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Monday, February 24, 2014
Ten Rams-related combine takeaways

By Nick Wagoner

ST. LOUIS -- The NFL scouting combine doesn't officially wrap up until Tuesday afternoon but my time in Indianapolis is over. As usual, the better part of the past week was an educational experience on a number of levels.

There are few times during the year when you get to be in the same place as every team's coaching staff, general manager, scouts and others who help in the decision-making process. Agents are also easy to find during combine week which helps serve as a sort of unofficial begin to free agency. With that in mind, here are 10 things I took away from the combine as they relate to the St. Louis Rams.

Jadeveon Clowney
If the Texans pass on Jadeveon Clowney with the No. 1 pick, the Rams could be in a prime position to trade down.
-- Houston is holding its cards extremely close to the vest in terms of what it plans to do with the No. 1 overall pick. The Rams have their guesses but even coach Jeff Fisher admitted he was hoping to catch fellow Competition Committee member Rick Smith, who is also the general manager of the Texans, at a weak moment to find out what Houston plans. Without that knowledge, the Rams can plan for multiple contingencies but anything involving a trade down is going to be close to impossible unless the Texans tip their hand early.

-- Speaking of trade downs, it sounds like the best-case scenario for the Rams to get a decent package of picks to move down is for Houston to take Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles. It's entirely possible the Rams would get the most in return from a team moving up to land South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Atlanta remains the most logical potential trade partner.

-- There's still plenty of time for a team to fall in love with a quarterback and want to move ahead of Jacksonville to secure one but as it stands, it doesn't sound like there's much consensus that any signal-caller is worth giving up much to get.  As always, though, it only takes one team with one fascination for a move to happen.

-- I still believe the Rams would prefer to move down if the right opportunity presents itself. It's not realistic to think they could get the same return they did for the No. 2 pick in 2012 but a move down which could land them a player such as Clowney, Auburn tackle Greg Robinson, Texas A&M tackle Jake Matthews or even Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins and extra picks seems like it's still the team's preferred method.

-- In talking to a handful of scouts and personnel types, there seems to be a consensus forming in terms of who the top 10 or 11 players are but not in how they would go. Clowney, Robinson, Matthews, Watkins, Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack, UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr, Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan, Bortles, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and Texas A&M wideout Mike Evans were the names I heard the most in those conversations. One player who might not be getting enough love is Mack. Didn't hear a single negative word about him all week though most seem to think he's a better scheme fit in a 3-4.

-- There were plenty of people who were down on the overall quality of the 2013 NFL draft. This year appears to be the opposite. Fisher and general manager Les Snead offered that it appears to be an extremely deep group at many positions. Good news for the Rams: It appears deepest on the offensive line (especially tackle), at wide receiver and at cornerback. The safety group leaves something to be desired beyond the top two or three, however.

-- It's no surprise but the Rams are serious about their efforts to retain offensive lineman Rodger Saffold. It's also no surprise that they want him to return as a guard, where Fisher thinks he could be "outstanding." Discussions to that end are ongoing but it's hard to see a scenario in which the Rams can prevent Saffold from testing the market without having to overpay. Even before Indy, multiple teams had made it clear they were interested in Saffold. Expect that interest to grow further. What the Rams do in the draft and the rest of free agency will hinge heavily on what becomes of Saffold.

-- Rumors of a much increased salary cap, possibly one as high as $132 million, should certainly help the Rams. If nothing else, it would allow them to make some moves in free agency without having to redo some contracts or outright release players they may want to keep. But in terms of spending, it's important to remember that every team realizes that windfall.  There are going to be a lot of teams flush with salary-cap space this offseason.

-- One thing we've consistently discussed in this space is the difficulty of attempting to win big while playing in the current state of the NFC West division. From listening to Snead and Fisher speak, it's clear that is something they are factoring in when they approach the draft and offseason.

"We have a long way to go," Fisher said. "I think we're closing the gap a little bit. But every time you play a division game, you know what to expect."

-- The Rams are pleased with how some of their key injured players are recovering, especially quarterback Sam Bradford. The team expects Bradford to resume throwing relatively soon and doesn't have any concern about his being ready for next season. Snead also added that he is not losing sleep over the pending return of offensive tackle Jake Long, who is also coming back from a knee injury.