Biggest Question Marks for the St. Louis Rams Heading into the 2013 NFL Draft

Steven GerwelContributor IIIMarch 31, 2013

Biggest Question Marks for the St. Louis Rams Heading into the 2013 NFL Draft

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    Now that the month of April has arrived, the St. Louis Rams are finalizing their draft-day strategy and exploring every scenario. 

    The NFL combine is long gone and the college pro days are nearing an end, so the St. Louis war room occupants surely have a vivid game plan in mind by now. 

    The 2013 pre-draft buzz has been relatively mild thanks to a deficiency of elite talent in top 10, but luckily, the Rams are in a solid position with the No. 16 and No. 22 overall picks—they won't be forced to settle on a player unworthy of the selection. 

    Throw in the No. 46 overall pick in the second round, and the Rams have more than enough ammunition to significantly upgrade their opening-day roster.

    With no incredible athletes worth trading up for, expect the Rams to sit tight and select the best player available for all seven rounds.

    But even if the Rams utilize a simple and stress-free strategy, there are still multiple questions that won't be answered until draft day.

    Read on for questions that will surely be on St. Louis' mind when its on the clock. 

Did Free Agency Set Rams Up for Early Defensive Picks?

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    Offensive production was the Achilles' heel of the 2012 Rams, so the front office dedicated the majority of its resources to that side of the ball during free agency. 

    St. Louis inked TE Jared Cook and T Jake Long to multi-year deals, and both signings are expected to pay huge dividends in the upcoming years. 

    But how far will the Rams go to rebuild their offense? 

    They added Long and Cook but also lost three of their four most productive weapons on offense—Steven Jackson, Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson. 

    Ideally, the Rams could use another receiver to help make up for the loss of Amendola and Gibson, while they're also in need of an every-down running back. 

    But does the front office feel the same way? 

    Perhaps, the additions in free agency will tempt Jeff Fisher to stick with his defensive roots in the early rounds. 

    The offense was in shambles a year ago—far worse than the current offense—and the Rams responded by grabbing defensive players with two of their top three picks. 

    It's likely that St. Louis will have at least one new defense player by the end of Round 2, but will the talent added in free agency allow them to acquire two? 

    If the Rams focus primarily on defense early on, it's not worth panicking over. It neglects the offense but also brings an already-solid defense one step closer to becoming elite. 

    Having said that, St. Louis desperately needs another receiver to go along with Chris Givens and Brian Quick, so hopefully the Rams will find a good middle ground. 

Is a 1st-Round Receiver Worth It for St. Louis?

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    The Rams lost Amendola and Gibson in free agency, but they still have some youngsters capable of carrying the workload. 

    Chris Givens was impressive as a rookie with 710 yards from scrimmage in only 12 starts. And while 2012 second-round pick Brian Quick was disappointing, he has the necessary tools to succeed and will improve in year two. 

    But St. Louis still needs more talent at the position. The Rams would be taking a major risk by entering the season with Givens as the No. 1 receiver. 

    They still need an upgrade, but will that upgrade come this offseason? 

    Cordarrelle Patterson, Tavon Austin and Keenan Allen have been generating buzz, but none of these guys would have been in the top-10 discussion a year ago. 

    The Rams can either give in to their desperation and settle for a less talented receiver in Round 1, or hold out another year and hope for better luck in 2014. 

    Neither option is ideal, but it's something the front office will have to discuss in great detail over the next several weeks. 

Will a Deep Safety Class Allow Rams to Hold Out?

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    The only safety currently on the Rams' roster with starting experience is Darian Stewart, but he did not start a single game in 2012. 

    St. Louis is still interested in retaining Quintin Mikell (according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch), but the lack of talent up top makes the safety position a clear priority in the draft. 

    The buzz has primarily focused on Kenny Vaccaro at No. 16 overall, but there are multiple options in the early rounds. 

    Eric Reid, Matt Elam, Jonathan Cyprien and Bacarri Rambo all have a realistic chance at being available at No. 46 overall, which allows the Rams to hold out in Round 1 and take the best safety available in Round 2.

    They wouldn't be getting the top safety of the draft class, but they can still exit the draft with a talented safety capable of starting Week 1. 

    It would be difficult to criticize Vaccaro at No. 16, but a deep class gives St. Louis the luxury of holding out, especially if Mikell is re-signed. 

Will Rams Gamble in the Middle Rounds?

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    The Rams selected Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson and Chris Givens a year ago. 

    All three players had character concerns coming out of college, and despite some minor hiccups, all three players appear to be worth the gamble. 

    Will the Rams use a similar strategy in the 2013 draft? 

    Drafting a player with character issues is a fantastic way to get first-round value in the middle of the draft, but these players can disrupt a locker room and cause a team to lose focus.

    Tyrann Mathieu has the talent of a high second-round pick, but he was kicked off his LSU team and was even arrested last October (according to USA Today). 

    Mathieu would be a phenomenal mid-round pickup and would provide a spark to the return game and depth to the secondary, but only if his issues are a thing of the past. 

    But players with character concerns aren't the only ones to slip—players with multiple injuries frequently slip on draft day as well. 

    Marcus Lattimore was frequently mentioned in the same breath as Trent Richardson until a knee injury ended his 2011 season. In 2012, he made a comeback that was cut short by yet another knee injury. 

    Lattimore is one of the five most talented players in the draft, but he still has work to do before he's fully healthy again. 

    Fisher is a gambler, so don't be surprised if the Rams exit the draft with one of these two players. 

How Will Rams Afford Their Rookie Contracts?

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    According to NFL.com, the Rams have just over $1 million of salary-cap space remaining, but based on the draft picks they possess, their 2013 draft class will cost approximately $6.22 million.

    At some point, St. Louis will have to shake things up in order to afford its rookies. 

    The signing of Jake Long could open the doors to a Rodger Saffold trade, but losing Saffold would only save $1.46 million (according to Spotrac), which still leaves the Rams nearly $4 million over the cap. 

    Cutting Harvey Dahl would save the Rams $4 million (according to Spotrac), but the Rams aren't crazy enough to lose Dahl and Saffold in one offseason. 

    At this point, the most attractive option is to rework James Laurinaitis' bloated contract. Laurinaitis will have a $12.4 million cap hit in 2013, and carefully restructuring his deal could fix the cap situation while keeping the offensive line intact. 

    It's still unclear how the Rams plan on addressing this issue, but we'll have a better idea on draft day.