Michael Brockers. Brian Quick. Isaiah Pead.
Everyone tuned in to the 2012 NFL Draft heard these names called on behalf of the St. Louis Rams in late April, but we haven't heard them much since. Why?
Let's take a closer look.
Obviously, Brockers is an elite talent. Drafted 14th overall out of football-factory LSU, the 6’5”, 322 defensive tackle could simply suit up for a 16-game season and be effective for a budding Rams defensive line. The additional plus to Brockers’ massive frame is his athleticism. He can man two, even three holes during a play, allowing the young linebacking corps to move more easily and freely through the gaps. This has greatly helped St. Louis’ run defense (now ranked, ironically, 14th in the league) limit opposing running backs in the three games Brockers has played. In the Rams’ past two contests (against Arizona and Miami) their opponents’ leading rushers had 33 and 17 yards, respectively.
The defense has benefited much more in the passing game thanks to Brockers’ presence. Defensive ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn had already shown their coming of age early this season with four and six sacks, respectively, but the addition of Brockers has helped propel the unit to fifth in the NFL in several major pass defense categories. Obviously, Brockers won't show up much on the stat sheet or be discussed much as a playmaker — much like Baltimore's Haloti Ngata — but for a defensive tackle, that's not necessarily a bad thing.
On the other hand, two of the players chosen after Brockers were expected to at least be in the playmaking discussion around St. Louis at this point in the season. Second-rounders Quick (33rd overall) and Pead (50th) were picked to be impact players early for a Rams’ offense devoid of consistent big-play talent at their respective positions. Instead, neither player has seen the field for much of the year thus far.
Quick has pulled in only one reception for 19 yards in six games, while Pead has yet to record a carry in relief of starter Steven Jackson (oddly enough, to his credit, Pead has one more reception than Quick but for only seven yards). Instead, rookies Chris Givens and Daryl Richardson, two fringe players who weren't expected to do much outside of special teams this season, have usurped Quick and Pead at their respective positions.
Givens, a fourth-round selection out of Wake Forest, has already hauled in his first career touchdown and has a receptions of 50 yards or more in three straight games, including a 65-yard touchdown against Miami that was a career-long for him as well as quarterback Sam Bradford. His 4.4 speed and sure hands made him a sleeper pick, and Givens is now cashing in by becoming a trusted target.
Richardson has surely been the biggest cause of controversy in Rams Nation. Chosen in the seventh round out of Abeline Christian, Richardson has complimented Givens’ big play ability in the backfield, gaining almost as many rushing yards as Jackson in half as many carries.
These breakout performances by lower-round choices further beg the question: where is Brian Quick? What happened to Isaiah Pead? Why were two players, flying relatively low on the national radar despite excelling in strong football programs at Appalachian State and Cincinnati, chosen in the second round only to sit behind later picks?
Could it be that head coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead got too excited about measurables and didn't pay enough attention to intangibles? Certainly that isn't the case with Givens and Richardson; both players produced respectable numbers in college and had eye-catching NFL Combine performances as well.
Maybe Quick and Pead are struggling to pick up the offense. From a fan's perspective, it doesn't seem as if offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is doing anything too extensive compared to a college system, especially considering what he ran as a member of the New York Jets’ staff. Besides, numerous reports have mentioned Quick's highlight ability being on display every week in practice. To Pead's credit, he made notable progress each week throughout the preseason.
Is the team rallying behind the breakout performances of Givens and Richardson? One can't blame Bradford for finding comfort in having his first consistent deep-threat since he was drafted three years ago, and Richardson emanates a constant fighting spirit only seen once or twice by Pead since the beginning of camp.
Are off-the-field issues already catching up to the duo? We've heard plenty about cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson and the baggage they've brought into the league with them, but Fisher has done pretty well so far in maximizing their production while limiting their opportunities to fall. There hasn't been relatively any controversy surrounding Quick or Pead in this manner; only those behind the closed doors of Rams Park would know.
Or maybe, in a more depressing angle… maybe they're just not that good. Maybe Quick and Pead are practice superstars who can't be trusted on the big stage. That, I find hard to believe, especially considering their limited playing time in the regular season. But then again, we've just seen Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees get benched in the postseason. Anything is possible.
Whatever the root of this issue is, NFL franchises don't spend first and second-round picks on players they don't plan on playing in Year 1. Quick and Pead remain behind closed doors for now, but as the offense continues to gel and rally behind Bradford in Danny Amendola's absence, we should expect Fisher to reveal his not-so-secret weapons. That is, whether they're legit, or have “ACME” stamped on their helmets.