Rams add a leader on defense in Laurinaitis

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Rams' decision to draft Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis early in the second round fills a need. I think the move also reflects the perceived depth at receiver in this draft. As much as the Rams could use one, they resisted addressing the position.

The Rams ran dangerously low on linebackers last season. Their depth was horrible. We wrote about it after they allowed 340 yards rushing to the Titans in an exhibition game.

The selection of Laurinaitis with the 35th overall choice marks the highest spot Rams general manager Billy Devaney's teams have selected a linebacker since 1994 (he was with the Chargers when they used a first-rounder on Junior Seau in 1990).

The scouting reports describe Laurinaitis as an instinctive player and vocal leader. That's how the Seahawks described Lofa Tatupu when they selected him in the second round of the 2005 draft, despite concerns about Tatupu's athletic ability. Tatupu has been voted to three Pro Bowls in his first four seasons. Laurinaitis has more prototypical size.

The chart shows every linebacker Devaney's teams have drafted since 1994, ranked by how early his teams selected the linebackers. Seven of the top 12 were from teams currently affiliated with the SEC and ACC (all conference listing reflect current affiliations).

Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo, meanwhile, was with Philadelphia as linebackers coach when the team selected five linebackers, all in 2005 and 2006. One of them, fifth-round choice Trent Cole, became a pass-rushing defensive end. The others: Chris Gocong, Omar Gaither, Matt McCoy and David Bergeron. The Eagles drafted none earlier than 63rd overall (McCoy, 2005). Gocong was the 71st player chosen in 2006. The others were 146th or later.

The Rams waited until the seventh round before selecting a linebacker last year. That was probably too late, in retrospect.