St. Louis possesses the rights to the No. 2 overall selection and will do everything they can to maximize its value, whether that ultimately results in retaining it or trading it for multiple premium picks.
Last week, I ranked and analyzed the Rams likely offseason position priorities to be addressed during the 2012 NFL Draft and the rapidly approaching free agency period.
In this 2012 NFL Mock Draft, I have the Rams targeting six of those seven positions.
The only position of those seven that I do not see St. Louis addressing during the draft is defensive back, as they will return a number of quality cornerbacks from injured reserve and could also target former Fisher player Cortland Finnegan, who has expressed interest in playing for Fisher in St. Louis.
In a year where franchise quarterbacks are being looked at diligently and a new and improved rookie wage scale in place, the Rams could turn this draft into one that lands additional quality picks.
With extra picks comes extra opportunities to land key contributors.
Can you tell how I am leaning with the second overall selection? I bet you can.
So, without further adieu, let us jump right into the first version of the St. Louis Rams 2012 NFL Mock Draft.
It has been reported that the Cleveland Browns are interested in moving up to the No. 2 spot in an effort to secure Robert Griffin III, the Heisman-winning quarterback of Baylor.
According to the NFL Draft value chart, the No. 2 overall slot is worth 2,600 points. The Browns possess the No. 4 and No. 22 slots. Those slots total 2,580 points. With a trade, the numbers correspond well with the value chart.
However, when considering the now team-friendly rookie wage scale that came with the new collective bargaining agreement, it no longer costs a fortune to move up into the top five of the NFL Draft.
Furthermore, with a potential franchise quarterback being targeted in this scenario, that enhances the value of the pick.
For the purposes of this mock draft, however, we will avoid some of the more radical speculation as to what the Rams could fetch via trade and stay closely in line with the previously mentioned value chart.
In the end, the Rams nab Cleveland's 2012 first-round picks (4,22), their fifth-round pick (4) and their 2013 fourth-round selection.
Again, the Rams could potentially reciprocate more, however, the above scenario already puts St. Louis ahead in points (2,620 to Cleveland's 2,600), and that excludes the points of next year's fourth-rounder.
Selecting Matt Kalil of USC is not the sexy pick here, but it is the smart one.
This move will ensure St. Louis of having a pair of bookend tackles for the next 10 years or so around Sam Bradford.
Jeff Fisher, the Rams new head coach, emphasized running the football and protecting the quarterback during his introductory press conference. That had to be music to Bradford's ears, as he was bloodied, beaten and bruised throughout 2011.
The addition of Kalil could potentially shore up three spots on the offensive line.
Kalil would take over at left tackle and likely hold down that spot for more than a decade.
That would allow 2010 rookie standout Rodger Saffold (who struggled with nagging injuries in 2011 before landing on injured reserve) to slide to right tackle.
Finally, Jason Smith, the second overall pick in 2009, could move from right tackle to guard and potentially be a force, assuming he returns and is healthy following a second season ending head injury in three years. Smith struggles in space but flashes excellence in run blocking, making a move to guard a reasonable solution.
As for Kalil, he brings a toughness and tenacity that Fisher loves. He is a powerful road grader in the run game and is athletic enough to excel in pass protection. His ability to pull on outside run plays is impressive, as seen here.
For more on Kalil, check this.
If the Rams are set on grabbing the best offensive tackle available at No. 4, Riley Reiff would make sense. Reiff is rated ahead of Kalil by Mike Mayock of the NFL Network.
Alshon Jeffery has been compared favorably to Detroit Lions Pro Bowl wide receiver Calvin Johnson on many occasions, including this report by Matt Miller, who has Jeffery going number 7 in his latest mock draft.
Although Jeffery is expected to run around a 4.5 second 40-yard dash (he has been clocked as fast at 4.46), he seems to have no trouble beating his man deep.
Furthermore, timed speed is not everything. Just ask Jerry Rice, Isaac Bruce, Larry Fitzgerald, Hines Ward, and many others who excelled in the NFL without running better than, and in some cases much worse than, a 4.5. And none of those all-time greats, other than Fitzgerald, were 6'4" either.
Which begs the question: if the aforementioned could become all-time greats, why couldn't Jeffery?
Jeffery accelerates to top speed quickly. He is an elite athlete and a physical specimen. His height, catch radius, ability to go up for balls, hands and strength are all notable assets that he possesses.
Jeffery has been likened to a cross of Calvin and Andre Johnson. He has also been compared with Larry Fitzgerald and, perhaps most notably, a young Plaxico Burress.
Here is a look at Jeffery versus another projected 2011 first-rounder, Dre Kirkpatrick of Alabama.
For more on Jeffery, check this.
If Jeffery is unavailable, other options here could include Michael Floyd of Notre Dame, Kendall Wright of Baylor, or Mohamed Sanu of Rutgers.
Any of those would be of value here at 22 and at least one of the four (Jeffery, Floyd, Wright, or Sanu) will be available here, making the Fisher selection of Kalil at No. 4 look wise, as each of these receivers have a comparable upside as Justin Blackmon.
Zach Brown has reportedly ran as fast as 4.28 in the 40-yard dash and set the North Carolina Tar Heels record in the 60-meter dash with a time of 6.72.
He will probably light it up at the combine, running in the 4.4 range, however, there is much more to Brown than his elite speed or the fact that his favorite team is the St. Louis Rams.
Brown is a very fluid athlete with outstanding change of direction skills, something that, along with his speed, could help him match up with San Francisco 49ers Vernon Davis in man coverage, for example. Brown is the rare linebacker who could run with Davis stride for stride.
