The St. Louis Rams are open to trading the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, and the production from the player or players obtained after remaining in or trading from that slot will "define the future of the franchise," according to head coach Jeff Fisher.
In this 2012 pre-NFL Combine mock draft, I will present what I expect the Rams to do with the highly-coveted second overall pick, along with the rest of the St. Louis draft.
On January 30, I released my first 2012 Rams Mock Draft here. As you will see, there have been several alterations since then. And player values will be adjusted again after the 2012 NFL combine (Feb. 22-28) and pro days that follow.
That said, let's take a second and final pre-combine look at the Rams 2012 draft. Draft position is listed by round number, followed in parentheses by the position in that round.
NFL draft evaluator Todd McShay of ESPN says the Cleveland Browns must trade up with St. Louis if they want to grab Baylor's Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III. Mike Mayock of the NFL Network also asserts that Cleveland should select Griffin III.
Several mock drafts, like this one, believe the Rams and Browns will end up swapping their respective first-round picks. Most believe the Rams would demand both of Cleveland's first-round picks (No. 4, 22) for theirs (No. 2.)
According to the NFL draft value chart, the No. 2 overall slot is worth 2,600 points. The Browns' No. 4 and No. 22 slots are worth 2,580 points, making the trade an almost equal swap.
And, considering the now team-friendly rookie wage scale that came with the new collective bargaining agreement, it no longer costs a fortune to move into the top five of the draft.
Furthermore, with the Browns' target being a potential franchise quarterback, that enhances the value of the pick.
That all being said, what could the Rams solicit in exchange for the No. 2 pick?
It is possible the Rams could obtain more than what the Browns figure to offer, but we will be conservative and be satisfied with that deal to avoid the possibility, however small, of being disappointed in the eventual compensation, if this trade does in fact come to fruition.
Previous Mock Draft: Matt Kalil
If the Minnesota Vikings decide to pass on Kalil with the third overall pick (and a sizable minority of mock draft experts believe they will) that leaves Kahill, the best left tackle in the draft, to drop into the hands of Fisher, general manager Les Snead and the Rams.
This move will ensure that St. Louis will have a pair of bookend tackles for the next 10 years around Sam Bradford, with Kalil at left tackle and 2010 rookie Rodger Saffold sliding over to right tackle.
Fisher emphasized running the football and protecting the quarterback during his introductory press conference. Hearing the emphasis on pass protection 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, which would allow 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 has shown flashes of excellence as a run-blocker. So making a move to guard makes sense.
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 could potentially make sense. Morris Claiborne, the top rated corner by Mayock, could also be an option here.
Previous Pick: Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
He probably will light it up at the combine, running in the 4.35 to 4.45 range. However, there is much more to Brown than his elite speed or the fact that the Rams are his favorite team.
Brown is a fluid athlete with outstanding change-of-direction skills, something that could, for example, help him match up with San Francisco 49ers Vernon Davis in man coverage. Brown is the rare linebacker who could run with Davis stride for stride.
Although he 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 vast potential as a pass-rusher is the most exciting aspect of his game, making him a terrific fit in Gregg Williams' blitz-heavy defense.
Along with former North Carolina teammate Robert Quinn and veteran Chris Long, Brown could help create a dynamic pass rush.
Brown uses his speed well against the run, but he needs to get stronger at the point of attack. He does well getting past blockers and can beat backs to the edge.
Previous Pick: Zach Brown, Outside Linebacker, UNC
Mohamed Sanu is slated to come off the board in this general area by most mock drafts. Interestingly, both he and new Rams quarterbacks coach Frank Cignetti are from Rutgers. You can bet that new GM Snead will be hitting up Cignetti regarding his insight on Sanu.
This gives St. Louis the inside track on Sanu, who has grown on me dramatically after viewing more of his work at Rutgers.
He averaged 70 receptions, 754 yards and four touchdowns over the past three seasons, averaging 11 yards at catch, and is tough, a trait that Fisher loves.
Sanu has above-average height (6'2''), size (215 pounds) and speed, making him an attractive commodity. Watching footage of Sanu, his physical play sticks out. He looks to have the strength to become a very good run-blocker.
Sanu is versatile, able and willing to make plays on the edges and across the middle. Sanu leaps well and can bring down the jump balls in the red zone (or anywhere else for that matter).
Sanu has the making of an elite possession receiver. But he also has shown the ability to get behind defenses. He has nice hands and good route-running ability.
Sanu is only expected to run the 40-yard dash in the 4.5-second range. However, timed speed is not everything. Just ask Jerry Rice, Hines Ward, Larry Fitzgerald, Isaac Bruce, Anquan Boldin and many others who ran no better than a 4.5 40.
Sanu projects as a potential starter in 2012, depending on what the Rams do in free agency. Sanu would look good paired with Brandon Lloyd (free agent from the Rams), Steve Johnson (Buffalo Bills) or Pierre Garcon (Indianapolis Colts.)
The weapon-starved Rams and quarterback Sam Bradford would benefit from the addition of Sanu to an offense now led by Cignetti, his former offensive coordinator.
