For the first time since the Cleveland Browns used a second-round selection on troubled wide receiver Josh Gordon back in 2012, an NFL team stuck its toes into the water of supplemental draft Thursday when the St. Louis Rams decided a fifth-round pick was worth the risk with former Clemson left tackle Isaiah Battle.
Players tend to land in the supplemental draft for a reason and their stories are rarely positive ones, as evidenced by Gordon’s star-crossed career and his inability to steer clear of the league’s substance-abuse policy.
In Battle’s case, most draft observers believe the big man was a third-round talent heading into the supplemental process and another solid season in Death Valley could have vaulted the Brooklyn native into the first-round conversation for the ’16 draft.
“Battle has terrific length on his 6-foot-6 frame and is quick to land hands on pass rushers to disrupt their attack,” NFL Media draft expert Lance Zierlein said when discussing Battle’s skill set.
There were problems, though.
According to Battle he entered the supplemental draft due to personal reasons.
“I have some family matters to address, with a child due this summer, and I feel it is in my best interest to enter the NFL Supplemental Draft,” he claimed when announcing the decision. “I want to thank everyone at Clemson, especially Coach (Dabo) Swinney and the assistant coaches, for what they have done for me the last three years. I also want to thank my teammates. They have all had a big impact on my career.”
The whispers coming from inside the program were far different and two sources close to the Tigers believe Battle was on the verge of being kicked off the team for a third rules violation. He had already served a suspension in ’13 after punching a player, and another last season after being caught with marijuana when pulled over for speeding in June.
For the Rams, it was about adding talent to a unit that needs a serious upgrade as the 2015 NFL season approaches.
St. Louis has made drastic changes to its offense, most notably making a move at quarterback by pulling the plug on former No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford and trading him to Philadelphia for the less-pedigreed but more successful Nick Foles, who was 14-4 as the Eagles’ starter over the past two seasons.
Foles was never a Chip Kelly favorite in Philadelphia due to his lack of mobility and his penchant for holding on to the football a little too long, attributes that usually don’t lead to success unless there is a strong offensive line in from of the signal caller with those characteristics.
Unfortunately the Rams’ O-Line remains a work in progress, as evidenced by the organization adding four different big men back in the common draft, Wisconsin tackle Rob Havenstein, Louisville tackle Jamon Brown, Iowa guard Andrew Donnal and Fresno State guard Cody Wichmann.
Greg Robinson, the second overall pick in the 2014 draft, is the big name on the Rams’ offensive front and will be the left tackle with veteran Rodger Saffold set for left guard, and former Alabama All-American Barrett Jones penciled in at the pivot.
The right side is really in flux, however. As training camp approaches, Havenstein, the team’s second-round pick, is getting the opportunity to seize the right tackle position while Brown, a third-rounder, is being kicked inside to handle the right guard slot.
Battle, who started 16 games for the Tigers, including 11 last season when he was credited with 18 knockdown blocks by the Clemson coaching staff, could fit in that competition but St. Louis general manager Les Snead wants to start him off slowly because he wasn’t apart of the Rams’ offseason work.
“We felt it was an opportunity to get an earlier round value for a later round price,” Snead said when discussing why his team took a chance on Battle. “He’s going to practice what would’ve been his final year of college eligibility with us, go through our offseason program, and then start his rookie season a year from now. This will allow us to bring him along gradually both on and off the field.”
Detractors point to Battle’s off-the-field issues at Clemson and claim he is not a “culture fit” for most NFL teams but a 22-year-old getting into a fight or smoking weed while ignoring the speed limit in today’s social environment is hardly Aaron Hernandez-like behavior.
Like most young people Battle has his warts but the risk-reward ratio here is tipped heavily in the positive direction for the Rams.
In fact, the cost is negligible and the benefit is a starting NFL tackle.
“Now it’s up to Isaiah and us to go work to reach his potential as a person and player,” Snead said.
— You can reach JF McMullen at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jfmcmullen — Also listen to John weekly on YAHOO! Sports Radio, YSR Indianapolis, ESPN Atlantic City, ESPN Lexington and ESPN Southwest Florida.