NFL Nation: NFC West

Analyzing McShay mock: Rams 

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
In each of his first four mock drafts, ESPN NFL draft analyst Todd McShay has offered his take on what each team, including the St. Louis Rams, would do in the first round come May 8.

On Thursday, McShay offered something a little different, providing his opinion on what he would do if he had to play general manager for all of the NFL's 32 teams. He's been pretty consistent in his selections for the Rams in his four projections, but that doesn't mean all of those picks are the same as what he would do if he was in charge. Or does it?

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St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher has said it. General manager Les Snead has said it. Chief operating officer Kevin Demoff has said it. The Rams even put it in their renewal letter to season-ticket holders.

On Monday afternoon, Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis couldn't have made it any more clear: The time for building is through and 2014 is the year for the Rams to become relevant in the NFL's postseason conversation.

"[Strength coach] Rock [Gullickson] made a good point in the weight room today: for a lot of us that have been here for a while -- myself, Sam [Bradford], Chris Long -- enough of 'Hey, in the future we are going to be good, in the future, in the future. It's more of 'Hey, we need to be good now,'" Laurinaitis said. "I wouldn’t say we are getting old but we are not second- or third-year guys anymore. I think there's an urgency there, kind of a realization that we were fourth in our division, this isn't going to be easy to catch the Seahawks when we are still working to catch the Arizona Cardinals if we are going to be honest with ourselves.

[+] EnlargeJames Laurinaitis
AP Photo/Tom Gannam"I don't think we're far away, I just think there's a sense of urgency, kind of a realism of we are fourth in our division and that's not good enough for any of our standards," James Laurinaitis said.
"I don't think we're far away, I just think there's a sense of urgency, kind of a realism of we are fourth in our division and that's not good enough for any of our standards."

So it was that all 60 players on the offseason roster showed up Monday for the team's first day of the offseason program. And again on Tuesday. In this, the third year of the Fisher/Snead era, the excuses of years past are being tossed away. Even if the Rams have the youngest roster in the league for the third consecutive year -- a real possibility, by the way -- they've been building toward 2014 as a potential breakout season.

For that to happen, a lot is going to have to go right. Many young players are going to have to take a big step forward, an expected large draft class is going to have to contribute right away and a quarterback and left tackle coming off serious knee injuries are going to have to get and stay healthy. For now, the only thing the Rams can control is how they approach this part of the offseason program, the part known as "phase one."

That means doing everything possible to get the most of the strength and conditioning sessions and whatever little tidbits of actual football study they can get their hands on.

"Instead of denying it, we are just kind of accepting it and all we can do is work hard," Laurinaitis said. "We can't play football again for a while so just go out there and work your tail off right now while you can and realize that's our goal and our only objective to catch everybody else. Right now we are fourth. That's the reality, no matter how much it stinks or how much talent we've got. We're fourth."

As returning defensive captain, Laurinaitis was pleased with what he saw from teammates on what amounts to the first day of school for players. He said there was a noticeable growth among guys once they went from the more playful locker room area to the weight room and he could tell most of his teammates had been working out on their own.

"I think a lot of them showed up in great shape," Laurinaitis said. "You can tell [there's] a lot more maturity in them and stuff like that. I think the main question will be on the football field. You can be in better shape, look like you're faster and stuff like that but we all know sometimes it doesn't translate to the football field. We have a lot of guys, we need a whole bunch to [step up]. That won’t really show up until OTAs. Whoever we draft, that always seems to make people work harder as well. There's no bigger motivating factor than competition."

The competition at this point will come in smaller pieces like the bench press, in the sand pit and running sprints. But if the Rams are indeed going to make the next step in 2014, every step along the way counts.
Chris GivensBob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsAfter enduring a disappointing season in 2013, Chris Givens changed his offseason routine.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Last offseason, St. Louis Rams receiver Chris Givens told anyone willing to listen that he was making the changes necessary to eliminate any obstacles that could keep him from reaching his NFL goals.

