The countdown currently reads t-minus one week until NFL personnel fill Radio City Music Hall for what is by far the most exhilarating, action-packed night of the offseason—the NFL draft.
The St. Louis Rams are close to finalizing their game plan, and since they own prime real estate in Round 1—the No. 16 and No. 22 picks—it’s all but guaranteed that this draft will be a doozy for the St. Louis faithful.
Assuming Jeff Fisher and Les Snead stay put and avoid trading their picks (not a safe assumption), there’s several scenarios to look forward to:
They can focus their premier picks on offense in an attempt to finally provide Sam Bradford with an adequate supporting cast, or they can go in the opposite direction by adding defensive pieces to a unit that already possesses top-10 potential, which would transform St. Louis into a full-blown defensive juggernaut.
As a third option, the Rams can go on the clock free of any bias for either side of the ball and simply take their highest-rated player with each pick, which should result in a nice mix of offensive and defensive players. And based on their 2012 draft strategy, this is the route they’re most likely to take.
In this mock draft—my final mock of the season—we’ll have the Rams select players who can realistically be considered the best player available, while also keeping positional needs in mind.
So in the final attempt to satisfy your mock draft demands before the real deal, here’s the last mock of the year.
School: Alabama Crimson Tide
Size: 6'2", 317 Pounds
Projected Round: 1
At No. 16 overall, it would be ideal to secure a prospect who is ranked No. 1 overall at his given position rather than settling for someone who's the second- or third-best.
Alabama standout Chance Warmack is not only the top-ranked guard, but he's arguably the top overall offensive lineman of the entire draft class.
Fisher is not keen on acquiring offensive linemen in Round 1, but the value of this pick is too great to ignore.
Warmack will start immediately and will be expected to play at a high level. He’s a possible 10-year starter with All-Pro potential, and it doesn't get much better than that at No. 16 overall.
School: Tennessee Volunteers
Position: Wide Receiver
Size: 6'2", 216 Pounds
Projected Round: 1
Tavon Austin has been the first-round receiver most associated with St. Louis, but don't be shocked if the Rams opt for the prospect with the higher ceiling in Cordarrelle Patterson.
Warmack was the safe pick, now the second first-round selection gives St. Louis the opportunity to take a bit of a gamble.
Patterson needs polishing and his intelligence has been questioned, but Fisher and the Rams have repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to take risks when the reward is great.
Patterson's explosive open-field moves is exactly what the St. Louis offense needs, while his size gives Bradford an outside threat he can trust.
School: LSU Tigers
Size: 6'1", 213 Pounds
Projected Round: 1-2
The Rams desperately need help up top, but this draft is deep at safety, so they won't allow themselves to be pressured into selecting one in the first round if they don’t feel comfortable doing so.
They need a hard-hitting safety to replace Quintin Mikell's superb run support, and Eric Reid certainly fits the bill.
Reid is an outstanding prospect who might slip due to the crowded crop of safeties. He’s a viable long-term replacement for Mikell at a fraction of the cost.
School: Georgia Bulldogs
Size: 6'0", 211 Pounds
Projected Round: 2-4
Reid is a solid second-round pickup, but the Rams are in need of two starting safeties, which makes Bacarri Rambo too intriguing to pass up in Round 3.
While Reid is a strong tackler, he's not necessarily known as a big playmaker. Rambo, with his 16 career interceptions, will even things out and rid the safety position of Craig Dahl Syndrome.
With two young, promising safeties added to the roster, the Rams would be awfully close to a top-10 defense in 2013.
School: Texas A&M Aggies
Position: Running Back
Size: 5'10", 220 Pounds
Projected Round: 3-5
Christine Michael was severely underutilized at Texas A&M and comes with some character red flags, but his well-balanced run style makes him a solid fit in St. Louis due to the departure of Steven Jackson.
Michael will likely begin his career as a role player, as St. Louis will be taking a running back-by-committee approach in 2013, but he has the potential to be an every-down back in the near future.
The Rams will want to give Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson every opportunity to succeed, but it would be a mild shocker if they don’t grab an insurance policy with a mid-round pick.
School: Missouri Tigers
Position: Outside Linebacker
Size: 6'1", 234 Pounds
Projected Round: 4-6
St. Louis cannot exit the draft without at least attempting to locate a starting-caliber linebacker. If the Rams are forced to wait until day three, Missouri's Zaviar Gooden is a solid value in the fourth or fifth round.
Gooden would compete with Sammy Brown and Jabara Williams for the starting spot opposite Jo-Lonn Dunbar, which gives the Rams a healthy dose of competition heading into training camp.
Also, it never hurts to take a hometown favorite out of Mizzou.
School: LSU Tigers
Position: Defensive Back
Size: 5'9", 186 Pounds
Projected Round: 5-7
Tyrann Mathieu has a long rapsheet of off-the-field misdeeds and lacks the prototypical size of starting NFL defensive back, but if he slips this far, it’ll be tough to pass on him.
Mathieu is a flat-out playmaker, and that's something that cannot be taught through coaching. Whether it's an interception or an explosive kick return, he's always making plays at critical moments.
With Mathieu and Janoris Jenkins in the same secondary, quarterbacks will think twice before airing it out. Those two can change the momentum of a game in the blink of an eye.
Also, Mathieu will be a candidate to replace Danny Amendola in the return game, which is something the Rams will keep in mind heading into the draft.
School: Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
Size: 6'5", 316 Pounds
Projected Round: 5-7
Seventh-round players are typically camp bodies who will struggle to make to team, so the Rams will likely target a small-school gem such as Jordan Mills.
If Mills is productive at camp and looks the part of a future starting right tackle, the Rams won't fret over Rodger Saffold being in the final year of his contract.