The NFL Draft, almost certainly, will begin with Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck going to the Indianapolis Colts with the No. 1 pick.
The fun, however, will begin when the St. Louis Rams go on the clock at No. 2.
With an incandescent quarterback talent in Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III of Baylor on the board and a variety of teams in need of an upgrade at the game’s most important position, the Rams hold a full hand of options.
As team executives, coaches and scouts gather at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis this week for the NFL Scouting Combine, the buzz will only intensify. Griffin is not expected to throw, but his personal interviews with teams could take on new importance as franchises turn every stone in search of information to fuel the decision-making process.
With two seasons and the No. 1 overall pick in 2010 invested in quarterback Sam Bradford, conventional wisdom suggests the Rams have no need for Griffin and thus could auction off the No. 2 pick to the highest bidder.
But that isn’t their only option. They could keep the pick and select from a group that will include USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil, Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon, LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne or Alabama running back Trent Richardson.
They even could opt to draft Griffin and trade Bradford, essentially starting over offensively but saving approximately $26 million in contract commitment at quarterback over the next four years, giving them room to upgrade other areas of the roster.
Should the Rams opt to keep Bradford and move the pick, the most likely trading partner appears to be Cleveland because the Browns hold the fourth and 22nd picks and need a major offensive boost. How better to address that than quarterback?
Cleveland coach Pat Shurmur didn’t get into specifics Thursday but made it clear his team would be exploring a variety of possibilities.
“I think you evaluate everything,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we’re hesitant to do anything. We’re excited about the fact that we’re going to make our team better with this draft. That’s the way we approach it. We’re not hesitant at all. . . .
“With two first-round picks, we have flexibility. We can just stand pat and take two really fine players, guys that we would hope to be starters for us. And obviously, with having two first-round picks, you have flexibility if you want to do something. I wish I had better information for you, but we’re still in the phase of deciding if we like some of the players that people are projecting that we’re going to pick. It’s kind of a fun thing.”
In the middle of the Rams-Browns sandwich sits the Minnesota Vikings at No. 3. They have taken a similar stance to that of the Rams. They like their young quarterback, Christian Ponder, but will consider all options — including dealing the pick.
“Three will be very interesting,” Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said. “Not excited about being at three — it means you didn’t have a very successful year — but to take advantage of that opportunity at three is going to be huge for the success of our organization moving forward. With the new CBA and the financial commitment to those top-five picks not as significant as it has been in the past, I think there will be a lot of potential movement, especially in that (top) five, depending on where the top two quarterbacks fall and who’s going to need quarterbacks. There could be a lot of activity that first day, especially in the first two or three spots.
“We’re definitely open to moving. We have a lot of confidence in Christian Ponder and what he’s going to bring to our franchise, but we’re also going to do our due diligence on Andrew Luck and RG3 to make sure if we’re in a scenario and they’re sitting there at three, what we’re going to do.”
The respective fates of the Rams and Vikings appear intertwined. One of those dominoes will fall first, dramatically affecting the plans of the other. If the Rams and Browns make a deal, both quarterbacks would be off the board when Minnesota selects. If not, the Vikings would have to decide whether to trade down or perhaps put their faith in Griffin.
“I’m not assuming anything,” Spielman said. “I’m assuming the quarterbacks could be there, but you have to prepare for every scenario. If they’re not there, are you going to move out? Are you going to take one of those top guys that you covet? What if one of those quarterbacks is there? We’re very excited about Christian Ponder, and we think he’s going to be what we want going forward as a franchise quarterback. But you still have to do your due diligence.
“Is Andrew Luck or RG3 that unique where you just can’t pass those up? We have to go through that process, as well, and then put ourselves in the scenario: Whatever happens at three, whatever player falls there, what would you do? I don’t know now, but we’ll have the answer when the clock goes off.”