By the time the 2013 season was over, Givens realized that some of that time was spent trying to convince himself that he'd truly devoted himself to football or that the alterations he'd made were enough. They weren't.

For the first time in his football-playing career, Givens failed to score a touchdown. In a season where Givens was supposed to emerge as the team's top receiving target, his numbers dipped to 34 catches and 569 yards.

In nearly every sense of the word, Givens' sophomore campaign was a disappointment. It was enough to have him up at 4:45 Monday morning to meet with a "body coach" who could help him prepare for the first day of the team's offseason conditioning program.

"Coming off zero touchdowns? This has been the longest offseason of my life," Givens said. "It’s just a constant reminder every day of what I didn’t accomplish all because I got in my own way. So I just really have been waiting for this day for the longest."

Looking for some help, Givens reached out to soon-to-be Hall of Famer Aeneas Williams -- the former Ram, current St. Louis-based pastor and mentor to many. Givens knew he needed something that was different than what he did coming out of his rookie season.

After that 2012 season, Williams recommended to Givens that he go to Arizona and train with the man who trained him, Mack Newton. Newton has a long history of working with top professional athletes using old-school techniques based on a more holistic approach to training. Givens said no.

Offered the same counsel this year, Givens didn't hesitate.

"Aeneas tried to get me to go to him last offseason but I was so cocky last offseason I don’t even know," Givens said. "This year I just kind of knew I needed something else and talking to Aeneas, it sounded like I needed Mack so I just took him up on his advice."

Givens went to Arizona to work with Newton, who has trained other top athletes such as Bo Jackson, Rickey Henderson and Charles Barkley. Former Cardinals receiver/defensive back Roy Green also was available to help Givens.

The 68-year old Newton does things a little different, the type of different that Givens said he needed. Instead of heavy weightlifting work, Givens did plenty of running. Before each session, Givens and Newton would take part in deeper conversations focused on things like spirituality and how to set goals.

With Green, Givens spent his days learning more of the nuances of route running, including the basic tenets of how to remain patient and set up defenders rather than trying to run by everyone.

Williams also put Givens in contact with the most distinguished of former Rams receivers, Isaac Bruce. Givens made it a point to stay in touch with Bruce, seeking advice on things he'd see when he watched film or ways to better prepare during the offseason.

In many ways, Arizona transformed from the desert to Givens' personal oasis, away from any temptations or opportunities to go the wrong way.

"That was the main idea," Givens said. "I just had to get away from anybody and anything that wasn't completely focused on being the best they can be day in and day out. When you take your focus to that level, there’s not a lot of people that have that same focus so I just had to do what was best for me and the team at this point."

Givens also spent the past few months getting healthy. He played through most of the season with nagging ankle and shoulder injuries with the ankle ailment hampering him for most of the season.

On Monday, he returned to St. Louis clearly excited to get back to work and eager to show he's the player who flashed promise in 2012 rather than the one who regressed in 2013.

From the Rams' perspective, there is still plenty of room for one of their young wideouts to step forward and prove capable of being quarterback Sam Bradford's top option on a consistent basis. It's a role many believed Givens would begin to grasp last year.

Coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead have consistently voiced confidence in the young receiver corps throughout the offseason but they also went out and signed free-agent wideout Kenny Britt, perhaps signaling they'd like more help at the position.

Either way, Givens still has plenty of opportunity in front of him. Whether he takes advantage remains to be seen but this time around the task isn't to talk about it but to be about it.

"I have some big goals and I have a lot of things I needed to change in my life," Givens said. "And just I really made football my No. 1 priority and that’s all I have been doing is working on my body, getting in shape to run, not running to get in shape and just doing things the right way so I can be durable throughout my career."
This week, the St. Louis Rams announced that they're having a contest for fans to guess their 2014 schedule with the prize of $100,000 for anyone who can hit it with 100 percent accuracy. Soon after, I laid out just how ridiculously long the odds are for anyone to satisfy all of the requirements to actually win this contest.

