10 NFL Combine Prospects That the Rams Must Closely Watch

Steven Gerwel@Steve_GerFeatured Columnist IVFebruary 20, 2013

10 NFL Combine Prospects That the Rams Must Closely Watch

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    With the annual NFL Scouting Combine kicking off in Indianapolis this week, every pro scout is flocking to the Midwest to get a glance at the top college players in the country. 

    The St. Louis Rams will likely be represented by Jeff Fisher, general manager Les Snead, along with vice president Kevin Demoff and a number of scouts. 

    The St. Louis brain trust will record measurements, observe drills and get to know a number of players on a personal level with in-depth interviews. 

    While the combine won't influence St. Louis' draft picks as much as the actual game film, it's still a golden opportunity to gather information and get comfortable with the 2013 class, which will help the Rams make the right decisions on draft day. 

    And while the Rams are still far from any definite decisions, here are 10 players that will be under close observation. 

RB Eddie Lacy, Alabama

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    School: Alabama Crimson Tide

    Position: Running Back

    Height: 6'1"

    Weight: 220 Pounds

    2012 Stats: 6.5 YPC, 1,322 Yards, 17 Touchdowns 

    Projected Round: 1-2

    It's unlikely that the Rams would be excited about spending a high pick on a running back, especially since they selected Isaiah Pead in the second round a year ago, but the possible departure of Steven Jackson makes it a possibility. 

    Youngsters Daryl Richardson and Pead are too small to carry the bulk of the run game, which means the Rams are in the market for a bruising back who can muscle through tacklers and move the chains. 

    Eddie Lacy fits that description. He runs downhill like a 220-pound bowling ball and is a handful for opposing defenses, especially in the fourth quarter when the hits begin to add up. 

    The Rams won't be watching Lacy's 40-yard dash time, unless it's unusually awful, but instead they'll focus on his weight lifting and personality. 

    If the Rams do lose Jackson to another team, Lacy is a great option as a long-term replacement. 

WR Keenan Allen, California

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    School: California Golden Bears

    Position: Wide Receiver

    Height: 6'3"

    Weight: 210 Pounds

    2012 Stats: 61 Receptions, 737 Yards, 6 Touchdowns 

    Projected Round: 1

    The Rams have been devoid of wide receiver talent for years and they need top-notch players at the position or else the offense will never take off. 

    The mid- to late-round receivers won't offer the offense anything new. They have enough mediocrity at the position to last a lifetime. Only elite talent will help them at this point. 

    With that in mind, the Rams will look to spend a premier pick on a receiver, or they won't draft one at all. 

    The 2013 class doesn't offer any jaw-dropping prospects at the position, but Keenan Allen is as good as anyone from this class. 

    With a great size and speed combination, Allen will not make it out of the first round. 

    As a result, the Rams will have to keep a close eye on him at the combine to ensure that he's the receiver they need. 

    If not, they'd be better off being patient and holding out another year. Although, that's a painful strategy to sell to the fans. 

TE Zach Ertz, Stanford

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    School: Stanford Cardinal

    Position: Tight End

    Height: 6'6"

    Weight: 252 Pounds

    2012 Stats: 69 Receptions, 898 Yards, 6 Touchdowns 

    Projected Round: 1-2

    While there are no truly top-notch receivers from this class, the Rams might be able to dissolve their offensive woes with an elite tight end.

    In other words, if Calvin Johnson is not an option, then Rob Gronkowski is a hell of a consolation prize to feature in your aerial attack. 

    Obviously, it's too early to call Zach Ertz a Gronkowski-caliber player, but he has that potential.

    If the Rams see game-changing potential from Ertz in his game film and combine performance, they'd be wise to pull the trigger.  

G Chance Warmack, Alabama

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    School: Alabama Crimson Tide

    Position: Guard

    Height: 6'3"

    Weight: 320 Pounds

    2012 Stats: Started 14 Games

    Projected Round: 1

    The Rams need more guts on their offensive front and quarterback Sam Bradford needs better protection, which is why Chance Warmack makes sense. 

    Warmack is an enforcer up front and has the necessary elite skills to keep Bradford's backside clean for an entire game. 

    Not only would Warmack be a considerable upgrade at left guard, but his presence would significantly elevate the play of Rodger Saffold, which makes this potential pickup somewhat of a two-for-one deal. 

S Kenny Vaccaro, Texas

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    School: Texas Longhorns

    Position: Safety

    Height: 6'1"

    Weight: 218 Pounds

    2012 Stats: 91 Tackles, 2 Interceptions  

    Projected Round: 1

    The Rams will cut Quintin Mikell for money reasons and Craig Dahl is a free agent (not that they really care), which means circumstances are basically forcing the Rams to draft a safety early on. 

    Kenny Vaccaro will look to establish himself as the top safety of the class this week, and the Rams will give him a very long look at No. 16 overall if they're impressed. 

