St. Louis Rams Combine Preview: Top Targets, Sleepers and Prospects to Watch

Steven Gerwel@Steve_GerFeatured Columnist IVFebruary 17, 2014

St. Louis Rams Combine Preview: Top Targets, Sleepers and Prospects to Watch

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    Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    We are just days away from the annual NFL Scouting Combine, and it's certainly an exciting time of year for draft nerds everywhere. 

    Not only does the combine showcase the top collegiate talent from across the country, but it also allows the media, scouts, agents and front-office personnel to network and share information—information that is eventually relayed to the fans. 

    Every mock draft on the web is pure speculation at this point, but after the media spends a week mingling with scouts and general managers, we'll get a better feel on where certain prospects stand. Mock drafts will be shuffled beyond recognition following the event. 

    For the St. Louis Rams, a team with two picks in the top 15 (No. 2, No. 13), the combine will help paint a picture of how those early picks will unfold. 

    If you are a Rams fan and happen to catch a portion of the combine—taking place February 22 through February 25 on the NFL Network—here are several prospects to keep an eye on. 

    These players either fit a need on St. Louis' roster, present good value or offer potential as a "sleeper pick."

DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina

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    Height: 6'5"

    Weight: 275 lbs

    Why Is He Interesting? 

    Regardless of the concerns surrounding Jadeveon Clowney's work ethic, there's no doubt that he's the very best football player in the entire class.

    His strength is off the charts, his ability to make plays is undeniable (regardless of his low sack total in 2013) and his speed is not of this world.

    You're more likely to look outside and see Halley's comet than a player of Clowney's size running a 40-yard dash in under 4.5 seconds.

    The Rams already have two remarkable defensive ends, and the debate rages on ad nauseam on whether St. Louis can afford a "luxury pick," but there's no denying Clowney is an unbelievable talent.

    If the Rams do select Clowney and you still have concerns regarding his motor, just remember that Jeff Fisher turned Albert Haynesworth—the anger-prone, women-fondling doughnut lover—into an elite defensive tackle, something Bill Belichick could not even accomplish.

    If Fisher can get Haynesworth to play, you better believe he'll have Clowney ready.

    What Do We Need to See from Him? 

    In order to silence the critics, Clowney will have to blow away the competition.

    Scouts are aware that Clowney is an elite athlete, so simply producing an above-average showing at the combine will not suffice. He needs to have a performance that will force even the most harsh critics to feel foolish for ever questioning him.

T Greg Robinson, Auburn

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    Height: 6'5"

    Weight: 320 lbs

    Why Is He Interesting? 

    Jake Long suffered a serious knee injury late in the season, according to ESPN, and there's no guarantee he'll be 100 percent healthy by Week 1.

    Even if Long is healthy and the Rams are able to re-sign free agent Rodger Saffold, the team still needs a starting guard opposite Saffold.

    That makes Greg Robinson the answer to every one of St. Louis' offensive line concerns.

    He has the ability to start at left tackle Week 1 if Long is not healthy. If Long is in the lineup, Robinson will start his career at guard and eventually take over at left tackle in the near future.

    Robinson is the most impressive physical specimen on the offensive side of the ball from this class. His run blocking will launch Zac Stacy into the Pro Bowl, and he has the athleticism to match up with any defensive end in football.

    If the Rams turn in a card with Robinson's name on draft day, Stacy will officially be the happiest man on the planet.

    What Do We Need to See from Him?

    Due to Auburn's run-heavy approach on offensive, Robinson only saw limited time as a pass-blocker.

    Robinson needs to demonstrate impeccable footwork and impressive speed at the combine. If that happens, it's hard to see him falling out of the top five.

WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson

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    Height: 6'1"

    Weight: 205 lbs

    Why Is He Interesting? 

    The St. Louis offense features an electric playmaker (Tavon Austin), a deep-ball threat (Chris Givens) and a red-zone monster (Jared Cook). But the unit still needs a security blanket for Sam Bradford.

    Sammy Watkins has the smooth route running and sure hands of a true No. 1 receiver, as well as the breakaway speed to make big plays, which makes him an ideal target in Round 1.

    The Rams offense has been desperate for a No. 1 receiver since the departure of Torry Holt, so perhaps the best answer is to draft Holt's clone in Watkins.

    What Do We Need to See from Him? 

    We know Watkins has sure hands, speed and excellent route running. What the scouts still need to see is NFL-caliber strength.

    If he can dominate on the bench press and show up ripped and in the best shape of his life, it'll be hard for St. Louis to pass on him at No. 2 overall.

T Jake Matthews, Texas A&M

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    Height: 6'5"

    Weight: 305 lbs

    Why Is He Interesting? 

    The Rams would obviously prefer to have Long in the starting lineup, as he was an asset in 2013, but the team will not take any risks when it comes to protecting Bradford—if there's any doubt regarding Long's Week 1 status, St. Louis will draft a tackle.

    Whether that tackle comes in the first or seventh round remains to be seen, but the Rams will surely search for depth at some point in the draft.

    Jake Matthews was initially viewed as the top left tackle of this class. Robinson took the NCAA by storm and blew by Matthews in most mock drafts, but he's still considered one of the better players in the top 15.

    What Do We Need to See from Him? 

    Matthews needs to prove that he has more to offer than clean technique and name recognition. He needs to show scouts that he's in the same universe as Robinson athletically.

