Regardless of the St. Louis Rams' eventual draft slot, it is certain they will be selecting in the top five once again, barring a trade down. St. Louis selected in the top two each from 2008 through 2010, drawing mixed results with those picks. This year, they selected Robert Quinn at number 14.
In 2008 the Rams chose Chris Long of Virginia at number two. Long has certainly blossomed.
His 12 sacks are amongst the league leaders this season.
Last year, Long led the NFL in quarterback pressures notching over 40 while collecting eight and a half sacks. This year, Long has a legitimate shot at the Pro Bowl. With four games remaining, attaining the rare accomplishment of fifteen or more sacks is possible.
It is all the more impressive considering the Rams are rarely playing with a lead. If St. Louis led more often, other teams would throw more, giving Long more chances to rush the passer.
In addition, Long doesn't have a Suh or Sapp pushing the pocket. Bottom line, he doesn't get as many opportunities or as much help as many of the other elite pass rushers get. And yet—he has reached the elite level as a pass rusher. His production speaks for itself.
The following year, St. Louis selected Jason Smith with the second selection.
Unfortunately for St. Louis and Smith, he has not played to the level that a franchise would desire of a number two overall pick. He has played inconsistently, particularly as a pass blocker, and has struggled to remain healthy.
At this point, his career could be in jeopardy. After landing on IR after yet another concussion, considerations of his long-term health are becoming more and more prevalent.
Thus far, it appears Smith is going to incur more concussions in his career than Pro Bowl berths.
Finally, the Rams chose Sam Bradford with the first overall pick in 2010. Bradford won the league's offensive rookie of the year, and was generally impressive considering the relative lack of talent surrounding him at wide receiver and a less-than-stellar offensive line.
However, Bradford has regressed in 2011.
To be fair, however, he had a very short time to learn and implement a brand new offensive scheme under new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
Furthermore, the Rams again failed to adequately address the need to land a game-changing playmaker at wide receiver either through the draft or free agency.
In addition, top wideout Danny Amendola went down for the year at the beginning of the season. Amendola was Bradford's safety valve, and, without him, that valve has sprung quite a leak.
Bradford will likely develop into at least a better-than-average starting quarterback in the coming years.
To get there, he will need to improve on working through his progressions as he tends to lock into his first target far too often. He also needs to attain a greater pocket presence, feeling the pressure and making reasonable reactions and adjustments thereafter, like a Ben Roethlisberger, for example.
Looking back over the last three drafts, it appears the Rams have a hit (Long), a miss (Smith), and a maybe,(Bradford), who will likely end up being a hit eventually.
What hasn't been a mixed bag is the salary cap implications of doing so: the Rams have a fortune of money tied up in these three players.
The rookie wage scale is team-friendly now with the new CBA, after being player-friendly before. The Rams will not endure a major cap hit selecting in the top five this year (or any thereafter), but are paying the price, literally, for having done so for three consecutive years (2008-2010).
Looking ahead to the Rams 2012 draft, St. Louis needs to solidify seven positions to help bolster and solidify the roster. It will be crucial, especially with the cap ramifications from the last three drafts coming into play, that St. Louis has a strong and productive draft.
The needs, from least to greatest, are as follows.