    But even if Vaccaro is the best safety, the Rams are not going to handcuff themselves and pick a safety with their top pick if he's not truly worth it.

    It's a deep safety class, so they'll keep Vaccaro under close observation until they're certain he's worth a high pick. 

T Lane Johnson, Oklahoma

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    School: Oklahoma Sooners

    Position: Tackle

    Height: 6'6"

    Weight: 302 Pounds

    2012 Stats: Started 11 Games 

    Projected Round: 1-2

    Lane Johnson is a quarterback who was converted into a tight end and was most recently converted into a tackle.

    Rams fans have jokingly referred to Johnson as the 2013 version of Jason Smith, who was another Big 12 tackle that converted from the tight end position and was drafted by St. Louis at No. 2 overall in 2009.

    Though the comparison is only half serious, it's enough to scare St. Louis fans to death considering Smith was a colossal bust.

    Although, there's another tackle who converted from the tight end position and he turned out all right. His name is Joe Staley. 

    If Fisher and the Rams are interested in drafting a lineman early on, they will do their due diligence and determine if Johnson is a Staley, or just another Smith.

DT Sheldon Richardson, Missouri

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    School: Missouri Tigers

    Position: Defensive Tackle

    Height: 6'4"

    Weight: 295 Pounds

    2012 Stats: 4 Sacks, 10.5 Tackles for a Loss

    Projected Round: 1

    Sheldon Richardson has been widely pegged as a 3-4 lineman, but that doesn't necessarily mean he won't be considered for St. Louis' 4-3 system. 

    Fisher and the defensive coaches are likely less concerned about technicalities and more concerned about getting a player who can punch someone in the damn mouth and make a play in the backfield. 

    By all accounts, Sheldon Richardson fits that description. 

    The Rams signed Kendall Langford to a four-year deal last March, which might lead some to believe that the defensive tackle position is locked up, but Richardson will need some time to adjust after just one full season of college and he should be entering his prime by the time Langford's contract is up. 

    Richardson is a physical beast and will look to flex his muscles at the combine, but due to his character concerns, the interview room is where he really needs to excel. 

RB Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina

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    School: South Carolina Gamecocks 

    Position: Running Back

    Height: 6'0"

    Weight: 218 Pounds

    2012 Stats: 4.6 YPC, 662 Yards, 11 Touchdowns 

    Projected Round: 2-5

    Marcus Lattimore was recently an elite running back in college football and was frequently mentioned in the same breath as Trent Richardson, but injuries in back-to-back seasons have devastated him. 

    His gruesome 2012 knee injury makes his 2013 status questionable, which means his draft stock is wildly unpredictable. But he would still be a good investment if the price if right. 

    Lattimore won't participate in the combine drills, but the Rams will certainly check on his medical status and hopefully grant him an interview. 

    If Lattimore still needs a year or two before he's 100 percent but only costs a fourth- or fifth-round pick, he could be a perfect long-term replacement for Jackson. 

    The Rams could extend Jackson to a two-year deal, and when he's out the door they'd be replacing him with a truly elite talent without skipping a beat. 

G/C/T Barrett Jones, Alabama

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    School: Alabama Crimson Tide

    Position: Guard/Center/Tackle

    Height: 6'5"

    Weight: 302 Pounds

    2012 Stats: Started 14 Games

    Projected Round: 1-2

    Coach Fisher loves for his offensive linemen to have versatility, and there's not a lineman in the draft more flexible than Barrett Jones. 

    If the Rams pass on Warmack in the first round, Jones can likely be had for a second-round pick and could instantly start at left guard or right tackle. 

    Not only would they be getting an immediate starter and a major upgrade, but Jones would also be the backup center behind 32-year-old Scott Wells, who missed nine starts in 2012. 

    Jones injured his foot in the BCS championship game (according to ESPN), which is something the Rams will check on. Other than that, they'll observe his strength exercises and review his game film. 

WR Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee

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    School: Tennessee Volunteers

    Position: Wide Receiver

    Height: 6'1"

    Weight: 220 Pounds

    2012 Stats: 1,086 Yards From Scrimmage, 10 Touchdowns

    Projected Round: 1

    The Rams needed playmakers on defense a year ago, so they selected the most electric defensive rookie in Janoris Jenkins. 

    Now, the Rams need the same swagger on offense, and no receiver is more explosive with the football than Cordarrelle Patterson. 

    Patterson can line up outside, inside, in the backfield and he can return kicks and punts as good as anyone from this class. 

    He's an all-around threat and would provide the anemic Rams offense with a spark they haven't felt in years.

    Patterson's 40-yard dash time will be key, as anything above a 4.45 would be disappointing. But as long as he nails his 40 time and runs crisp routes, he'll be a combine standout.