    Matching Robinson in 225-pound bench-press reps would be a good start. At the very least, it would force scouts to re-evaluate the notion that Robinson is the far superior athlete.

S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama

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    Height: 6'1"

    Weight: 208 lbs

    Why Is He Interesting? 

    Safety is arguably St. Louis' No. 1 roster need this offseason, and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is viewed as the top safety of the class, so this pick would make total sense.

    What Do We Need to See from Him? 

    Clinton-Dix is a reliable tackler and will boost St. Louis' run defense, but he must show scouts that he's capable of covering NFL receivers.

    If Clinton-Dix can blow away the competition at the combine, he'll be locked in as a top-15 pick.

CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State

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    Michael Thomas/Associated Press

    Height: 6'0"

    Weight: 200 lbs

    Why Is He Interesting? 

    The Rams will likely cut Cortland Finnegan at some point to save money against the salary cap. The team has two solid corners in Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson, but two corners is not enough in today's NFL.

    The Rams need another top-notch corner capable of winning the starting job or, at the very least, someone who can earn frequent playing time as the No. 3 corner.

    Brandon McGee did not have a promising rookie year. The thought of McGee as the No. 3 corner in 2014 is beyond troubling for Rams fans.

    What Do We Need to See from Him? 

    Gilbert has stiff hips at times while in coverage. He was able to overcome this against college receivers, but the speedy NFL receivers could pose a problem.

    Gilbert needs to participate in every drill and must demonstrate fluid movement and proper recovery speed in coverage.

    He is already a borderline lock for the first round, but a solid showing at the combine will launch him into the top 15.

WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M

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    Height: 6'5"

    Weight: 225 lbs

    Why Is He Interesting? 

    Unlike Watkins, who is more Torry Holt than A.J. Green, Mike Evans is a physical player who can fight for the tough receptions.

    The Rams have been waiting years to find a tall, physical receiver to put on the outside, but the front office strikes out every time.

    Evans served as Johnny Manziel's security blanket and big-play threat during his time at Texas A&M. If he can form similar chemistry with Sam Bradford, the St. Louis offense will be much more potent as a result.

    What Do We Need to See from Him? 

    Speed, speed and more speed.

    Evans excels in virtually every department and is exactly what the St. Louis offense needs, but the biggest concern is his straight-line speed.

    If Evans clocks over 4.65 seconds in the 40-yard dash, his stock will plummet. If he can get a hair under 4.6 seconds, he'll be on St. Louis' radar.

S Calvin Pryor, Louisville

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    Garry Jones/Associated Press

    Height: 6'2"

    Weight: 208 lbs

    Why Is He Interesting? 

    Calvin Pryor not only fills a major roster need for St. Louis, but also is a physical player and fits the mold of a tough NFC West safety.

    Teaming up Pryor with T.J. McDonald up top will give St. Louis a frightening safety duo capable of intimidating receivers crossing over the middle.

    What Do We Need to See from Him? 

    Pryor plays a bit stiff at times. At the combine, scouts will want to verify that he's capable of sharp cuts and fluid movement.

    If he accomplishes a solid shuttle time and progresses through the drills with ease, he'll be a lock for the first round.

LB Khalil Mack, Buffalo

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    Height: 6'3"

    Weight: 248 lbs

    Why Is He Interesting? 

    Khalil Mack is possibly the most impressive defensive prospect from this class not named Clowney.

    The Rams have two solid linebackers in James Laurinaitis and Alec Ogletree, so spending a first-round pick on a part-time player is a bit extreme, but it's very possible that Mack will be the best player available at No. 13 overall.

    If Mack excels at linebacker during his first two years in the league, he could serve as an eventual replacement for Laurinaitis. Mack is a better athlete than Laurinaitis and would be an upgrade if he pans out.

    What Do We Need to See from Him? 

    The Rams do not want to spend a first-round pick on a project. Mack supposedly has the ability to play either defensive end or linebacker, but St. Louis will want to confirm that he can comfortably play either position in the NFL.

    Mack is an impressive player, but it's possible he's not compatible with St. Louis' scheme. If he can prove otherwise, he'll be a potential target at No. 13.

QB Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois

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    G.M. ANDREWS/Associated Press

    Height: 6'3"

    Weight: 222 lbs

    Why Is He Interesting? 

    Jimmy Garoppolo has the ability to be the best passer from this weak class of quarterbacks, and he can likely be had in the third or fourth round.

    Garoppolo is more appealing than Kellen Clemens as an emergency replacement for Bradford, and he provides St. Louis with a potential long-term answer at quarterback in case Bradford struggles again in 2014.

    Garoppolo has an arm that makes offensive coordinators salivate. He passed for over 5,000 yards and 53 touchdowns as a senior for Eastern Illinois—the third-most single-season touchdowns in FBS history—and can take over a football game with his arm.

    Drafting Garoppolo would give St. Louis a reliable project at quarterback with monster potential. Even if Bradford excels and the Rams have no use for Garoppolo, he can be traded several years down the road for a profit.

    What Do We Need to See from Him? 

    Garoppolo needs to throw at the combine and assure scouts that he's capable of tossing an NFL-caliber deep ball.

    Also, he needs to excel in the interviews. If he's going to be the face of a franchise someday, he'll need to show scouts that he possesses football smarts and has a level head on his shoulders.

    Steven Gerwel is the longest-tenured Rams Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report and serves as the Rams' game-day correspondent. You can find more of Gerwel's work by visiting his writer profile or by following him on Twitter.