EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The 2014 NFL draft is still 15 days away. Before we get there, we'll take a look at a prospect or two in the draft who could be of interest to the St. Louis Rams.
By now, we've covered most of the big names so the focus here will be on vetting some potential additions beyond the top 10 of the draft.
Position: Offensive tackle
School: University of Nevada
Height/Weight: 6-foot-4 1/4, 302 pounds
Projected round: 2
Pros: The extremely durable Bitonio started 33 of 51 games in his four-year career with no sign of injury issues along the way. Surprised many at the scouting combine with his athleticism, clocking a 4.97-second 40-yard dash time, which was fourth fastest among linemen and finished second among linemen in vertical jump and broad jump. Prototypical finisher when blocking, whether it's in the run game or pass protection. One of those players who plays through the echo of the whistle and does everything he can to set a tone. Solid in pass protection because of quick feet and good fundamentals. Strong as a run-blocker, particularly in zone schemes.
Cons: Doesn't possess the ideal size you look for in a tackle, which means some teams might view him as a better fit moving inside to guard. Has a good frame but is a little soft through the middle and could need some time in an NFL strength and conditioning program to hold up against bigger defenders. Arm length falls short of ideal for an offensive tackle but would still probably be adequate. Decent punch but could use more pop behind his pads, especially if he moves inside against larger defensive tackles. Most fundamentals are sound but, like most young offensive linemen, could improve hand use.
Fit with Rams: Despite re-signing Rodger Saffold in the offseason, the Rams still have an opening at left guard and could use some depth at tackle with Jake Long coming off knee surgery and Joe Barksdale scheduled for free agency after the 2014 season. The beauty of Bitonio is that he is versatile enough to serve as a solution for all of those situations. Offensive line coach Paul Boudreau is a big fan of tough, physical and durable linemen and Bitonio easily checks all three boxes (his father was an MMA fighter). Unlike many of the top linemen connected to the Rams, such as Greg Robinson or Jake Matthews, the Rams wouldn't have to spend a super-early pick to land Bitonio. Most believe he will go in the second round, though he could sneak into the late first. That would mean the Rams would either have to move up from their spot in the second or potentially move back in the first for the need to meet the value but Bitonio might be worth it. The Rams have done their homework on Bitonio and brought him to St. Louis for a pre-draft visit. He'd make for a strong fit at left guard right away and could provide depth at tackle without the expense of using a premium first-round pick.
He said it: Bitonio on making the transition to a different position -- "To me, being an offensive lineman is being an offensive lineman," Bitonio told Yahoo.com. "There are different technical aspects and sizes, but just being a good offensive lineman is the biggest thing.
“Going to the NFL, there is going to be a learning curve. I think that’s just going to be part of the learning curve, playing anywhere on the O-line, and I am looking forward to it. I think I am going to feel comfortable at whatever position they put me at.”