At this point, the pre-draft smokescreens, mind games and leverage ploys regarding the Rams highly-coveted No. 2 overall pick remain in effect. Teams are not yet going to offer their best package of picks in the Robert Griffin III sweepstakes.
Do not panic, though. As draft day nears, that almost certainly will change.
The future of Green Bay Packers quarterback Matt Flynn is murky. Many, like Dan Marino, apparently are not quite sold on Flynn. And why should they be? After one big NFL game, it seems some have assumed he is on his way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
According to the greenbaypressgazzette.com, Flynn is not likely to get the franchise tag after all. It looks as if he could be headed to free agency.
If healthy, Peyton Manning will obviously be attractive to some teams. However, neck injuries raise caution flags. In addition, Manning is 36 and it is impossible to foretell how many elite seasons, if any, he has left.
Even if both become highly targeted, teams are always looking to draft a potential franchise quarterback.
Peter King of Sports Illustrated believes RG3 could be most aggressively pursued target at No. 2 since Ryan Leaf in 1998.
So, as a ploy to try to lower the asking price, it is no surprise that the Cleveland Browns are making it known that they do not plan to part with the second of their two No. 1 picks (22nd overall), according to a report from Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
In the end, whether it is Cleveland, Washington or another quarterback-hungry team, someone (and probably more than one someone) will budge and give the Rams a little more than they would like to in order to trade up to draft the Heisman winner from Baylor.
The Rams will ultimately collect a king's ransom for the No. 2 pick.
So, without further delay, let's jump in and look at the pre-free agency edition of the Rams 2012 mock draft. Selections are listed by round, with the position in that round in parentheses.
Previous Pick: Matt Kalil (OT, USC)
Yes, I still believe Cleveland will be the team to finalize a deal with St. Louis and land RGIII.
That would sent the No. 4 pick to the Rams. I do not expect general manager Les Snead to get cute here. He knows averaging 12 points per game will not get it done in the NFL, especially while in the midst of an offensive era.
He also knows that quarterback Sam Bradford needs some immediate weapon upgrades.
That in mind, the Rams will not hesitate to grab the top wide receiver on the board in Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State with left tackle Matt Kalil of USC off the board at No. 3 to Minnesota.
Blackmon checked in just a shade under 6'1" at the NFL Combine. That is every bit as tall as three-time Pro Bowl receiver Anquan Boldin.
However, look for Blackmon to show himself faster than Boldin at his March 9 pro day, Boldin ran a 4.72 40-yard at the NFL Combine in 2003. If Blackmon runs a 4.55 or better, look for him to nail down a top-five slot.
Although Boldin/Blackmon comparisons are relevant and appropriate due to similarities in style of play and size, I view Blackmon as being more athletic and explosive than the always tough and productive Boldin.
Blackmon has been compared to a cross between Boldin and Terrell Owens, and I like the comparison.
Blackmon met with the Rams at the combine and that meeting apparently went well, according a tweet from Jim Thomas:
Jim Thomas @jthom1
In case you were wondering, Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon did meet w/Rams at combine and meeting went well, according to league sources.
Look for St. Louis to solidify the offense and their subpar receiving corps by selecting Oklahoma State's Blackmon and for Blackmon and former cross-state rival Sam Bradford to develop a quick chemistry in the passing game.
Previous Pick: Zach Brown (OLB, UNC)
Warren Sapp said that Fletcher Cox was "his guy" during coverage of the the 2012 NFL Combine on the NFL Network.
If Cox is good enough to be the "guy" for Sapp, arguably one of (if not the best) defensive tackles ever, he is good enough for me.
Most feel that Cox had a great combine, although he already was projected as a near-lock for the first round by a consensus of mock drafts.
Cox looked terrific in Indianapolis during on-field drills while excelling off of it.
The big defensive tackle out of Mississippi State ran a 4.79 40 with a highly impressive 10-yard split (the time that matters for defensive tackles) while checking in at 6'4" and 298 pounds. Cox displayed exceptional strength as well, with 30 reps in the bench press despite his long 34-1/2-inch arms.
Cox possesses elite athleticism for the DT position. He has very good pass rush and change-of-direction skills and is explosive off the snap while playing with a consistently high motor.
Cox has the ability to push the pocket, something that the Rams have lacked, costing Chris Long and the Rams a slew of sacks during the last two seasons.
Like Robert Quinn from a year ago, Cox has a staggering upside. Along with Quinn and Long, he should help form the nucleus of an explosive and highly-productive defensive line.
