The St. Louis Rams keep rising in April. They chose 24th overall in the 2004 NFL draft (Steven Jackson), 19th overall in 2005 (Alex Barron), 15th in 2006 (Tye Hill) and 13th in 2007 (Adam Carriker). They picked second in both 2008 (Chris Long) and 2009 (Jason Smith) before landing the No. 1 choice this year.
Long made significant strides last season, but only one of those choices, Jackson, has caught a whiff of a Pro Bowl.
A new draft brings new hope and, perhaps, better odds for the Rams.
Draft analysts Steve Muench (Scouts Inc.) and Rob Rang (NFLdraftscout.com) helped sort through the possibilities.
Suh vs. McCoy
The St. Louis-era Rams have lots of practice selecting defensive tackles early. Carriker, Jimmy Kennedy (2003), Damione Lewis (2001) and Ryan Pickett (also 2001) were first-round defensive tackles for the Rams.
None met expectations, though Carriker still has a chance.
Suh (Nebraska) and McCoy (Oklahoma) appear more complete than any of them.
"I think they would have beaten out Matthew Stafford last year," Rang said. "They are phenomenal talents. They would deserve top one or two consideration in any draft class I have studied."
Neither Rang nor Muench -- nor anyone else I've consulted -- has strongly projected anything other than Suh or McCoy for the Rams at No. 1. Both give Suh the slightest edge.
"I think that Suh is stronger at the point of attack, more productive and I do think he will develop as a pass-rusher," Muench said. "He will be an every-down difference-maker at defensive tackle. He makes your entire defense better. McCoy does, too, but Suh is just a little bit better. To me, I think Suh is so dominant strength-wise at the point of attack that that is the difference for me. McCoy is more of an upfield guy."
The quarterback dilemma
The Rams need a quarterback, no question, and if Bradford is good enough to go in the top 10, shouldn't the Rams at least consider him as the top choice?
"I would have a very difficult time taking him first overall because of the shoulder problem and questions about the scheme he was in," Muench said. "I don’t think any of these quarterbacks is going to sniff the first overall pick. I would be surprised, to put it gently."
Rang thinks the Rams will seek a strong leader in their next franchise quarterback.
"With Bradford, I think there is a perception, fair or not, that he is not a rah-rah leader kind of guy," Rang said. "He is pretty quiet. I think for a guy like [Rams coach] Steve Spagnuolo -- a passionate coach, and his guys play hard for him -- I think he would want a guy who would want some innate leadership skills. That is a little bit of a question mark with Bradford."
This point resonated with me because the Rams' current quarterback, Marc Bulger, suffers from the same perceptions. I do think the Rams will want their next quarterback to show more obvious signs of strong leadership.
Although it's possible the Rams will fall for Bradford at the combine, general manager Billy Devaney has vowed the team won't dramatically adjust its thinking on players based on a few days in Indianapolis.
All signs point to one of the defensive tackles.
The Rams are big believers in building from the inside out. They spent last offseason rebuilding their offensive line. Rebuilding the defensive line is a logical next step, particularly with a defensive-minded head coach who wants to build a deep rotation up front.
"I hate the quarterback class and that is where the Rams have to look in free agency and see what they can get for at least a year," Muench said. "Next year’s class is shaping up to be a little better."
Trading the pick
This option usually sounds better in theory than reality.
Although the Jets traded into the fifth spot from No. 17 to snatch Mark Sanchez last year, that type of move is the exception, not the rule. Teams rarely trade into the top five picks from lower in the round.
Devaney shot down a recent report suggesting the Rams had spoken with the Bucs about a possible trade involving the first and third overall choices. It's unlikely, in my view, that the Rams would have serious discussions along those lines this early in the process.
But if another team did make a generous offer for the top pick, the Rams would be wise to at least give it some thought. Devaney and staff have shown an ability to find promising players early in the second round, first with receiver Donnie Avery (2008) and then with linebacker James Laurinaitis (2009).
I just don't foresee other teams rushing into the top spot for a defensive tackle, no matter how good Suh and McCoy might project to be.
"Just considering Spagnuolo's background on defense, they are far and away the favorite to take Suh or McCoy," Rang said. "These two guys are just that damn good. They deserve their consideration."