I'm not going to offer an "official" entry for the contest, because when I'm going to be epically wrong about something, I prefer to have it be unofficial. So I'll use this space to take my best stab at guessing what the schedule is going to look like for next season based on what we've seen in recent years and what we know about how the league puts it together.

The Rams' contest ends early Monday evening, so if you're looking for some tips to help you narrow the odds, feel free to use the suggestions below or, if you really want help, do the opposite of the list below.

Without further ado, here's my guess for the Rams' 2014 schedule:

Week 1 -- vs. Oakland Raiders -- Sunday

Week 2 -- at Washington Redskins -- Sunday

Week 3 -- vs. Seattle Seahawks -- Sunday

Week 4 -- at Kansas City Chiefs -- Sunday

Week 5 -- vs. New York Giants -- Sunday

Week 6 -- at Arizona Cardinals -- Monday

Week 7 -- vs San Francisco 49ers -- Sunday

Week 8 -- vs. Dallas Cowboys -- Sunday

Week 9 -- BYE

Week 10 -- at Seattle Seahawks -- Thursday

Week 11 -- at Philadelphia Eagles -- Sunday

Week 12 -- vs. Denver Broncos -- Sunday

Week 13 -- at San Diego Chargers -- Sunday

Week 14 -- vs. Arizona Cardinals -- Sunday

Week 15 -- at Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- Sunday

Week 16 -- vs. Minnesota Vikings -- Sunday

Week 17 -- at San Francisco 49ers -- Sunday
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- At this time of year, it's often difficult to discern what's real and what's not when it comes to a team's interest in a draft prospect. But if the St. Louis Rams aren't interested in Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins, they're certainly going well out of their way to throw the rest of the league off the scent.

Capping off a week in which they already hosted Watkins on a visit to Rams Park, a large Rams contingent traveled to Clemson, S.C., on Friday to put Watkins through the paces of a private workout.

That the Rams are showing such strong interest guarantees nothing in terms of drafting him, of course, but it's worth noting what similar interest has meant in recent drafts, especially when it comes to wide receivers.

In 2012, the Rams spent plenty of time searching for help at wideout, inviting a number of them to St. Louis for pre-draft visits and then going on a tour of private workouts to get a closer look. That trip took them to see Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon, Notre Dame's Michael Floyd, Baylor's Kendall Wright, Illinois' A.J. Jenkins and, finally, to tiny Appalachian State for a look at Brian Quick.

The first four players on that list went off the board in the first round, but the Rams were OK with that. They were sufficiently impressed by Quick's workout, his performance in the Senior Bowl week of practices and his pre-draft visit to take a chance on the raw prospect with the first pick of the second round.

Last year, the Rams paid a visit to West Virginia, where Tavon Austin put on a show that was impressive enough to seal the deal for the Rams to move up to No. 8 overall and draft him. That visit also helped the status of fellow Mountaineer receiver Stedman Bailey, whom the Rams drafted in the third round.

So there is at least some correlation between the private workouts for receivers and the Rams having genuine interest in adding the player. Of course, there are plenty of players the Rams have worked out that they didn't draft, too.

In many ways, Watkins makes sense for the Rams, a case I made at February's combine. But they also have plenty of other good options with their No. 2 overall pick, including the possibility of South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson, Texas A&M tackle Jake Matthews or even a more surprising choice such as Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack.

The Rams can't really go wrong by landing any of those players.

Either way, if the Rams are serious about drafting Watkins, they might have to do it at No. 2 or, if they trade down, not move too far to land his services. At this point, it would be a surprise if Watkins didn't go in the top five.

Analyzing Kiper Mock 4.0: Rams 

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has long seen the fit for the St. Louis Rams and an offensive tackle with the No. 2 overall selection. In fact, he had the Rams taking a tackle in that spot in each of his first three mock drafts.

But it was interesting to note that when Kiper released his "Grade A" draft, the draft where he made picks based on what he would do rather than team projections, he sent Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins to St. Louis.

Kiper released the fourth editionInsider of his mock draft Thursday morning, projecting picks through the second round, including the Rams' picks at Nos. 2, 13 and 44.

