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Passing on the future

Alright, the Super Bowl's over and the hype is faded...let's get back to talking draft! Leading off this morning is a thought from a long-suffering fan of the St. Louis Rams, one that surfaced in a letter to the gang over at Walter Football, which they shared in their most recent mock draft. It's focused on the quarterback situation...

Walter, I am very upset by all the draft talk here in St. Louis. It seems like the Rams have already made the selection of Ndamukong Suh and I can't help but feel absolutely helpless and saddened by the whole thing.

We have passed on three franchise quarterbacks in the last four drafts. In 2006, we passed on Jay Cutler, in 2008, we passed on Matt Ryan, and in 2009, we passed on Mark Sanchez. If you look back at those three drafts, each pick we took a so-called safe pick.

In 2006, we took Tye Hill who was supposed to be a frachise shutdown corner with all the physical tools to succeed. In 2008, we opted to take Chris Long who was the for-sure pick of the top players in that draft. He was supposed to be what Suh is going to be, yet he hasn't been. And then comes the 2009 NFL Draft. Sanchez was there, and this team knew they needed a quarterback, yet they took the so-called "safe pick" in Jason Smith who now looks like he may have a severe concussion sydrome that may not allow him to ever live up to his potential.

All three picks were made because the Rams felt they were the safe pick, and all three picks have yet to pan out.

I disagree with a couple things the fan says. First, he overstates Smith's concussion issue. Smith was medically cleared to play at the end of December under the league's strict new rules governing how team's handle players with concussions. He did not play during the last week because he had been sitting out since suffering the concussion in week 11. That's not to say a concussion should be taken lightly and I understand the concern fans have about Smith's status, but he's officially ready to play again. As far as Smith panning out, he proved to be a fast learner and playing well when he was injured, the best tackle on the team for sure, and you could see the difference between Smith and Goldberg filling at on the right side. As far as the decision to choose Smith with the second overall pick, I still think it was the right move, though I might be singing a different song had Stafford still been on the board. The Rams needed a building block offensive tackle. The OL had been the team's crippling weakness for several seasons, and if you don't believe me on that just ask Marc Bulger what happened to his career. Smith was a better pick at the #2 spot, safe or not, than Sanchez, who for some reason seems to be getting way more love than Stafford (wonder if that has anything to do with the teams they play for). 

Chris Long is starting to pan out. In fact, he really started to show what he's capable of in the second half of the season, and I think it's reasonable to expect more from him in 2010. That said, it was a pick. The Rams has OT Jake Long on top of their draft board, but Miami scooped him up with the first overall pick. I would have loved to see the Rams draft Matt Ryan, but at that point, Marc Bulger was just one season removed from a career year. He was coming off a bad 2007 season. At that point, however, it was still very reasonable to think that Bulger could still had some mileage left. Ultimately, the decision to not upgrade the OL sooner, helped get us to where we are today. Don't forget about the contract situations then either. That was still the Zygmunt era, and there was no reason to think that the Rams would pay Marc Bulger's hefty contract, in it's second year in 2008, AND the kind of money it would have taken to get a QB with the #2 pick. That would have consumed a plurality of the team's cap. Still, in a more perfect world, Matt Ryan would have been the better choice. 

The team's draft decisions in 2006 exemplify the inept management that got the Rams to where they are today. It's still hard to ignore the decision to pass on Cutler. I wonder if the recent statements from Mike Martz about Cutler aren't a little bit of an "I told you so" from the draft room debate back in 2006? (It's just too easy to find the errors in judgement that plagued our drafts. Remember, in 2007 we could have had Darrelle Revis instead of Adam Carriker). 

Nevertheless, I can't argue with the fan's frustration at the Rams continually passing on a franchise QB. I'm just not sure how we can justify going forward without a franchise quarterback on board. Maybe that signal caller wouldn't start in 2010, very reasonable to expect that he wouldn't, but he at least needs to be in place, learning the system and ready to take the helm so that the team can start competing as soon as possible. The more I think about it, the more I think that the Rams have to draft a quarterback this year, whether they use the first overall pick or trade down in the draft, the future has to start as soon as possible.