Fifty days separate the Rams from selecting Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford or some mystery candidate with the first overall choice in the 2010 NFL draft.
General manager Billy Devaney included Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen in the discussion when asked whether the team was focusing on those candidates. The team could always trade the pick. But prevailing opinion says Suh, McCoy and Bradford are the strong favorites.
The primary question, of course, is whether the Rams should scratch their QB itch with Bradford or continue addressing holes throughout the rest of their roster. The gains Bradford made in weight and overall physical appearance made him a winner at the NFL combine, even though Bradford will not work out until his pro day March 26.
Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. joined me to discuss the Rams' options.
Mike Sando: Bradford is gaining ground in the discussion. The Rams definitely need a franchise quarterback. Bradford looks the part.
Matt Williamson: I have a hard time. They are terrible, they need help everywhere, they need impact players at close to every position. From where they sit in their rebuilding process, I have a hard time straying from the notion that they should take the best player in the draft regardless of position. These defensive tackles are the best two players in the draft. We know that. It’s a high-impact position. It’s not like they are an outside linebacker or running back or something that is easy to find. They are building blocks for what could be an excellent defense. Steve Spagnuolo, the reason he is there is because he was excellent on defense with the Giants. They get Adam Carriker back, Chris Long is emerging and with one of these tackles, they have the makings of one of the best defensive lines in the league with some similarities of what he had to work with in his heyday with the Giants. I strongly think you take one of those two, whoever you like better. Live to fight another day at the quarterback position because the Rams are going to be picking in the top five again next year, and that draft appears much more top-heavy with quarterbacks.
Mike Sando: Live to fight another day? That's going to be easier if Spagnuolo has a franchise quarterback in place. Drafting one could buy needed time for the Rams' current leadership. The team could have a new owner by the summer. The Rams have gone from 3-13 to 2-14 to 1-15 over the last three seasons. Having a quarterback in place creates a more positive outlook in the absence of on-field results. And let's face it, this team is still going to struggle some. The point about defensive tackle being a high-impact position is debatable. The Redskins shelled out lots of cash for Albert Haynesworth last offseason. The investment bought them another disappointing season. I saw this coming to an extent when I broke down the highest-paid defensive tackles for a blog entry last offseason. Quite a few of them played for losing teams. We all know the NFL is a quarterback-driven league.
Matt Williamson: Quarterbacks do make the world go round. The other option is taking Dan LeFevour or Colt McCoy in the second round. I would rather have Suh in the first round and Colt McCoy in the second as opposed to Bradford and whatever you get. Maybe the second-round quarterback starts the last four games and looks good. I just think Bradford is a wild card. If we had this conversation a week ago, I would say it’s a no-brainer -- take Suh or whoever else. But Bradford comes to the combine beefed up, he looks better than expected, he is interesting. He is a great fit as a dome quarterback. He is intelligent. Can he stay healthy? That is the No. 1 negative. Because he is bigger and stronger than ever, you have to keep that door open. I would not consider Clausen.
Mike Sando: That's an interesting point on Bradford as a perfect dome quarterback. The Rams' offensive line is decent enough to justify giving a rookie quarterback some playing time, provided the team improves its options at wide receiver and tight end. The Rams have some injury-prone people at receiver, from Donnie Avery to Laurent Robinson. Keenan Burton is coming off major knee surgery. The one thing I keep coming back to is Spagnuolo's desire to find a quarterback with strong leadership qualities. Devaney has also harped on intangibles at that position. Bradford seems to have those things.
Matt Williamson: I would consider Bradford a great fit in that city, that scheme, all those things. If you bring him in and love him, the doctor says he’s in great shape, he is physically OK and throws well on his pro day, yeah, it's something you have to consider. But there was not much to go on over the last year and a half. Most of the stuff before this week was all negative. I know there are people out there who absolutely love him and think he is that guy. If your doctors say he is ready and he throws well, I would not criticize the Rams for taking him first overall. If we have to make the decision today, though, take one of the defensive tackles.
Mike Sando: It's a great thing for the Rams if Bradford's stock continues to rise. The first overall pick will gain in value if that happens. If the Rams still weren't sold on Bradford, they might have at least an outside shot at trading out of the pick, a rarity near the top of the draft. The more picks St. Louis has, the better. The Rams have major needs across the board. Any quarterback they select first overall needs to be the difference between winning and losing, not just a decent starter. NFL analyst Greg Cosell and I had that discussion at the combine. The Jets took Mark Sanchez fifth overall last season and then did everything they could to prevent him from impacting games. That might be OK for a rookie, but that pick is wasted if Sanchez never becomes the reason the Jets win games. Same thing goes for Bradford in this draft. He has to be special or the Rams do need to go with the best player available.
Matt Williamson: Every year, it seems like a prominent quarterback starts to slip. You are still picking 33rd -- the first pick of the second round. Say Jimmy Clausen slips to the 16-17-18 range. You start to get to that point of the draft and most of those teams are good -- they don't need quarterbacks. When quarterbacks start to fall, they usually fall hard. If Clausen falls to 20 or 21, you still have that 33rd pick and it wouldn’t take a lot to get up there. That first pick of the second round is going to be a lot more valuable the way the draft is set up.
Mike Sando: No doubt. Having the first round in prime time means teams will have a full night to consider their options between the 32nd and 33rd picks. That 33rd pick should certainly gain in value during those hours. If the Rams could address their quarterback situation with the first overall choice, they might be able to trade out of the 33rd spot for badly needed additional picks. Teams have to be careful about overvaluing combine workouts and pro day results. But I really think March 26 could be pivotal for the Rams. If Bradford looks good at that workout, St. Louis needs to strongly consider taking him. It's a risk, of course, but what does this team have to lose?
Matt Williamson: With the way the draft is set up, maybe St. Louis is best off taking the defensive tackle in Round 1 and letting every team re-stack its board while the Rams get on the phone with Philly overnight. That 33rd pick could be more valuable than ever and if you can walk out of this draft with Suh, trading No. 33 for Donovan McNabb and, say, the Eagles' third- or fourth-round pick, then you really have something. You take this Rams offensive line, McNabb, Steven Jackson, maybe a free-agent tight end and a slew of mediocre receivers with upside. That isn't all bad on offense considering what they had to work with last year. And, of course, you get the defensive lineman that Spags can build his defense around and more mid-round picks to further create depth and competition throughout the roster.