Although he certainly has room to improve in coverage, particularly in man coverage, he has all the physical tools to be terrific versus the pass.
Furthermore, Brown reacts quickly to developing plays.
With all that said, his pass rush potential is probably the most exciting aspect of his game.
His potential as a pass rusher is immense, making him a terrific fit in Gregg Williams blitz-heavy defense.
Brown, along with former North Carolina teammate Robert Quinn, as well as veteran Chris Long, should form a dynamic pass rush trio in the future.
Brown uses his speed well in run defense but does need to get stronger at the point of attack. He does very well in terms of getting past blockers, however, and can beat backs to the edge.
Kendall Reyes, the 6'4", 300-pound (and growing) defensive tackle out of Connecticut was highly impressive during Senior Bowl week.
He possesses the coveted dual skills of being able to penetrate and pressure the quarterback while also playing well against the run. Improved run defense is critical for St. Louis and Reyes should be able to help in that area.
Reyes had an impressive 13.5 tackles for loss in 2011 and 4.5 sacks. He can certainly disrupt the backfield.
He has good short area burst and is able to shed blockers. Reyes is a two-time captain and is known as a high character person and high motor, hard working player.
Reyes has a high ceiling and plays with the type of fiery aggression that head coach Jeff Fisher loves.
Youth is desperately needed at defensive tackle in St. Louis. Fred Robbins will be 35 and regressed in 2011. Justin Bannan will be 33.
In Williams' heavy blitzing scheme, Reyes could help Long and Quinn attain more sacks by pushing the pocket, something that Reyes does well. Long has missed about numerous sacks over the last two years as quarterbacks have simply stepped up due to an inconsistent interior push.
Reyes makes sense here early in Round 3. He provides youth and the needed ability to help shore up the defensive tackle position and the team's weak run defense.
For more on Reyes, go here.
Ronnie Hillman- Running Back, San Diego State
Ronnie Hillman of San Diego State goes about 5'10".
The last time St. Louis added a 5'10 running back from San Diego State, it went pretty darn well: that would be 2011 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee, Marshall Faulk.
In fact, Hillman broke Faulk's freshman rookie rushing record with 1,532 yards in 2010 before running for 1,711 yards in 2011.
Just like Faulk, the redshirt sophomore has a knack for finding the end zone, doing so a staggering 36 times in his two collegiate seasons. And, like Faulk, Hillman is a good receiver out of the backfield, making him a good option on third down passing situations.
Interestingly, Hillman is built similarly and possesses similar attributes to a running back Fisher once drafted in Tennessee, Chris Johnson.
Hillman, although checking in at around 190 pounds, runs well inside. His exceptional burst and lateral agility help him in the trenches.
As would be expected, the speedy and quick Hillman runs well outside and accelerates rapidly off the edge.
He is a patient runner who can cut on a dime and make defenders miss.
In short, he would be an ideal compliment and change of pace back to pair with Steven Jackson. He has also shown himself to be very durable, which is obviously a plus.
For more on Hillman, check this out. To take a look at game footage from his record-breaking freshman season, please go to Youtube and type in Ronnie Hillman, the second coming.
(I would link to this footage, however, I would feel uncomfortable doing so due to offensive language. I recommend muting the video if this is a concern of yours).
For a brief clip, however, you may watch him run for a 99-yard touchdown here.
Hillman's potential is underrated and he could be a big-time steal at the top of the Round 4.
Lucas Nix looks a lot like former St. Louis Cardinals great Dan Dierdorf in the picture above.
Now, if Nix can play like Dierdorf, the 1996 Hall-of-Fame inductee, the Rams would be onto something with a selection of Nix in Round 5.
Nix is projected by Walter Football as a third-to-fourth-round pick although many have him sliding to Round 5. Nix would provide terrific value there.
Nix was moved to offensive tackle in 2011 and battled injuries but projects as a guard in the NFL, his best position.
Nix is known for his strength and toughness, something that was not on display often by anyone playing left guard for St. Louis in 2011.
Inside at guard, he is a solid pass blocker who excels in the run game, something that is obviously of appeal to head coach Jeff Fisher, who loves to run the football.
Nix is known as an intense, high motor player. He has enough athleticism to pull on run plays. After playing out of position last year, his draft stock will likely lower than it would have been had he played guard in 2011 making him a potential steal in Round 5.
For more news on Nix, please go here.
Chris Rainey, Do It All, Florida
Chris Rainey may have the best straight-line speed and cutting ability of any 2012 NFL Draft prospect. When considering the speed in this draft, that is saying something.
At the next level, Rainey projects as a slot receiver and a special teams ace, primarily. He could fill in on occasion as a running back, too, as he led the Florida Gators in rushing yards and receptions in 2011, the first Gator to do so since Emmitt Smith.
Rainey would bring explosiveness to St. Louis and the ability to hit a home run with every touch. His skill set makes him a potentially devastating punt returner.
In five wide sets, Rainey could be a very dangerous option for the Rams, too.
For more information on Rainey, click this.
(For lengthy game footage, the best video I found was again marred with questionable music. To take a look, you may go to Youtube and type in Chris Rainey 2011 Florida Gators highlights).
His playmaking ability is undoubtedly impressive.
Nicolas Jean-Baptiste goes 335 lbs and has the size that Jeff Fisher likes at defensive tackle. As a seventh-round pick, he is likely a developmental player, but he would fill a need if he pans out.
The senior had 22 tackles in 2011. The former walk-on has squatted up to 600 pounds, so he obviously has the leg drive for the NFL.
It would be terrific if Baptiste showed enough to plug into the rotation in 2012.
For more on Baptiste, click here.