Previous Pick: Mohamed Sanu (WR, Rutgers)
Zach Brown is a St. Louis Rams fan and would instantly become a favorite of Rams fans if my mock comes to fruition.
Many of you probably do not feel that Brown will be here this late, but several of the better mocks that I cross-referenced now have him being selected this late or later.
Brown lit it up at the 2012 NFL Combine, posting a 4.44 40 at 6'1" and 244 pounds.
Brown is a fluid athlete with outstanding change-of-direction skills, something that could, for example, help him match up with San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis in man coverage. Brown is the rare linebacker who could run with Davis in the open field.
Although he has room to improve in coverage, particularly in man, he has the physical tools to be terrific versus the pass.
Furthermore, Brown reacts quickly to developing plays.
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.
The most exciting aspect to Brown's game, however, is his potential as a pass-rusher.
He possesses the physical attributes to become a great rusher off the edge and help form a dynamic and prolific pass-rush trio with former North Carolina teammate Quinn and veteran Long, without even mentioning Cox from the DT spot.
If Brown is available at the top of round two (and many of the latest, more reputable mock drafts have that being the case), look for Jeff Fisher and St. Louis to grab him with the 33rd pick.
Previous Pick: (none)
Drastically anemic offenses call for drastic measures, especially when provided with the extra premium picks that St. Louis will have in the 2012 NFL Draft.
I feel the Rams would be justified in using two of their first four picks on receivers. St. Louis would have 10 picks in this draft, so taking two wideouts early would certainly seem reasonable.
Together, the Rams could have a dynamic and lethal core for Sam and St. Louis for the next decade.
Hill boosted his stock immensely at the NFL Combine by running a 4.36 40 at 6'4" and 215 pounds. He also posted a 39.5-inch vertical leap and an astounding 11'1" broad jump. Scouts are said to still be wiping slobber off their chins.
Hill not only timed well, but, more importantly, he excelled in on-field drills, displayed great hands, fluid athleticism while running routes and an ability to make highlight-reel catches.
Coming from Georgia Tech and a triple-option offense, Hill had limited opportunities in the passing game. That being the case, the NFL Combine was more important to him than some others.
Hill averaged a mind-boggling 29 yards per catch in 2011 on 28 receptions, five of which were for touchdowns.
A 2012 receiving corps of Brandon Lloyd (who the Rams are negotiating with, according to Turf Show Times) or another free-agent wideout, Justin Blackmon, Danny Amendola, Greg Salas and either Danario Alexander or Austin Pettis plus Hill would look to be pretty solid with a good mix of size, speed and versatility.
Adding both Blackmon and Hill could change the look of the passing game and give Bradford young targets to grow with over the coming seasons.
Previous Pick: Alamada Ta'amu (DT, Washington)
I feel that St. Louis will incorporate that approach in 2012, selecting Ole Miss tackle Bobby Massie.
Massie, who measures 6'6" and 316 pounds, is an impressive athlete. Massie displayed that at the combine. He also has the long arms (35 inches) that teams love.
Although Massie played right tackle for the most part in college, many scouting reports (such as this one) suggest he could swing to left tackle.
At the least, the Rams need depth at both spots and maybe even a starter, especially at right tackle, where Jason Smith's future is up in the air, according to an article from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Massie has quick feet and the potential to be a terrific pass-blocker while having the size to be a mauler as a run-blocker. Massie finishes his blocks well and plays with a bit of an attitude. He fires off the snap quickly on running plays.
Massie would be a great value pick at the top of Round 3.
Previous Pick: Ronnie Hillman (RB, San Diego State)
Josh Robinson ran an unofficial 4.29 40 (adjusted to 4.33) at the NFL Combine. He also excelled in the vertical leap (38.5 inches) and broad jump (11'1").
The University of Central Florida product has a ton of experience in zone coverage while obviously owning the speed to transition to playing more man coverage as well.
Th 5'10 Robinson lacks elite height by an inch or two, but has the speed and lower body explosiveness (as evidenced by his combine numbers) to go up and get the ball against taller wideouts.
Robinson is also solid in run support, a characteristic that Fisher and hard-nosed secondary coach Chuck Cecil always covet. He also would be a good candidate to contribute on special teams.
Robinson has a high upside and would be tough to pass up in the fourth round.
I look for the Rams to go hard in pursuit of free-agent Cortland Finnegan. They also have Ron Bartell and Jerome Murphy returning from injury, two of last year's projected top three corners.
That said, the return of Bradley Fletcher (a second season-ending leg injury in three seasons) is still uncertain. The Rams can solidify the corner position with the addition of Robinson.
