- Nick Wagoner, ESPN Staff Writer
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- If the NFL draft had been scheduled at its normal time, it would already be over and many of the rumors that have just now surfaced might never have seen the light of day.
But here we are, less than a week from the draft, and the most polarizing name entered is finding himself connected to the St. Louis Rams. That's Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, the player that many love and many love to hate with little gray area in between. What started as "whispers" then became a chic mock draft pick and now will culminate in an on-campus workout in College Station.
Our NFL Insider Chris Mortensen reported Wednesday evening a Rams' contingent, including coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead, is set to conduct a private workout with the Aggies' version of the Holy Trinity: Manziel, tackle Jake Matthews and wide receiver Mike Evans. That workout is scheduled for Friday.
It's no surprise to see Evans and Matthews on the list. The Rams have not made any secret of their interest in that duo, hosting Evans on a pre-draft workout and spending plenty of time with Matthews, who has longstanding family ties to Fisher. Matthews could be in play for the Rams' No. 2 overall pick and Evans could be a factor if the Rams can find a trade down partner with that choice.
Which brings us to Manziel. As is the case with most draft rumors, those that want nothing to do with Manziel will simply assume his connection to the Rams is part of their plan to use him as a smokescreen, perhaps to entice a team to trade up to either of their picks. Those that love him want to believe the interest is real and the team is ready to take the plunge by parting ways with incumbent Sam Bradford.
Since the rumors first started popping up, I've maintained the Rams will not use the No. 2 pick on Manziel. After doing some more legwork, I have no reason to believe anything has changed in that regard. I also believe if Manziel fell to No. 13 it would be unwise to rule out the chance the Rams will choose him. Of course, that's dependent on Manziel slipping that far in the first place, which doesn't seem likely.
The Rams might have legitimate interest in Manziel but even if they do, there's nothing wrong with dovetailing that interest as a way to generate some curiosity in their picks. It seems unlikely somebody would want to trade to No. 2 to secure his services but it's not completely out of the question. And if he does slip to 13, that might be a sweet spot for a team like Cleveland to trade up from 26 to grab him, allowing the Browns to go a different direction at No. 4 and the Rams to acquire more picks while moving down in the first round.
Snead and Fisher have been consistent in their comments supporting Bradford and shooting down rumors of using the second selection on any quarterback. I asked Snead back in January if he saw that as an option and he shut it down quickly.
"As we've said, Sam's our starting QB," Snead said then. "And maybe that's way too out of the box to take a QB that high."
Beyond the idea being "too out of the box," taking Manziel would also go against a lot of logical steps to the process. For example, if the Rams wanted to move on from Bradford, they probably would have done it before free agency when it would have created plenty of extra cap space. Even if they wanted to wait, they'd have to have a trade in place to deal Bradford and his sizable contract soon after drafting a quarterback like Manziel.
Fisher has repeatedly pointed proudly to the fact he's never had a quarterback controversy as a head coach and drafting a quarterback in the first round, especially Manziel, would undoubtedly lead to one.
The Rams are going to draft a quarterback, perhaps as early as the second round. We've known that for months. When it's all said and done, the safe bet remains that Manziel won't be the one.