Being projected to pick near the top of the 2012 NFL Draft, but not at the top of the 2012 NFL Draft, has made the rash of early 2012 NFL mock drafts rather dull reading for those wondering what direction the St. Louis Rams might choose in April. Of course, there may be a new group of personnel men leading the draft, but the needs are relatively obvious for the Rams...they need talent, lots of it.
Right now, draftniks and pundits are pushing the Rams into three choices in the 2012 NFL Draft, based on the very likely assumption that they will be picking in the top five...for the fourth time in the last five years. However, the new CBA shifted the paradigm for the NFL Draft, thanks to more reasonable salaries for rookies picked in the top ten.
After the jump, we take a look at the three options being given to the Rams and consider some others as it relates to the newer, cheaper way of drafting.
Any mock draft you look at right now has the Rams going in one of three directions.
Wide Receiver - This was the preferred pick before the Rams traded for Brandon Lloyd. Even with Lloyd, a receiver has to be in the conversation for the Rams. Why? They need offensive talent.
Justin Blackmon and Alshon Jeffery are the two players most often mocked to the Rams, and there's a healthy debate about which one is the top receiver in the draft. Jeffery probably makes the most sense for the Rams who lack size at the position. The Rams struggle in the red zone for a handful of reasons, but having Jeffery in the mix with Amendola, a tight end, Lloyd and Steven Jackson would make things easier, they might even be able to beat man coverage.
Offensive Tackle - Jason Smith is officially a bust. He never lived up to his status as the second-overall pick. Can he be salvaged into a serviceable, everyday player? Maybe, but the Rams need to find another solution for the starting job, even if they push Smith to a backup role.
USC's Matt Kalil and Standford's Jonathan Martin are the two prospects usually slotted to the Rams with a top pick. Both have the potential to be elite players. Kalil is generally regarded as the better of the two, but the Rams could use someone with Martin's mean streak after watching Smith think about soft, fluffy kittens during most of his snaps in the NFL.
Cornerback - An obvious need aligned with a couple players who look to be top-tier NFL prospects, it's a mock drafters dream. Dre Kirkpatrick from Alabama and Morris Claiborne of LSU are the top corners in this draft, assuming both juniors opt for the NFL. Both are tough, physical players who can matchup in man coverage with the best receivers. There should be a good debate as to which one is more worthy of a top five pick.
Those are the obvious plays for the draft, but what about the alternative routes?
First, a little background. Rams COO Kevin Demoff explained the changing economics of draft picks in a recent interview with us. Here's what Demoff told us about the new considerations for drafting in the top ten:
We haven't gone through a new draft with this system, but I imagine the rookie wage scale will increase the number of players a team would consider in the top 10 of the draft. In previous years, it always weighed in the back of our minds that if you drafted a safety, linebacker, interior offensive lineman or tight end that you would be making them not only the highest paid player at the position but you might be paying them $3m or $4m more than the previous highest paid player. The previous system would steer you to a quarterback, defensive lineman, offensive tackle or cornerback because economically those picks somewhat fit into the league salary structure. It won't be as big of a factor outside of the top ten picks because the economics of the first round outside of those picks has not materially been affected.
There really aren't any safeties worthy of a top pick this year, so we can push that one aside for now. Some might consider Zach Brown from UNC as an outside linebacker candidate, but a top five pick seems like a stretch.
In terms of the 2012 NFL Draft, the most likely non-traditional top-five pick that maybe ought to get some serious consideration is Standford guard David DeCastro. Interior linemen are now a regular feature in the middle part of the first round. The importance of good interior linemen is hard to overstate in today's NFL. Interior line is arguably one of the Rams biggest needs, though I suspect many people would balk at the idea of drafting a guard so highly.
Running backs in the top five has become more of a rarity in recent years than it used to be in the NFL. With the new salary system, a team that has a chance to get an elite running back, like Trent Richardson, would be paying them mere pennies compared to what teams give veteran running backs with too much NFL mileage on their treads.
Some things to think about between now and when draft season really heats up.