Previous Pick: Round 5 (4) from Cleveland—Lucas Nix (G, Pittsburgh)
Ronnie Hillman did not do much to elevate his stock at the 2012 NFL Combine (although he did run an impressive 4.41 40), but he certainly did not hurt it either.
So there is no reason to alter my view that Hillman is a very underrated prospect who could become a big-time running back for the St. Louis Rams.
Considering that Hillman comes from the same university as Marshall Faulk (San Diego State) and has a similar game, comparisons to the former St. Louis great are inevitable, as was the case here.
In fact, Hillman broke Faulk's freshman rushing record with 1,532 yards in 2010. He topped those numbers in 2011, running for 1,711 yards on 5.5 yards per carry.
Like Faulk, Hillman has shown a propensity for finding the end zone, doing so a staggering 36 times in two college seasons. Hillman is a good receiver out of the backfield, making him a sound 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 runs well inside and displays a terrific burst and terrific lateral agility.
As would be expected, the speedy and nimble Hillman runs well outside and accelerates rapidly off the edge. He is a patient runner who can cut quickly and make defenders miss.
In short, Hillman coud be an ideal complement and change-of-pace back to pair with Steven Jackson. He has also shown himself to be remarkably durable, a trait most needed by the Rams considering that Jackson missed several games last year and will be 29 next season.
Previous Pick: Lucas Nix (OG, Pittsburgh)
Although I still like Nix at guard, he has ascended to become a third- to fourth-round projection. That leaves the Rams looking for a guard, and Brandon Brooks of Miami of Ohio fills the bill quite nicely.
Brooks checks in at a massive 6'5" and 343 pounds and is very strong as in in-line blocker.
Brooks truly excelled at his pro day, according to this column from nflmocks.com. The massive man ran a 4.98 40, put up a whopping 36 reps on the bench and showed great lower body explosion with a 32-inch vertical jump. He also posted a 4.52 20-yard shuttle, which would have been the best at the NFL Combine.
According to the linked column above, Brooks also showed great fluidity and talent in position-specific drills.
If he were too drop just a bit of weight, he could be able to pull more effectively as well. Brooks has good athletic ability and change-of-direction skills, so he should be capable of executing any block asked of him at the next level.
Although Brooks played some left tackle in college, he will be a guard in the NFL.
He looks to have the ability to be good in both pass protection and the run game, and could become a dominant road-grader considering his frame and power.
Previous pick: Asa Jackson (CB, Cal Poly)
Considering the injury history of Michael Hoomanawanui and the lack of depth behind him at tight end, St. Louis needs to shore up that position.
They can do so by adding Deangelo Peterson of LSU.
Peterson checked in at 6'3" and 243 pounds at the combine and showed the vertical to go up and get the ball, leaping 36 inches.
Peterson had some costly drops at the combine, but even so, he is still a terrific blocker, something that would be useful in new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's offense.
Jeff Fisher, as most know, loves to run the ball, and Peterson's blocking ability would be a highly-sought asset, especially when considering that Lance Kendricks still has work to do to become a plus-rated NFL blocker.
Peterson is a very good athlete and could also develop into a solid receiving threat, something desirable when considering how effective teams incorporating two tight ends in the passing game have become of late.
Previous pick: Grant Garner (C, Oklahoma State)
I would be thrilled to land Garner in the seventh round.
The athletic Garner was flat-out 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 steal in Round 7 and also allow St. Louis to release Jason Brown, which would allow them to subtract his $2.8 million from the salary cap this year, according to Howard Balzer.
Garner goes 6'2'' and 292 while showing good quickness and agility. He can get to the next level as a run-blocker and is athletic enough to pull effectively.
Garner is not especially strong, however, but could improve in that regard. As we know, finding perfect prospects in the seventh round does not happen, but Garner looks to be one of the best options available in the final round of the 2012 NFL Draft.
For more on Garner, take a look at this.
New Rams GM Les Snead has talked about adding athleticism and players with good short-area explosion, and that would be accomplished with this draft.
The Rams also would have added potential depth at nine positions (WR, RB, TE, OT, G, C, DT, OLB and CB), something that was sorely needed.
They would have quality weapons for Bradford in Blackmon, Hill and Hillman, plus three new offensive lineman, all of whom have the ability to become starting-caliber players.
The additional speed and talent on defense would help make a talented defense a good defense in 2012.
Overall, this draft would go a long way to shore up the roster and provide sound building blocks for Fisher in St. Louis this season and beyond.