Every day the 2011 NFL Draft inches closer, less than two weeks. Speculation about who the St. Louis Rams will select with the 14th overall pick hasn't slowed, but it has changed pretty significantly in the weeks since the season ended.
After watching the Rams collapse, with all the marbles on the table, in a week 17 prime time showdown with the Seahawks, conventional wisdom gelled around the idea that the Rams would pick a receiver, Alabama's Julio Jones to be precise. That seemed almost as sure as the Sam Bradford pick last year, and for good reason. The Rams offense was woefully devoid of true game changers outside of Steven Jackson. Bradford, the 2010 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, needs someone to throw to, someone who can make magic happen with the ball in his hands.
Then Jones went and screwed it up, screwed it up by having an outstanding Combine, running a sub-4.4 forty on a fractured foot and espousing the exact kind of quiet determination embodied by the Steve Spagnuolo-led Rams and their four pillars. Miracles could happen. Draft day trades and various draft boards could still conspire to leave Jones on the board at #14. It's possible.
Possible, but unlikely. As a result, fans and pundits have worked feverishly to identify other options. Let's take a look at the most commonly mentioned names, and then venture a prediction.
Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri - The first round of this draft may forever be remembered as a bumper crop of pass rushers, particularly at end. Top to bottom, teams looking for defensive linemen have a variety of options. Smith's draft stock right now puts him anywhere from the 10th pick to the mid-20s, not surprising for a red shirt sophomore. He's a little green, but has natural talent, particular his ability to explode off the line. He looks like a good fit on the other side Chris Long.
Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois - Liuget has been a popular pick in mock draft's lately. Mel Kiper's mock draft has predicted the Rams picking the Illinois product through its last three versions. And it makes sense. Liuget is surely the third or fourth best tackle in the class. He definitely looks like he could be the three-technique the Rams have been searching for since the Adam Carriker flop. If you buy the "safe pick" theory, this is probably the guy.
Cameron Jordan, DE, California - A more recent entry into the conversation, Jordan has a solid track record at Cal, and few doubt his NFL future. Sound familiar? I remember similar things being said about Adam Carriker. Jordan's a tweener, 3-4/five-technique end or a 4-3 DE who could play inside on a four-man front. It makes me a little uncomfortable, but maybe the Carriker experience jaded me on tweeners. There are also questions as to whether or not he's an effective pass rusher at the NFL level.
Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue - An athletic specimen, Kerrigan also embodies the four pillars. He was a good pass rusher in college. Like Long, he might not be the splashiest of pass rushers, but he's a solid three-down player.
Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama - As you know, I'm against this pick, but it's been talked about enough, his name belongs on the list of possibilities.
Now watch, the pick probably won't be any of these guys. Having the first and second overall picks has made the first round all too predictable for the Rams lately. This could be the year of the draft day surprise. I'd say a trade down is possible, but, like the Jones scenario, it's very unlikely.
Here's the draft tracker of the Rams private workouts, visits and other notable interactions with prospects.