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2016 NFL Mock Draft: ESPN's Mel Kiper's First Mock Draft Has Rams Grabbing New Franchise QB

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ESPN's head draftnik nabs a QB for the Rams in his first mock draft of the year.

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Nobody has their finger on the pulse of draft stock more firmly than ESPN's Mel Kiper. Where many are swept up in the tides of conventional wisdom, Kiper has always gone off of his own evaluations...sometimes to the detriment of his evaluation's credibility. You can't knock his authenticity, though.

It's with that in mind that we look at his first mock draft of the year, released today behind ESPN's insider paywall because boo.

Let's look at his top 14 to see who's not available for the Rams at 15:

# Team Pick POS School
1 Tennessee Titans Joey Bosa DE Ohio St.
2 Cleveland Browns Jared Goff QB California
3 San Diego Chargers Laremy Tunsil OT Ole Miss
4 Dallas Cowboys DeForest Buckner DE Oregon
5 Jacksonville Jaguars Jalen Ramsey CB Florida St.
6 Baltimore Ravens Ronnie Stanley OT Notre Dame
7 San Francisco 49ers Laquon Treadwell WR Ole Miss
8 Miami Dolphins Shaq Lawson
DE Clemson
9 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Vernon Hargreaves III CB Florida
10 New York Giants Myles Jack OLB UCLA
11 Chicago Bears Reggie Ragland ILB Alabama
12 New Orleans Saints A'Shawn Robinson DT Alabama
13 Philadelphia Eagles Robert Nkemdiche DL Ole Miss
14 Oakland Raiders Jack Conklin OT Michigan St.

Familiar names all at this point, and no real surprises based on the mocks we've seen so far. We're going to get movement here, but we're not even to the gap between the Super Bowl and the combine so we've got a wall of early conceptions to breakthrough.

So who does Kiper have for the Rams?

Paxton Lynch (QB, Memphis)

The Rams are arguably at square one at the QB position, which is a shame given the talent elsewhere on the roster. Do I think Lynch is a Week 1 starter? Absolutely not. Do I think he has significant upside and would be a potential starter in Year 2 with a roster still on the rise? Sure. St. Louis will have their eyes open in free agency and the trade market for immediate help, but Lynch could be the future.

On Monday, Dan Kadar from Mocking the Draft opened the Lynch-Rams mock connection. Here was how I questioned the pick:

Is it too much of a long play to use the Rams' first-round selection on a developmental option at QB? Is Jeff Fisher the right head coach to oversee the development of a prospect like Lynch assuming the Rams have the right environment for a QB to mature?

Those questions are going to remain throughout draft season regarding the Rams and Lynch. Kiper thinks Lynch "has significant upside and would be a potential starter in Year 2 with a roster still on the rise." Are the Rams in the right position throughout the franchise in terms of coaching staff and support structure to even take advantage of a QB of Lynch's makeup?

As for the rest of the mock, let's go back to the top 14. One thing we're going to have to track is the defensive output there. For Kiper, he's got nine of the top 14 on the defensive side, the same amount as Kadar in his last mock. Keep that in mind moving forward.

Another issue we should start tracking? WR output. If the Rams do go QB (or even if they don't just to evaluate the class stock), it's going to be important for the Rams other selections and any trade viability to sense where the wideouts are. Kiper has Treadwell at #7, who we've seen mocked to the Rams often. He has just two other WRs in the first round: TCU's Josh Doctson at #23 to the Minnesota Vikings and Notre Dame's Will Fuller one pick later to Cincinnati. For reference, Kadar's last mock also had Treadwell at #7, but he only had one other first-round WR: Ohio St.'s Michael Thomas at #23 to the Vikes. Expect to see Baylor's Corey Coleman and Pittsburgh's Tyler Boyd crack through some mocks at some point.

For now though, it's another finger pointed at the Memphis QB for the Rams and a clear indication that a Nick Foles/Case Keenum/Sean Mannion QB trio is unlikely to survive the offseason intact without any changes.