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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams took their time wading into the free-agent market this year and with most of the shopping seemingly done and focus turning toward the draft, we can take stock of what the team did and didn't get done in free agency.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Rams were tied with Green Bay and New Orleans as the least active teams in free agency. St. Louis signed just three free agents who played on a different team in 2013, adding quarterback Shaun Hill, defensive lineman Alex Carrington and wide receiver Kenny Britt.

All of those moves came well after the initial, most expensive wave of free agency and none of those deals are longer than a single season. The Rams' biggest move was the one they intended to make all along, signing offensive lineman Rodger Saffold to a lucrative five-year contract extension after his deal with Oakland fell apart for a failed physical.

It's been long-held NFL dogma that the best teams build through the NFL draft rather than spending big in free agency and the Rams made it clear early on that they intended to be patient if not silent in free agency. They followed through on that promise but what's most interesting is the company they kept among the other teams that were least active in the market.

Nine teams added just three or four outside free agents in the first month of free agency. Of those nine teams, only the Rams with their three additions and Dallas (four) did not make the playoffs in 2013. Joining Green Bay and New Orleans on the list, Seattle, San Francisco, New England, Kansas City and Indianapolis each signed only a quartet of players.

It stands to reason that teams who are mostly happy with their rosters and have won plenty of games wouldn't be looking to spend big money in free agency. While Dallas and the Rams' presence on that list could also be attributed to limited salary-cap space, in the Rams' case it's also indicative of a front office and coaching staff that believes in the ability of its young talent to ascend in 2014.

Rams general manager Les Snead has indicated multiple times that the thing his young team needs the most is experience and there's apparently a strong belief that the young talent in place can all take the necessary steps forward to help the Rams improve in 2014. Whether that happens remains to be seen but at least in terms of free agency, that faith in the team's young players clearly isn't just lip service.

Rams draft rewind: 2012

April, 13, 2014
Apr 13
The NFL draft is still about a month away, leaving us with plenty of time to look ahead to what might happen. But it also gives us plenty of time to take a look back.

In the interest of keeping Rams fans from re-living the nightmares of drafts gone by, we'll limit our look back to drafts where at least one player remains on the roster.

With that, we turn our attention to the 2012 class.

The picks: DT Michael Brockers (No. 14 overall), WR Brian Quick (No. 33), CB Janoris Jenkins (No. 39), RB Isaiah Pead (No. 50), CB Trumaine Johnson (No. 65), WR Chris Givens (No. 96), OL Rokevious Watkins (No. 150), K Greg Zuerlein (No. 171), LB Aaron Brown (No. 209), RB Daryl Richardson (No. 252).

What's left: The first draft class of the Jeff Fisher/Les Snead era, this is the group that, for better or worse, is the foundation of what this regime is hoping to build. So far, the results have been mixed but the Rams have found some pieces that they believe will be long term starters and contributors. From the original group, only Watkins and Brown are no longer on the roster.

Brockers, Jenkins and Johnson remain as projected starters and the Rams seem to have plenty of confidence in their ability to get the job done. Zuerlein looks poised to hold down kicking duties for the long haul.

After a promising rookie season, Givens took a step back in 2013 but still offers potential as a deep threat. Richardson looked ready to become Steven Jackson's replacement as the starting back but injuries prevented that from happening and he tumbled down the depth chart. The jury remains out on Quick and Pead entering their third year but so far they've been disappointments.

Best pick: The Rams rolled the dice a bit when they traded back twice before taking Brockers at No. 14 but so far the pick looks like a good one. An ankle injury slowed Brockers in his first season but he played all 16 games and was instrumental in the team's improved run defense in the final half of the 2013 season. Although he still has work to do as a pass rusher, he posted five and a half sacks despite regular double teams. When the Rams drafted Brockers, they knew they were getting an unfinished product but he looks headed toward reaching that potential.

