If Rams draft a QB, there are solid options that don’t require a first-round pick

Jimmy Garoppolo did not loom large on the national scene at Eastern Illinois, but he might come draft day.

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ST. LOUIS — The group of quarterbacks eligible for the 2014 NFL Draft looks like one of the most interesting in years, with several intriguing prospects who bring a variety of skill sets along with assorted question marks.

That could be a good thing for the St. Louis Rams, who may well be in the market.

No, Sam Bradford’s job is not in danger. The Rams have made a point this off-season to say they are committed to Bradford, the former No. 1 overall pick who still has two years left on his rookie contract. But backup Kellen Clemens is a free agent and might not be back, so it makes sense for the Rams to find a quarterback to develop.

Let’s assume that the consensus top three quarterbacks in the 2014 draft class — Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Central Florida’s Blake Bortles — are taken in the first round. Let’s also assume that the Rams won’t use one of their two first-round picks on a quarterback.

But after the first day of the draft? That’s when the Rams figure to target a quarterback for the future. And while no prospect is without blemish, several could pique the Rams’ interest — a group that includes Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo, LSU’s Zach Mettenberger, Georgia’s Aaron Murray, Alabama’s A.J. McCarron and Fresno State’s Derek Carr.

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Dan Shonka of Ourlads’ NFL Scouting Services, a former scout with the Eagles, Redskins and Chiefs, points to one possibility for the Rams not far from the Gateway City in Garoppolo. In his senior season at Eastern Illinois, the 6-foot-3, 222-pound Garoppolo completed 66 percent of his passes for 5,050 yards, 53 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

"I’ve been looking at quarterbacks probably since 1983 and this guy has got a rare big-time release," Shonka says. "He gets that ball out. The synapse from his brain to his arm to his hand is lightning quick. When he sees it, boy, he hits it right now.

"I was glad to see him do well at the Shrine Game and then move over to the practices and do well at the Senior Bowl because he hadn’t seen that type of linebacker play or corners or things like that. The receivers in those games are guys that are going to be late- or mid-(round draft picks) or free agents, so he didn’t really get a chance to work with any big-time receivers. But just working against the defensive group, he was very impressive.

"I think he’s going to go in the second. It’s just a matter of who is going to pull the trigger first in that second round to get him."

Russ Lande, who runs GM Jr Scouting, likes the LSU quarterback as an option after the first round, if he lasts that long.

"I think the first guy that I love and I don’t know if he’ll be there — I think it’s probably 50-50 — is Mettenberger," says Lande, a former scout with the Rams. "I think there’s a real good chance he’ll be there because of a knee injury and because of some questions about whether he’s a real leader or not.

"Physically, I think he’s the best talent of the quarterbacks. If you just watch film and you forget about everything else, he’s the best quarterback in the draft, in my opinion. But the other issues — the knee, the leadership, maturity — those things are why I don’t think he’ll be one of the first two or three quarterbacks taken. If he were there (in the second round), he’d be a slam dunk to me."

Mettenberger (6-5, 230) completed 64.9 percent of his passes for 3,082 yards, 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 2013 before a knee injury ended his season.

"He really had some big games this year," Shonka says of Mettenberger. "He had some real stinkers, too. He had those two big-time receivers he threw to in (Jarvis) Landry and (Odell) Beckham. You have to be able to throw out of the pocket, no ifs, ands or buts, and he can do that. … I don’t know if he’ll drop out of the second or not. Some people may have him on the board mid-to-late second, and other people might have him in the third or fourth."

Like Mettenberger, Murray is coming off a knee injury. He had a good career at Georgia but must show he can be effective at the next level despite being one of the smaller quarterbacks in this class. He was measured at 6 feet and 3/4 of an inch at the Senior Bowl.

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"If you talk to the scouts, a lot of them just love everything about the kid except they just can’t get over physically what he’s going to be able to do," Lande says. "They love everything. They love the release, the decision-making."

Murray completed 64.8 percent of his passes for 3,075 yards, 26 touchdowns and eight interceptions as a senior. He "is a really good football player," Lande says. "I think his arm is not great. It’s good enough probably to do most things you could ask a quarterback to do. I think his leadership, character, intangibles, all of those are off the charts. He’s going to be there in the second or third round."

McCarron proved he was a winning quarterback at Alabama but must prove he can win at the next level. McCarron completed 67.3 percent of his passes for 3,063 yards, 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions in his final season at Alabama.

"I think all the smarts and intangibles are there," Lande says of McCarron. "It is a little concerning, to me at least, that he didn’t come to the Senior Bowl, where he had an opportunity to prove himself. I think he has a decent-enough arm. I don’t think it’s a great arm.

"I think there’s a good chance he’ll be there in the second round. I know a number of scouts have said they are concerned about he and Murray both having enough arm to be productive in the NFL."

Carr, the brother of former No. 1 overall pick David Carr, put up video game numbers last season at Fresno State. He completed 68.8 percent of his passes for 5,083 yards, 50 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He threw 113 TD passes against just 24 interceptions in his four-year career.

"Derek Carr, he looks pretty," Shonka says. "When you put him in shorts and a T-shirt and (in pass skeleton), he’s going to carve you a new one. But when you’ve got Chris Long and (Robert) Quinn chasing his ass, it’s a whole different story. He will hit the dirt and look for a foxhole. But some teams are going to fall in love with him because fundamentally he’s awfully good. … Somebody may take him in the late first or trade up to get him, but to me he’s a second-round guy."

The Rams should have some options after the first round. And Snead will have plenty of time over the next few months to decide whether any of them fit the bill for St. Louis.

You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter (@natelatsch) or email him at natelatsch@gmail.com.