Rams go from No. 1 pick to 14th in one season

Here’s evidence that the NFL draft works, eventually. The St.

Louis Rams are not, repeat not, on the clock.

Last April the Rams clicked with the No. 1 overall pick, taking

quarterback Sam Bradford. Offensive tackle Jason Smith in 2009 and

defensive end Chris Long in 2008 were both No. 2s overall.

All three are building blocks for a franchise that appears to be

on the rise. The Rams made a six-victory leap last season, going

7-9 and just missing out on a playoff bid in the weak NFC West.

This year they’ll be picking 14th, right in the middle of the

pack. General manager Billy Devaney won’t mind waiting a couple

hours until it’s the Rams’ turn to choose.

”The real goal is to get down to 31st and 32nd all the time,”

Devaney said. ”But at least 14 is a big jump from 1. So I think

we’re headed in the right direction.”

Still, there’s plenty on the wish list heading into Year 3 under

Devaney and coach Steve Spagnuolo.

A true No. 1 wide receiver would help Bradford, the NFL

offensive rookie of the year, flourish under new offensive

coordinator Josh McDaniels. The Rams have been making do with free

agents and practice squad graduates, with Danny Amendola developing

into a reliable slot option, but the offense lacked a deep threat

after Donnie Avery was knocked out in the preseason and Mark

Clayton was lost with a knee injury early in the year.

Steven Jackson has been a workhorse by necessity, gaining 1,241

yards last year. He might be carrying too much of the load,

considering the second-leading rusher had only 107 yards, and that

kind of disparity has been going on for several seasons.

It’s definitely on the shopping list in next week’s draft.

”We’ve been thinking about that for a while now,” Devaney

said. ”Steven, he’s incredible the workload he carries and he

loves it, too. We’ll try to address that at some point before the

season starts.”

The defense needs help at linebacker beyond James Laurinaitis,

who has led the team in tackles both of his seasons. Safety

Oshiomoghe Atogwe, also one of the team leaders, left as a free

agent.

There’s not much proven depth across the board, for that

matter.

Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones is a popular choice for St.

Louis in mock drafts. College teammate and running back Mark

Ingram, the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner, is another.

Will Jones still be on the board? Would Ingram be a reach?

”You have a lot more scenarios that you have to prepare for,

more players that are possibilities, and you just have to go

through more things,” Devaney said. ”The past few years it was

pretty cut and dried.

”When you’re picking 1 and 2 it kind of makes it easy figuring

out who’s going to be there.”

No matter what happens earlier in Round 1, or whether they trade

up or down, Devaney insists the Rams will opt for the best player

available. Case in point: St. Louis drafted three defensive ends

last year, even though that was one of their stronger

positions.

”You can’t force the issue, even if it’s true about wide

receiver and running back,” Devaney said. ”If they’re not the

best player at that time, you’ve got to pass on them and go to

another position.

”It may be when the draft is over and what’s perceived as a

need just didn’t work out.”

Bradford threw 18 touchdown passes his rookie year, helping to

revive a stodgy offense, and answered any remaining questions about

his durability related to a shoulder injury at Oklahoma. He usually

appeared calm beyond his years.

Smith missed half of his rookie year due to concussion-related

symptoms but became a fixture last season after shifting to right

tackle. Long blossomed as a pass rusher last season after moving to

left end.