Worst pick: While Quick hasn't made the strides many hoped he would in his first two seasons, it was at least clear early on that he would take some time. Which makes Pead the choice here. When the team drafted him in the second round, the expectation was that he would be the change of pace for Jackson and potentially his long-term replacement. He fell behind right away, missing the offseason program because of college rules and hasn't been able to get out of his own way since. Richardson claimed the change of pace role for Jackson and then the starting job when Jackson departed. Pead has meanwhile struggled with fumbling issues when he has played and hasn't earned many opportunities. Now, he's been relegated to a special teams role and will likely find himself battling for a roster spot come training camp.

What could have been: Many will point to the Rams passing on Alshon Jeffery in favor of Quick and based on results so far, that's a fair argument. But Jeffery was never really under consideration by the Rams so let's go to a scenario that was in play. Before the draft, the Rams showed interest in linebackers Bobby Wagner and Mychal Kendricks. Both were on the board for the Rams at No. 45 overall. But St. Louis wanted to recoup the fifth-round pick it traded for receiver Brandon Lloyd during the 2011 season. So the Rams made a deal with the Bears, moving down to No. 50 and getting their fifth-round choice in the process. Chicago took Jeffery with that No. 45 pick, Philadelphia selected Kendricks at No. 46 and Wagner went No. 47 to Seattle. Three picks later, the Rams took Pead and used the fifth-round choice on Watkins. Making matters worse, Tampa Bay's star linebacker LaVonte David was still on the board when the Rams picked Pead.

Analyzing McShay mock 4.0: Rams 

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
Armed with the second and 13th picks in the first round and 12 overall selections, the St. Louis Rams sit in prime position to be one of the 2014 NFL draft's movers and shakers.

ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay's fourth 2014 NFL mock draft Insider came out on ESPN Insider today, and though the two-round exercise has a familiar name for the Rams with their first choice, McShay's selection at No. 13 comes as a bit of a surprise.

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Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews, Taylor LewanJoe Robbins/Getty ImagesAuburn's Greg Robinson, Texas A&M's Jake Matthews and Michigan's Taylor Lewan are three top tackles the Rams could be considering in the May draft.

The key decision makers of the St. Louis Rams circa 2009 have long since departed but when it comes to the thought of taking a shot on an unfinished product at offensive tackle with the No. 2 overall pick, the bad memories are still fresh enough to make at least some Rams fans cringe.

That was the year the Rams used the No. 2 choice on Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith, a converted tight end coming from a spread offense with a reputation as a ferocious run blocker but a work in progress as a pass protector. Sound familiar?

At least on paper, one can look at Auburn tackle Greg Robinson's scouting report and see a similar description save for the tight end part. The comparison surely won't play in the minds of the Rams' current brain trust, a group that had nothing to do with Smith's selection but it's fair to at least consider the flip side to Robinson's upside.

"To me, if you look at Robinson and having Jason Smith not that long ago come to St. Louis as the second overall pick out of Baylor, is that something that factors in here?" ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. "I don’t necessarily think so because I think Robinson comes out as the much better prospect, he’s the consensus No. 2, No. 3 guy in this draft. But does he need a little work before he settles in and becomes a great left tackle? Yes. But that could happen, that light could go on immediately, he’s that good a football player."

Smith lasted three injury-plagued seasons in St. Louis and bounced between the New York Jets and New Orleans Saints before his release left him without a team last August. Many of his problems were tied to an apparent lack of love for the game, a problem scouts say Robinson doesn't have.

As the Rams continue vetting the top three offensive tackles -- a group that includes Texas A&M's Jake Matthews and Michigan's Taylor Lewan in addition to Robinson -- they'll have to weigh the downside of each prospect in addition to the potential.

Robinson probably has the highest ceiling of any of the trio but he also might have the lowest floor. In Auburn's offense, Robinson was the most feared run blocker in the college game but rarely had to pass protect. That isn't to say he can't do it, just that he hasn't done it much.

