With the 2011 NFL Draft little more than a month away, the Rams find themselves vetting many more prospects for their first-round pick than they have in the past three years.
As it’s gone, the Rams have picked in the top two in each of those seasons, allowing them to focus on a handful of prospects rather than sit around and play the what if game.
This year, armed with the 14th pick in the draft, the Rams have much more to consider because any number of scenarios could unfold before they come on the clock.
That’s why, as of Friday, the Rams still had a long way to go before they could even hazard a guess at what direction they’ll take when it’s their turn to make a selection.
“We are not close to being there,” general manager Billy Devaney said. “I have a general idea. Being realistic, there are certain guys you know are going to be gone from pick one to five, six, seven. Then after that there is a cluster of names and they are darn good names. It’s exciting. It’s really exciting the possibilities that will be there at 14. We have a vague idea but we haven’t narrowed it down yet.”
While there’s plenty of time for discussion between now and the start of the draft on April 28, most of the major college pro days are complete and most of the scouting hay is already in the barn, so to speak.
For now, the Rams scouting staff are dotting I’s and crossing T’s as they comb through some of the prospects that didn’t attend the scouting combine and go back for final looks at players they already know well.
But soon, the personnel department and coaching staff will huddle more regularly to go through the variety of scenarios and possibilities that could come into play for the Rams with the 14th pick.
“We go about it the exact same way,” Devaney said. “The pool of players that are candidates there will be more. You just have to be prepared for there might be five or six when we get down to it that are possibilities at 14. But that’s not an issue; we’ll be ready for anything.”
That includes possible trade options which could also come into play. Devaney says the Rams are “getting close” to the point where they can afford to surrender a pick or two to move up to get a player but says the Rams aren’t quite there yet.
On the flip side, the Rams could potentially be in the market to move down. In a draft that has so many teams in need of quarterback help, it’s possible the Rams could be in a desirable spot for someone to move up to get one of the draft’s top signal callers.
Of course, Devaney and the Rams aren’t tipping their hands on which player the Rams might take in April but that doesn’t stop the various NFL Draft analysts and pundits from making their best guess.
Before February’s scouting combine, Alabama receiver Julio Jones was the popular and consensus choice of the draft mockers. But that was before he lit up the scouting combine – on a broken foot no less – by running the 40-yard dash in the mid 4.3s and proved just as explosive in the rest of the athletic drills.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. pointed to Jones in his early mock drafts as a perfect fit for the Rams for a variety of reasons.
“He has to stay healthy over the long haul in the NFL,” Kiper said. “But hey, they drafted (Sam) Bradford and he didn’t have any injury issues after being hurt at Oklahoma. Maybe Jones had injury issues at Alabama, comes in and goes to the Rams and they have the magic touch and the guys that had troubles in college don’t get hurt in the NFL. But is he talented enough? His combine was unbelievable. He’s a big, physical, hard nosed, great blocker that will help that running game and a guy that I really thought stepped it up this year as a main pass catching option for Alabama. He’s certainly worthy of being 14, he’s worthy of being as high as 8, 9 if you have to go up to get him.”
While the speculation on Jones centered on a need for the Rams at receiver, most analysts now believe both Jones and Georgia’s A.J. Green will be long gone by the time the Rams make their first selection.
According to Kiper, that would mean the Rams might have to seriously consider trading up with Dallas at No. 9 or possibly Washington at No. 10 in order to land Jones.
It’s a move Kiper would endorse.
“Jones would be worth trading up from 14 maybe to 10 or 9. If you are sitting there and Washington doesn’t want to go with a receiver though I think they could. It may be tough. It may be difficult to find somebody and you may have to get ahead of 10 or 11. I could see Washington looking at Jones. I could see Houston looking at Jones before the St. Louis Rams are up. Now if he falls to St. Louis, I think you’ve got to take him.”
If indeed Jones and Green are long gone, Kiper says there is any number of options for the Rams to explore.
The Rams are in the position to take the best non quarterback, kicker, punter, middle linebacker or offensive tackle in the draft, leaving them a plethora of options to explore.
This year’s draft is extremely deep on the defensive line where Kiper has defensive ends like Mizzou’s Aldon Smith, Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan, Iowa’s Adrian Clayborn and California’s Cameron Jordan and tackles like Illinois’ Corey Liuget and Temple’s Muhammad Wilkerson available when the Rams pick.
“If the top two receivers are gone then they could look defensive tackle because that’s the value,” Kiper said. “Outside linebacker, I don’t see anybody that would fit what they are doing defensively there if you are looking for a traditional outside linebacker. Maybe an interior offensive lineman they could look at. It’s a little early maybe for (Florida OL Mike) Pouncey, who I don’t think is as good as his brother Maurkice. That’s early.”
Much like it’s too early to make any kind of bold prediction on which way the Rams will go when it’s their time to turn in a draft card.