
Upon first glance, Fisher’s draft history leans toward the defensive side of the ball, but only slightly. Of 165 total draft picks as a head coach, his teams have used 87 on defensive players (52.7%). That percentage increases slightly when honing in on the first two rounds, as 20 of Fisher’s 37 total selections in rounds one and two have been used on defensive personnel (54%). In more recent history, the Rams have used two of their three first round picks in the Fisher era on defensive players in defensive tackle Michael Brockers and linebacker Alec Ogletree.
One of the most interesting trends that emerged out of this rough look at Fisher’s draft style is the detail with which it portrays his reluctance to draft offensive linemen, specifically in early rounds. Fisher has used only four of his 63 picks in the draft’s first three rounds on offensive linemen, a tally that doesn’t include a first round selection or even a single center. However, he’s picked up five tight ends in that same window. Use that information as you will. For those clamoring for projected first-round tackles Jake Matthews from Texas A&M or Auburn’s Greg Robinson, you may want to come to terms with the fact that your wishes may not come true.
Additionally, Fisher loves his defensive backs. He’s used 40 total picks on DBs, the most of any position, and has had wavering success. His first round selections include the more-than-serviceable Michael Griffin (2007), the much-less-than-serviceable Andre Woolfolk (2003), and the questionably sane Adam “Pacman” Jones (2005).
However, call it a coincidence if you want, but Fisher is close to batting a thousand in the second round with DBs. He’s had luck finding some long-term starters and impact players, a list that includes Samari Rolle (1998), Andre Dyson (2001), Tank Williams (2002), and more recently Janoris Jenkins (2012). The Rams will undoubtedly use a pick or two on secondary reinforcements, and given that five of Fisher’s eight defensive backs taken in rounds one and two were relative successes, expect to see one taken early.
For the Sammy Watkins crowd (the elusive wide receiver out of Clemson), it’s tougher to project whether Fisher will use an early pick on a receiver based on the trends. He’s used 26 picks on the position, the second most of any, but has spent a majority of them in rounds three and four. Obviously he and general manager Les Snead were high enough on Tavon Austin to move up and get him with the eighth pick in last year’s draft, a pick that looks promising, but Fisher hasn’t had much success in the past with his early receiver selections. His other two first rounders were Kenny Britt (2009) and Kevin Dyson (1998), and while Britt has time to turn things around, neither lived up to their first-round bill. The second round selections weren’t much better, as Joey Kent (1997) and Tyrone Calico (2003) combined for five career receiving touchdowns and Brian Quick (2012) has struggled to adapt to life in the NFL.
Finally, with rumors swirling that the Rams just may take South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney with the second overall pick this year, it’s worth taking a look at Fisher’s tendencies with the position and there is certainly something there. Fisher has only ever selected 15 defensive ends, but eight of those selections came in the first two rounds. I’m not saying Clowney is a lock by any means, but it appears that Fisher values high end talent at defensive end and will use an early pick to get one when he sees it as a position worth drafting.
So take all this as you will, Rams fans. It’s difficult to make projections on something like the NFL draft based on historical tendencies due to the fact that it takes team needs out of the equation. However, it provides a solid foundation for which to build those projections and I’m willing to bet that Fisher’s historical successes and failures at given positions are certainly a factor in the decision making process.
The Rams need a Richard Sherman-like defender.