“Robinson, obviously, (is) very athletic," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "He’s got a tremendous upside, probably has not taken as many snaps in a pro-style offense as Lewan, but very athletic, there’s flexibility, think he could move in and play guard or other tackle as well. It’s going to take him a little more time.’’

Matthews, in many ways, is the opposite. A polished pass protector with experience at both tackle spots, Matthews also comes with the famous bloodlines (he's the son of Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce) that would seem to limit any potential downside he might have. It's unfair to say Matthews has reached his ceiling but he doesn't carry the same size and athleticism combination of Robinson, either.

Fisher coached the elder Matthews in his time with the Oilers/Titans and can see the similarities between the father and son.

"Bruce having played all the positions and having been selected to the Pro Bowl at all the positions, probably one of the more flexible offensive linemen to ever come out," Fisher said. "I think (Jake) has got some similar traits, we haven’t seen Jake play center yet, or guard, but athletically could do both I’m sure.’’

Like Matthews, Lewan also projects as a ready-made tackle capable of stepping in and limiting the risk in terms of his on-field projection. But Lewan will also have to answer some questions about some off-field red flags before the draft.

“(He's) just very well coached, very consistent, finishes plays, he’s what I think, what you see on tape is what I think everybody would look for in that type of tackle,’’ Fisher said.

Since the arrival of Fisher and general manager Les Snead in 2012, the Rams have had no problem choosing players who aren't as polished as other options. Much of that stems from their belief in a veteran coaching staff, but so far that has yielded mixed results. For every Michael Brockers who seems to be trending in the right direction there's a Brian Quick, who the team is still waiting on to produce consistently.

As with all draft prospects, there's no guarantee any of the tackles will pan out.

"Matthews isn’t the talent that Robinson is," Kiper said. "Matthews did have a couple of games in pass protection where he showed he needed a little work at left tackle. Remember he had come over from right tackle. Robinson the same thing. From that offense, he’s going to need a little bit of work but all of the skills are there. You look at Lewan, he’s probably the most ready to be a pure left tackle."

Should the Rams decide to choose one, they'll have to decide whether most ready is more valuable than long-term upside.
For those looking for a potential tipping point for the St. Louis Rams in the 2014 NFL draft, look no further than South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

Widely regarded as the best player in the draft, there's a strong possibility Clowney will be drafted as such and go to the Houston Texans with the first pick. But there also remains the chance that the Texans will pass on Clowney and select a quarterback No. 1 overall.

It's too early to say which way Houston will go but much of what happens after that pick, especially for the Rams, will hinge on that decision.

In the best-case scenario for the Rams, the Texans would choose a quarterback at No. 1. It wouldn't matter which one would go so long as it leaves Clowney on the board.

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesHolding the No. 2 pick in the draft, the Rams would not be short on potential trade partners if Jadeveon Clowney were still available.
Simply put, having Clowney available with the second pick greatly increases the Rams' options and would go a long way toward shaping their first round and, potentially, their entire draft.

"I think it would be much better with Clowney because there is a consensus on Clowney as the best defensive end to come out in years," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. "You don’t see a Clowney but maybe every 10, 15, 20 years coming out. And that’s not an exaggeration. So he’s the guy."

First and foremost, if Clowney made it past the first pick, it would give the Rams the option of simply drafting the player that Kiper and most everyone else agrees is the best player in the draft.

While Clowney plays a position where the Rams are loaded with talent like Robert Quinn, Chris Long, William Hayes and Eugene Sims, the Rams and coach Jeff Fisher subscribe to theory that you can never be over saturated with pass-rushers.

The task of finding a way to get Clowney on the field with the other ends might prove difficult at first but it also wouldn't be asking too much. Beyond the first year, there are other factors to consider such as Quinn's coming contract negotiations.

The Rams have showed plenty of interest in Clowney, too. General manager Les Snead and defensive line coach Mike Waufle attended Clowney's pro day last week and Waufle even went so far as putting Clowney through a portion of his workout.

When Clowney was done, he told reporters that he's planning a pre-draft visit to St. Louis and expected to host the team for a private workout in South Carolina.

