COMMENTARY | On Tuesday, August 28, the St. Louis Rams completed a trade which sent Jason Smith to the New York Jets for fellow right tackle Wayne Hunter. The deal closes the book on Smith's disappointing career in St. Louis.
There's a reason why the Rams are 15-65 in the past five seasons: the team has had one of the worst draft records in the NFL since 2004. As of Wednesday, August 29, the club has only 25 of its last 80 draft picks on the roster, and that number is deceiving because that includes the 2012 draft class. If you remove this year's crop of young talent, the Rams have just 15 of 70 draft picks on the team. That's not going to win a lot of football games in the NFL.
Jason Smith is symbolic of the Rams' draft failures. He was regarded as Orlando Pace's heir-apparent at left tackle when the team selected him with the number two overall pick in 2009. Armed with tremendous athleticism and excellent footwork, Smith was supposed to anchor the offensive line for 10-15 years. Instead, he proved unable to handle the left tackle position at the NFL level and was moved to right tackle after the Rams drafted Rodger Saffold in 2010.
Three years later, it's clear that the Rams never should have selected him with the second pick of the 2009 draft, and scouting reports show signs of that. Smith was a tight end when he began his career at Baylor, but he was moved to left tackle as a sophomore. He then struggled with injuries during his junior year, although he did earn a spot on the All-Big 12 team as an honorable mention. Those injury concerns followed him into the NFL.
The truth is that Smith was a talented, but inexperienced left tackle when the Rams drafted him. His knee problems were a red flag, but the injuries alone shouldn't have kept him from being a first round draft pick. It's the combination of inexperience on the offensive line and the knee injuries that should have forced the Rams to reconsider picking Smith. There were multiple other left tackles available later in the first round, including Michael Oher, who went to the Baltimore Ravens with the 23rd pick of the draft. The team would have been better off trading down if they wanted a left tackle.
The NFL draft isn't a perfect science, and clubs are going to make mistakes. However, the Rams have been making mistakes like this for years. I know that it's easy to question the club's past decisions, but there were doubts about other recent first rounders Tye Hill, Alex Barron, and Adam Carriker from the beginning. None of these players are still with the Rams, nor did they last very long with the team. The main reason the Rams were struggling was because of their poor drafts.
Something had to change in St. Louis, and I believe that's what happened when the Rams hired general manager Les Snead. He came into the organization willing to do things with the draft that recent team executives were unwilling to do. First, he traded down twice in the first round. Then Snead picked Brian Quick with their first selection of the second round instead of taking a player the staff didn't feel comfortable with in the first round. Snead took a risk by picking the talented but somewhat troubled Janoris Jenkins in the second round, when many experts predicted he would go in the third round. As a whole, Snead ended up with a draft class that added speed and athleticism to a roster which desperately needed it.
It's going to take some time for Snead to wipe away eight years of poor drafts, but perhaps trading Smith to the Jets is another sign of greater things to come. The team gave up on one of the biggest symbols of ineptitude from its horrible 15-65 stretch, and it's moving towards a brighter future.