Mel Kiper Jr. has released his initial 2013 NFL mock draft for the first round, a good conversation starter as three-fourths of the division transitions into an offseason mindset.
I'll run through his early projections for each NFC West team, beginning with the St. Louis Rams, who have been a bit neglected around here while their division rivals have commanded headlines for various reasons.
Note that Kiper's mocks are available in full to Insider subscribers. I've pulled partial comments from Kiper for each NFC West projection and labeled them as his "give" before offering my "take" (give, take ... get it?).
16. St. Louis Rams: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
Kiper's give: "The Rams have used the draft and free agency to strengthen the defense almost everywhere over the past couple of years. ... Getting the best safety in the draft, a player who can both cover and step up against the run, will be one of those finishing touches."
Sando's take: This is the Rams' own pick in the first round. The team acquired the 22nd choice from Washington in the deal allowing the Redskins to draft Robert Griffin III. Having two picks in the first round gives the Rams great flexibility. It becomes easier for the team to select a player at a non-premium position. Safety is a non-premium position in most cases. Teams will generally value positions such as quarterback, offensive tackle and defensive line higher than safety. But a game-changer at the position carries excellent value. Seattle has no regrets after using the 14th choice of the 2010 draft for another Texas safety, Earl Thomas. The Rams lacked range at this position. They could use someone to pair with box safety Quintin Mikell. Vaccaro would be that player. Mikell and veteran corner Cortland Finnegan give the Rams strong leadership in their DB meeting room. Vaccaro could grow with young corner Janoris Jenkins.
22. St. Louis Rams: D.J. Fluker, T, Alabama
Kiper's give: "You can't be below average at tackle in the NFC West, dealing with San Francisco, Arizona and Seattle six times a season, and while the Rams stabilized a little bit in 2012 with Barry Richardson and Rodger Saffold bookending the offensive line, they should use one of their first-round picks to look for an upgrade."
Sando's take: Skeptics of this projection might note that the Rams showed good ability to coach up their linemen, perhaps diminishing the need to draft one early. They might also note that coach Jeff Fisher's teams haven't used early choices for offensive linemen, and the Rams have already invested immense capital in the position, with disappointing results. I still like Kiper's projection from a positional standpoint. The Rams used nine starters on their offensive line during the 2012 season. That was tied for fourth-most in the NFL. They will get guard Rokevious Watkins back from injury, but he is unproven. Veteran guard Harvey Dahl turns 32 in June and will be coming off biceps surgery. The Rams leaned on journeymen tackles Barry Richardson and Wayne Hunter this season. Neither should be on the roster next season if the Rams succeed in upgrading their line.