“I’ve learned over the years you can never have enough pass-rushers," Fisher said. "And I think not only us, but other teams that are in our situation are creative enough to find ways to get him on the field and put him in position to make plays.’’

Perhaps more important to the Rams' cause is that Clowney also represents the player teams would be most likely to move up for in a trade.

The Rams have made it clear they would be open to trading down again and though it's a quarterback that originally netted them the bounty that contained this pick, there isn't one as coveted in this year's draft.

"The quarterbacks -- some like and some don’t," Kiper said. "There’s such mixed opinion on the quarterbacks you are not going to get all these teams clamoring to move up to get a quarterback when you could end up with a bust."

If Clowney does go No. 1, be it to Houston or a team moving up to get him, the Rams would still have their choice of talented players but they'd be less likely to find a trade partner. And, if they did, the Rams would have to be willing to take less in a deal than they would for Clowney.

"If Houston does surprise -- and it would be a surprise -- and does not take him and Clowney gets to 2 then you have Quinn, you have Long and you’re going to have teams like Atlanta, I think, would be the primary one," Kiper said. "But you’d have a lot of other ones, but Atlanta would be the one that makes the most sense to move up and get Clowney from 6 to 2 and you would still be in a great spot for an offensive tackle."
One of the few draft-related topics the St. Louis Rams have been openly willing to discuss in the run-up to May's NFL draft has been their willingness to trade the No. 2 overall selection.

That pick is the final piece of the haul the team received from the Washington Redskins in 2012, and the Rams would undoubtedly like that deal to continue perpetuating itself as long as possible.

But the Rams also need to add some difference makers if they want to keep up in the arms race that is the NFC West. So while a trade down would allow them to add more good players with later picks, it also could prevent them from getting an elite talent if they move down too far.

Which begs the question, if the Rams do find a trade partner, how far can they move while still maintaining the chance at a top talent?

Of course, the quality and rankings of the talent is purely in the eye of the beholder so while one team may see five players separated from the group, another team might see seven, including some that aren't in the other team's top five.

In the 2014 draft, there does seem to be at least a little bit of a consensus forming on who the top players are, though there's room for differences of opinion behind South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who is widely regarded as the No. 1 overall player.

According to ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr., if the Rams want to walk out of the first night of the draft with an elite talent, they'll need to ensure that any move down still garners one of seven players. Those seven players are Clowney, Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson, Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack, Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins, Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews, Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans and Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan.

"That’s your super seven," Kiper said. "After that, I don’t see anybody that belongs in that group right now. I don’t think any of the quarterbacks do and I don’t see any other players jumped up that far. So that’s your sensational seven, if you want to say that. Then you’re getting into the range where the eighth guy could be the 18th guy on some boards. To me, the seven are the consensus seven."

Now, just because those are Kiper's seven players doesn't mean the Rams view it that way. There could be more, there could be less. But given their apparent willingness to move down, it's reasonable to conclude that they have a number of players they view as worthy of taking in the top 10 or so of the draft. They've showed at least some level of interest in all seven of the players Kiper mentions.

Beyond that, the Rams have made it clear they have no intention of taking a quarterback in the first round. Which is what makes how other teams view the top quarterbacks the overriding X factor in trying to assess how far the Rams could comfortably trade down to secure one of the top talents.

It'd be easy to say there are seven players you covet and follow with the logic that you can't move any lower than No. 7 to get one. But quarterbacks perpetually complicate projecting the draft. No other position gets over drafted more as teams desperately seek franchise signal-callers at the expense of someone who might be a more sure thing at a less important position.

Of teams picking in the top 10, Houston, Jacksonville, Cleveland, Oakland, Minnesota and possibly Tampa Bay could use help at quarterback. So it's possible the Rams could move down a little past that seventh spot.

Still, finding a trade partner, especially if Clowney is off the board, might prove difficult because of that lack of excitement about this year's quarterback prospects. And it's not out of line to say that just because the Rams could move down doesn't mean they should. If indeed there's a super seven, the Rams might be better off taking their pick of the litter than rolling the dice on the player at the bottom of that group.

