Rams Hold All the Cards at No. 2

More than two years later, the Robert Griffin III trade is still paying dividends for the St. Louis Rams. And on May 8, the entire country will find out why.

That’s the date when the Rams will capitalize on the last real piece of the treasure that they pilfered from franchise quarterback-hungry Washington back in 2012: the second overall pick in this year’s draft. Interest in said spot continues to grow daily, as teams across the NFL identify get in touch with their “needs” and “wants.”

The value of all selections depends on the talent within the draft itself – and it is especially plentiful this year. Primarily underclassmen seem poised to take center stage early. With 102 of them declaring for the 2014 festivities, there is scarce room for seniors in the first two rounds.

Invariably, whatever the Houston Texans do with the top pick will start a feeding frenzy among the next six teams: St. Louis, Jacksonville, Cleveland, Oakland and Atlanta. Even if the Texans opt for a trade, the Rams still hold the golden nugget that could incite other clubs to leapfrog one another, drop back or (uncomfortably) sit and wait in the top 10.

There are more questions to be answered, too. Which of the players asked to visit New York will slide into “green room” hell, waiting to get picked? Who will be the surprise selections early in the first round?

Countless scenarios will present themselves – and change – between now and that second weekend in May. For now, let’s take a look at what squads could affect the Rams’ way of thinking at No. 2.

Houston – While none of the current members of the front office or coaching staff were present for the organization’s inaugural draft in 2002, owner Bob McNair doesn’t want history to repeat itself. The Texans held the No. 1 overall pick and went for need, passing on the best football player/athlete in the draft in North Carolina defensive end Julius Pepper and choosing Fresno State quarterback David Carr.

Peppers, now with Green Bay Packers, continues to have a stellar career. The list of accomplishments is long, and growing: NFL defensive rookie of the year, eight-time Pro Bowler, three-time All Pro, NFC defensive player of the year, 100-plus sacks and member of the 2000s all-decade team.

On the other hand, Carr’s efforts were derailed early. He absorbed a league-record 76 sacks in his rookie season before rallying to lead the NFL in completion percentage in 2006 and eventually throwing for 14,000-plus yards. While he slowly came to be known as a journeyman, he also earned a ring as Eli Manning’s backup on the Giants’ Super Bowl-winning team of 2011.

So, what will the Texans decide this time around? Is it best available or another draft-for-need situation? I feel that first-year coach Bill O’Brien will take a page from his time with Bill Belichick and draft defense, targeting a quarterback who fits their scheme somewhere later in the draft.

Best Available Player: DE Jadevon Clowney, South Carolina

Draft for Need: QB Blake Bortles, Central Florida; QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M; QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville.

The Rams are sitting in the catbird seat, and the 30 other clubs know it. If Houston takes a quarterback first overall, the Rams have an extraordinary opportunity to draft the best player in the draft. Clowney, would fit in perfectly with Chris Long, Robert Quinn and William Hayes, forming an unstoppable edge-rushing quartet in the NFC West.

St. Louis has absolutely no interest in snatching a quarterback at this stage – if at all, after signing veteran Shaun Hill last month. At least two of the top six teams, however, can’t say the same. The Cleveland Browns (fourth) and Minnesota Vikings (eighth) need signal-callers badly.

Meanwhile, the Jacksonville Jaguars (third) have a defensive-minded head coach. If they can’t trade up for Clowney, one could see them reach for Buffalo outside linebacker Khalil Mack. Personally, I didn’t like the fact that he failed to dominate several lower-level opponents like Stoney Brook. He’d perform like a top-three pick against a program such as Ohio State, only to disappear in the Bulls’ bowl game. Still, Jacksonville is liable to overlook some of the peaks and valleys, settling on an aggressive defense and run-oriented offensive attack that can allow quarterback Chad Henne to manage the game in the interim.

As for the Oakland Raiders (fifth), they need an offensive tackle – but could take a QB as well. The Atlanta Falcons (sixth) have huge interest in Clowney and are in dire need of a guy to apply pressure on offenses in the NFC South. Rest assured that if Houston takes a signal-caller, the Falcons will have the Rams’ brass on speed dial. Even so, Atlanta has the farthest to climb among the top six in order to obtain Clowney’s services. How many picks are they willing to sacrifice this year – and in 2015?

Due to the sheer depth available in this year’s draft, it all boils down to acquiring as many picks as possible to make your team better now. The Rams’ worst-case scenario is still pretty darned good. If they miss out on the Clowney sweepstakes, the teams below them know their need for a QB early is minimal. If the Rams’ asking price in the two-hole proves too high, teams may be inclined to cut a deal with Jacksonville at No. 3. Regardless, sitting and picking won’t ruin a sure-to-be fruitful 2014 haul.

>>      Take Clowney if available at No. 2

2 Dn     If Clowney goes No. 1, trade out – but don’t go past Atlanta at No. 6. At least two of the three quarterbacks will be selected early. If the Rams move down past eight, these are the other players at whom they could be staring:

QB Blake Bortles, Central Florida

QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M

QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville

OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M

WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson

OT Greg Robinson, Auburn

WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M

OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan

OLB Khalil Mack, Buffalo

CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State

OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA

DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh

CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State

DB Calvin Pryor, Louisville

DB Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama

2Up      This is not a smart move. Besides, head coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead love to collect picks.

The Rams’ brass continues to make it loud and clear, through all avenues of the media, that they want out of the second pick in the draft and will listen to all offers. After all, the 2014 NFL draft promises the most talent-laden class that I’ve seen in over a decade.

  • trumantiger

    Trade down