Previous Selection: Kendall Reyes, DT, Connecticut
Alameda Ta'amu checks in at 340 pounds and has the size and ability to anchor an NFL defensive line. True nose tackles are hard to find, but Ta'amu looks the part.
Albert Haynesworth was pretty good as a similarly-sized defensive tackle (350 pounds) for the Tennessee Titans under then-head coach Jeff Fisher.
Ta'amu would bring much-needed size to the Rams' interior run defense and youth to the long-in-the-tooth defensive tackle position.
Fred Robbins will be 35 and regressed in 2011. He is in the final year of his contract and could be a cap casualty. His release would save the Rams $4 million. Even if he does return, expect his snaps to be reduced.
Justin Bannan will be 33 and will likely return, but he too is at an age when his play could begin to slip. Depth at the position is lacking, with only fourth-year backup Darell Scott returning.
Ta'amu has elite size and strength and would likely help to upgrade the run defense. Ta'amu displays the type of toughness that Fisher loves and has much better agility and movement than one would expect from a player of his girth.
He has the ability to push a pile in short-yardage situations. He reminds some of Baltimore Ravens standout Haloti Ngata. Ta'amu is a legitimate space-eater and is quicker and more explosive than one would think.
Landing Ta'amu here would be a terrific get and could solidify the Rams interior defensive line for the foreseeable future.
For more on the massive Ta'amu, look here.
Previous Selection: Ronnie Hillman
Ronnie Hillman will enter the NFL from San Diego State, just as St. Louis Hall-of-Fame running back Marshall Faulk did in 1994.
Considering that Hillman comes from the same university and has a similar game, comparisons to Faulk are inevitable, as was the case here.
The last time St. Louis added a 5'10'' running back from San Diego State, it went pretty darn well. That would be Faulk, a 2011 inductee in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In fact, Hillman broke Faulk's freshman rookie rushing record with 1,532 yards in 2010 before running for 1,711 yards in 2011, averaging 5.5 yards per carry.
Just like Faulk, the redshirt sophomore has a knack for finding the end zone, doing so a staggering 36 times in his two college 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 Chris Johnson, a running back Fisher once drafted in Tennessee,
Hillman, although weighing only 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 complement and change-of-pace back to pair with Steven Jackson. He has also shown himself to be durable, a plus considering Jackson missed several games last season and will be 29 next season.
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.
For a shorter clip, you may watch him run for a 99-yard touchdown here.
Hillman's potential is underrated. He could be a big-time steal at the top of the fourth round.
Previous Selection: Lucas Nix, OG, Pittsburgh
In the picture above, Lucas Nix looks a lot like former St. Louis Cardinals great Dan Dierdorf.
If Nix can play like Dierdorf, a 1996 Hall-of-Fame inductee, the Rams would have a steal by taking him in the fifth round.
Nix is projected by Walter Football as a third- to fourth-round pick. Thus, he would provide terrific value there.
Nix was moved to offensive tackle in 2011 and battled injuries, but he projects as a guard in the NFL, his best position.
Nix is known for his strength and toughness, something that was not often on display by anyone playing left guard for St. Louis last season.
He is is a solid pass blocker who is nasty 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 is lower than it would have been had he played guard in 2011, making him a potential steal in the fifth round.
For more news on Nix, please go here.
Previous Selection: Chris Rainey, WR/RB/Special Teams Return Man, Florida
Considering the uncertain future of would-be starting cornerback Bradley Fletcher and all the injuries to the secondary in 2011, adding a defensive back with the speed and production of Asa Jackson in the sixth round makes sense.
Jackson was a first-team All-Great West selection and a third-team All-American by Sports Network in 2010. In 2011, Jackson was named Cal Poly's most valuable defensive player.
This past season, Jackson had 54 tackles, two interceptions (both returned for touchdowns (52 and 100 yards) and seven pass breakups.
He also showed ability as a punt returner, averaging 18.0 yards on eight returns (among the nation's best averages), with his longest at 41 yards.
Jackson is listed at 5'10'' or 5'11'' but has good length (long arms.) Jackson also has good quickness, balance and speed (4.4 in the 40-yard dash.) He is said to reach top speed quickly thanks to a good burst.
Unlike Ron Bartell, among others, Jackson is able to turn his head and find the football.
As a returner, he has proven to be elusive, making defenders miss on many occasions. His versatility as a punt returner would increase his value in St. Louis.
Previous Selection: Nicolas Jean-Baptiste, OT, Baylor
I would be ecstatic to land Garner in the seventh round.
The athletic Garner was absolutely stellar in pass protection last season, something that Fisher already has labeled as a priority for upgrade.
Garner, an All-Big 12 first-team selection, could be a true steal here and also allow St. Louis to release Jason Brown, which would save them $2.8 million in salary cap savings this year, according to Howard Balzer, giving them more financial flexibility going forward.
Garner goes 6'2'', weighs 292 and shows good quickness and agility. He can get to the next level, and has the athleticism to get out on pulling plays.
He is not particularly strong, however, but could likely improve in that regard. As we know, finding perfect prospects in the seventh round just does not happen, but Garner looks to be better than many other options here.
For more on Garner, take a look at this.