Rams set offseason program

April, 3, 2014
Apr 3
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- While the NFL moved the draft back a couple of weeks to May this year, it didn't do much to change the dates for offseason programs around the league.

The league announced the starting dates and all of the organized team activities (OTAs) dates for all 32 teams on Thursday afternoon. Included in that group, of course, is the St. Louis Rams.

Because the NFL allows teams hiring new head coaches to get underway earlier than others, some teams will start their offseason conditioning programs as early as next week. As Jeff Fisher enters his third year as Rams coach, the Rams will have to wait until April 21 to begin the offseason program.

Until OTAs begin, the Rams can do strength and conditioning work. But all teams will have to wait until after the draft to start OTAs, the time when they can actually begin doing the on-field activities most closely resembling a practice.

Here are some key dates of the Rams' offseason program:

First day: April 21

OTA dates: June 3, 5, 6, 9, 10, 12, 16, 17, 19, 20

The Rams are getting started on OTAs s little later than other teams, but that's been common practice under Fisher. Fisher prefers to give his rookies a chance to come in, learn how the team wants things done and then mix in with the veterans. So it's safe to assume the rookies will come in soon after the draft and begin getting acclimated, likely with a rookie minicamp mixed in.

Another quirk to Fisher's offseason plan that differs from other teams is the absence of a mandatory full-squad minicamp. In fact, the Rams are the only team in the league without one scheduled.

All offseason work is closed to the public.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Whether it's general manager Les Snead or coach Jeff Fisher, the St. Louis Rams have consistently made it clear this offseason how much they like their current roster.

They've backed up those words by forgoing any major signings in free agency, only recently adding a trio of players to provide depth at quarterback, defensive tackle and wide receiver.

But with a dozen picks in May's NFL draft, it will be interesting to see just how many of those choices get used or if the Rams again move up and down the board in an effort to end up with more quality than quantity. Those 12 selections are tied for the most of any team in the league.

By the fifth round of the 2013 draft, the Rams had completed their business by selecting running back Zac Stacy. They won't be able to duplicate that this year since they have three compensatory picks, one in Round 6 and two in Round 7. Compensatory picks can't be traded.

It is, however, fair to wonder whether the Rams will want to continue trading down to accumulate more picks if they're as happy with the roster as they say they are.

“You’d like to say you hit on all 12, but when it’s all said and done we may not make 12 selections, we don’t know,’’ Fisher said.

If indeed the Rams do make a trade down or two in the first round, don't be surprised if they also look to aggressively move up in the later rounds. The draft is considered one of the deepest in years and though they can't trade the three late compensatory selections, it would be logical for the Rams to try to package some of those picks together to get another pick in the range of the fourth or-fifth rounds. Barring that, they could also look to move out of some of those late picks in exchange for late picks in future seasons.

That would give the Rams the chance to have an earlier shot at some of the better players available in those rounds while also preventing them from having to try to find a spot for 14 or 15 drafted rookies.

Here's a look at the Rams' picks in this draft:

Round 1: Nos. 2 and 13
Round 2: No. 44
Round 3: No. 75
Round 4: No. 110
Round 5: No. 153
Round 6: Nos. 188 and 214*
Round 7: Nos. 226, 241, 249*, 250*
Note: * indicates compensatory selection
The St. Louis Rams figure to have a variety of options when May's NFL draft rolls around. In free agency, the team has mostly remained silent but recently ramped up activity to add depth at quarterback, defensive tackle and wide receiver.

As one of two teams with a pair of first-round picks, the Rams can go different ways with their top selection, which is No. 2 overall. A common prediction among the mock draft crowds has seen offensive linemen regularly mocked to St. Louis at that spot. In this edition of Mel Kiper Jr.'s mock, Insider he takes a slightly different tact and offers his preference for the player each team should take in the first three rounds. When it comes to the Rams, that flexibility allows for him to stray from so-called conventional wisdom.

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