Look around the web and you'll be hard pressed to find a draftnik or pundit who hasn't already linked the St. Louis Rams to Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh. And for good reason, conventional wisdom rightly says Suh's one of the most talented players at this positions to come along in years. However, assumptions are a funny thing when it comes to the NFL Draft, so don't be too quick to jump to any conclusions about what the Rams will do with their first overall pick.
Suh to the Rams would be an easier leap if the Rams didn't have one huge glaring need at the game's most premium position: quarterback. Word that Marc Bulger was considering retirement after this season first surfaced here on Turf Show Times, via our own Tackle Box. Talk of Bulger's possible retirement gained more steam today with the PD reporting the same thing. Of course, Bulger's retirement doesn't really matter all that much; it was unlikely that GM Billy Devaney would have brought him back for 2010 under Bulger's current contract.
The free agent route might be the most appealing to some, but the free agent QB class is a little thin this year. One of the more intriguing names on that list, Washington's Jason Campbell, will probably be a restricted free agent rather than an unrestricted free agent thanks to the likelihood of an uncapped year. That makes it cheap for Washington to retain his services, and new coach Mike Shanahan doesn't sound like he's completely ready to move on from Campbell just yet. Besides, keeping Campbell on a RFA contract would give them a really cheap placeholder should they draft a QB.
And so we come to the draft, where assumptions go to die a humiliating, painful death. Though conventional wisdom has made up its mind already, the Rams front office will have to consider very serious drafting a QB. Talk of this scenario - the Rams taking a QB with their first overall pick - has officially started to percolate, with the first serious pundit intimations coming from Walter Football, where they predict the Rams making Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen the first overall pick and the cornerstone of the franchise.
I think very highly of that site, so I tend to listen to what they have to say when it comes to the draft. They had Jason Smith going to the Rams immediately after the Combine last year...changing it to Eugene Monroe for a week before the draft. Listen to their rationale for the Clausen pick:
Unless the Rams acquire Jason Campbell or someone else via free agency, there's no way they can pass up on a franchise quarterback. New regimes mean new quarterbacks. Last year Steve Spagnuolo and Billy Devaney flirted with the possibility of taking Mark Sanchez, but ultimately couldn't because of Mark Bulger's contract. However, this season they can get rid of Bulger and finally obtain "their guy."
Let's go back to the free agency possibility for a moment. With the cap gone and a much more restrictive set of free agency rules the pool of candidates will be limited to much older players or guys teams just don't want. Unless you're sold on the idea of Chad Pennington or Jake Delomme in St. Louis for a year or two, free agency is not an attractive route for a franchise whose offense is coming off a historically bad season. A player like that could be a decent stop gap, maybe, if the Rams were to take a QB later in the draft or decide to carry on with the Keith Null project.
Why Clausen? He's not being regarded by many as the top QB in the draft. Clausen, who just finished his junior season before declaring for the draft, threw 28 TDs and 4 INTs. Statistically, Clausen had perhaps the best season of any college junior QB, better even than Peyton Manning's 1996 season at Tennessee. That's not to say the guy IS Manning, but his record is hard to ignore considering the level he played. Other factors to consider include the fact that Clausen plays in a pro-style offense, a West Coast offense to be specific, and that he put up those kind of numbers with limited talent surrounding him. He also did all that while playing through an injury, turf toe. His toe ligaments were repaired successfully this week, and he'll throw for teams in early April in private workouts. Missing the Combine won't help his stock among the pundits, but hours of tape and private meetings and workouts will go a long way toward satisfying NFL scouts and general managers.The turf toe concerns me a little bit since the Rams play on such terrible turf.
There is of course one other factor to consider in the discussion of drafting a QB first overall: history. Rams GM Billy Devaney, as a long-time personnel guy in the NFL, has only been part of a front office that drafted a first round QB once: Ryan Leaf with the Chargers in 1998. The last time the Rams had a first round QB starting for them was Jim Everett, and that wasn't even their first round pick. As for Steve Spagnuolo, don't assume that his defensive background makes Suh an automatic pick. From Walter Football:
Usually, defensive-minded coaches pick offensive players and vice versa. Defensive coaches usually think they can fix their defense with lesser players, and vice versa. You look at Jim Schwartz, Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan, etc. - all defensive guys - they all took a QB with their first pick in their first year.
The anecdotal evidence can be ignored, but the idea of getting the most out of lesser players is a documented strategy for Spagnuolo.
Not take this post as an endorsement of the Clausen pick; personally, my mind isn't made up either way. This is a legitimate debate for the Rams and their fans to have as the team sits at a major turning point in the direction of the franchise. This is the most important pick the team's had in a long time and that situation requires an open mind and the thoroughness to explore all options.