NFL Draft upon us; smoke will clear at Rams Park

By Howard Balzer

It's draft day. Finally. In mere hours, the mock drafts will cease and NFL teams will get down to the business of actually making selections for their teams rather than calling misdirection plays that many people actually believe. The smoke will have cleared from Rams Park by lunch time.

When the draft begins shortly after 7 pm St. Louis time, the Houston Texans will be on the clock and the Rams will be eagerly waiting to see whether the Texans trade the choice or make a pick of their own.

Will the first selection be quarterback Johnny Manziel? Or defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Or linebacker Khalil Mack? No one knows, perhaps even the Texans. But someone's name will be called, leaving the Rams on the clock and likely hoping the phone will ring quickly.

The best result for the Rams will be if someone other than Clowney is picked. That would leave the Rams likely having multiple trade options. The question is whether any of the offers are enough to make a move.

Tuesday, head coach Jeff Fisher said the Rams have six to eight players "that we think potentially could fit us at 2." After the first choice is off the board, that number likely will be reduced to five to seven. However, there are obviously players at the top of that list. That many options really means the Rams could trade down seven spots and still be guaranteed one of those players.

However, no one is better than Clowney, even allowing for the questions there are about his lack of fundamentals, which can be coached. If the Rams' brass is convinced he will have the work ethic to continually strive to get better as Robert Quinn has done, his selection would be a no-brainer.

Do the Rams have a great need for Clowney? Easy answer. There is always the need for potentially transcendent players, and Clowney is one. Yes, the Rams have Quinn and Chris Long, but Long just turned 29 in March and started experiencing some nagging injuries last season. He and Quinn become better with fewer snaps, and that's where Clowney comes in.

While the Rams do have to find ways to score more points, making the defense even better is just as important in their efforts to catch up to Seattle and San Francisco in the rugged NFC West.

Still, all of this might be a waste of words if Clowney becomes the first pick in the draft. Should that happen, the Rams would be left hoping that teams behind them would be interested in trading up for Manziel or Mack. Or wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans. Or one of the three top tackles, Jake Matthews, Greg Robinson or Taylor Lewan.

However, what will the Rams do if no deal occurs? Perhaps the safest choice in the draft is Matthews, who not only will step right on the field and start, but it will be for a long time. His father, Bruce, played and coached for Fisher, and his playing years numbered 19. His uncle Clay played 19 seasons for the Falcons and Browns. Robinson needs loads of work on pass blocking, even though many teams are enamored with him.

It says here Matthews will be the choice if the Rams stay at 2, but a deal remains a strong possibility.

The pick at 13 is a true crap shoot. Another trade down is certainly plausible, a move that would lead to additional picks, while still being in position to add needed depth at cornerback or safety. Possibilities at 13 or later include safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Calvin Pryor or Jimmie Ward, or cornerbacks Darqueze Dennard, Justin Gilbert, Kyle Fuller or Jason Verrett.

With four picks in the top 75 players of the draft without a trade, the Rams should emerge from that stretch with a tackle, safety, cornerback and quarterback in no particular order, although it's unlikely a quarterback would be taken earlier than the third round unless an extra second-round pick was added in a trade. The Rams privately worked out 12 quarterbacks, and as Fisher said, "We also have the responsibility to continue to upgrade this roster. If the right guy is there to help in a backup role to Sam (Bradford), then we'll make sure we've done our due diligence."

To further cement the team's public commitment to Bradford, he was present at the team's yearly pre-draft event at Rams Park Wednesday night. With around 2,000 season-ticket holders present, Bradford was on stage when Fisher reiterated, "Sam's our guy," a comment that elicited a standing ovation from the fans.

Yet, there will likely be countless mock drafts published today that will assign Manziel to the Rams in the first round. Gullible is the first word that comes to mind, which is surprising considering the years of experience many seasoned media members have accumulated. Now, the intrigue is which quarterback the Rams value as a second-to-fourth-round pick. Zach Mettenberger? A.J. McCarron? Tom Savage? Aaron Murray? Connor Shaw?

That answer won't come until at least Friday when the second and third rounds begin at 6 pm or maybe Saturday when the final 156 players will be selected starting at 11 a.m.

The Rams have the 110th pick overall in the fourth round, at which a complement to Zac Stacy at running back should be seriously considered in a year where no runners will likely be picked in the first round, but there are still talented backs available.

As general manager Les Snead said Tuesday when asked about trade talks with teams, "People are still flirting. Nobody's asking me to the prom yet."

Well, today is prom day. Something tells me, even if it's not in the first round, Snead will have had several dates by the time the draft ends.

Here are the Rams' 12 picks in the entire draft: 1 (2, 13); 2 (44); 3 (75); 4 (110); 5 (153); 6 (188, *214); 7 (226, 241, *249, *250). The asterisk is a compensatory choice, which can't be traded.

Howard Balzer hosts "H and Friends" Monday-Friday from 9-11 on Fox Sports 1490 The Champ. He is also a host on SiriusXM NFL Radio and one of 44 selectors for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.


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