ST. LOUIS — We’re finally, mercifully, thankfully and officially just one week away from the start of the NFL Draft.
This is a big opportunity for the St. Louis Rams, thanks to the No. 2 overall pick they received from the Washington Redskins in the Robert Griffin III trade. That gives coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead two selections among the top 13 in the first round and two opportunities to grab players who can make an immediate impact this season.
"Just when you look at it, you have one of the best drafts in many years, two picks in the top 15 in that draft, and a lot of guys at the top that teams have interest in trading up to get, so it gives them a lot of leverage with those high picks," said Russ Lande, a former NFL scout who runs GM Jr Scouting. "Then you also add in the fact that the Rams are not that far away. If they can solve their quarterback issue, they are in a much better spot.
"I think it’s a great draft. I really do, for them. They are in a great spot. They just have to nail their picks and they’ve done a really good job of that since Les and Jeff started running the front office there."
What the Rams do with those picks is still anybody’s guess, of course.
The draft being pushed back two weeks later than normal means more time for news, rumors and subterfuge than usual. The latest news, which came out Wednesday, had the Rams going to Texas A&M on Friday for a private workout with quarterback Johnny Manziel, offensive tackle Jake Matthews and wide receiver Mike Evans.
That could show that the Rams have genuine interest in those players, all of whom could be among the top 13 picks in the draft. Or it could be a deliberate smoke screen to throw other teams off the trail of their real targets.
The St. Louis chapter of the Johnny Football Fan Club shouldn’t get too excited, however. It’s more likely that Snead and Fisher pass on Manziel and select their quarterback of the future after the first round. To that end, the Rams have been linked to several quarterbacks who could be available on Day 2 or Day 3.
With 12 picks in the seven-round draft, which begins next Thursday and concludes Saturday (May 8-10), the Rams will have opportunities to trade up for players they want or trade back to add additional picks. Snead and Fisher have been active in both directions in the past two drafts.
"Here’s what’s neat: Two and 13 sound good on paper, but in this draft, two and 13 are really good," Snead told FOXSportsMidwest.com recently. "Whatever scenario you go with, it’s going to work out."
Most mock drafts have followed a familiar script so far, starting with South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney going No. 1 overall to the Houston Texans.
Which puts the Rams on the clock. Most mocks have the Rams taking an offensive tackle — Auburn’s Greg Robinson or Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews — or Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins with the second overall pick.
All three of those players would be a good fit in St. Louis.
"I think overall there’s not a lot they can do wrong in terms of the pick," Lande said. "They are in a good spot."
Offensive line is certainly a need, with a hole at left guard after starter Chris Williams signed with the Bills as a free agent and with concerns at left tackle as Jake Long returns from a season-ending knee injury. Right guard Harvey Dahl was released, but the free-agent re-signing of Rodger Saffold fills that hole.
The Rams have starting right tackle Joe Barksdale returning and under a team-friendly contract, but the organization could draft Robinson or Matthews as an upgrade at right tackle, insurance for Long at left tackle or even the starting spot at left guard.
In drafting Watkins, the Rams could add another playmaker to an offense that has been searching for weapons on the perimeter since the days of Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce. St. Louis moved up to draft Tavon Austin in the top 10 a year ago, however, so whether Snead and Fisher would be willing to invest another high pick in a wide receiver is a big question.
"Sammy is going to be a difference-maker in this league," Snead told FOXSportsMidwest.com.
There’s also the possibility that the Rams trade back out of that spot and pick up a couple of draft picks, like they did in that RGIII trade in 2012.
"They’ve drafted a receiver in the high rounds last year," Lande said. "They’ve drafted Stedman Bailey. They have Brian Quick. Are they going to allow them to develop? Also, what do they think of the status of Jake Long returning for the opener and what do they think of their right tackle position? To me, you go with the offensive lineman. To me, it’s not even a consideration, but everybody’s going to have a different opinion on that."
With the No. 13 overall selection, many of the mocks have the Rams going with, depending on their first pick, either an offensive lineman or defensive back. The defensive backfield could use both a cornerback and a safety.
Lande, in his latest mock draft for SportsOnEarth.com, had the Rams selecting Matthews at No. 2 overall and then Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert at No. 13. (Lande also has St. Louis taking Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with its second-round selection.)