EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Their nationwide quarterback barnstorming tour now complete, St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead are all set to take a signal-caller in this week's NFL draft. Right?
"Well, there’s a possibility to take a quarterback or not take a quarterback," Fisher said. "It really depends on how things unfold. Aside from the top two, which I think everyone assumes will be gone, there are some players in this draft that can come in and help you. We’re very excited about what we’ve seen here the last week and a half with Nick [Foles] and what he’s done in the offseason program. I think we’re better at the position. We’re healthy right now and there’s some good things ahead as far as that’s concerned. It doesn’t mean to say there’s not a guy at a certain point that we like that we can pass up.”
At March's owners meetings, Fisher indicated that it was possible the Rams would take a quarterback this year but he still left plenty of wiggle room. But the speculation that the Rams were strong in the quarterback market went up a notch when Fisher, Snead and some of their staff set out to see the draft's top quarterbacks in person.
It was a tour of the country that included stops at Oregon to see Marcus Mariota, Oregon State for Sean Mannion, UCLA for Brett Hundley, Baylor for Bryce Petty, Florida State for Jameis Winston and Colorado State for Garrett Grayson.
At this point, there's little to no chance that Winston or Mariota will be available when the Rams pick at No. 10, though it's believed that Mariota is one of the top -- if not the top -- players on the Rams' board. A trade up for Mariota can't be entirely ruled out though it's unlikely the Rams would pay the freight to move up to No. 2 to secure him.
If Mariota managed to slip a few spots beyond that, the Rams could be in play. But the more likely scenario is that both quarterbacks will be long gone before the Rams make their pick.
“Number one, it’s due diligence," Snead said. "There’s over 8,000 pages of noise out there. But, when you run some mock draft scenarios and the quarterbacks are falling to you, you don’t want that to occur and you didn’t prepare for it. Obviously, if you did the percentages, it’s probably not occurring. But if you want to count it as doing your due diligence, that’s what it is.”
If the Rams do decide to address quarterback, it's a better bet that it happens on Day 2. Petty, Grayson and Mannion, perhaps in that order, could be possible options.
Petty brings perhaps the best arm and production of the trio but also comes with the biggest learning curve after never even spitting out a play in a huddle until January's Senior Bowl. Mannion looks the part but doesn't have the consistent production, and Grayson could be considered a happy medium coming from a more NFL-style offense but more average physical tools.
Having seen all three up close, Fisher said the Rams had the chance to get to know them a little deeper.
"The perception is, you fly into town, you work the player out and you leave, and that’s not necessarily the case," Fisher said. "We spend quality time with the player in the classroom. We get him on the board. It’s an extensive interview. We actually spend at least the same amount of time in the classroom as we do on the field. It’s extremely valuable.”
As valuable as it might be, it also means the Rams had a chance to see the warts of each potential pick. Winston and Mariota are widely regarded as the only two franchise quarterbacks in the draft. That doesn't mean that one taken after them won't succeed, just that the process of finding that one is more difficult.
For the Rams, the need for a possible long-term quarterback remains but they believe that Nick Foles could emerge as that guy and with needs at other positions, it doesn't make sense to shoehorn a quarterback into this year's draft simply for the sake of doing it.
For example, would a long-term project like Petty make more sense than a possible Day 1 starter like Duke guard Laken Tomlinson? Those are the kinds of questions the Rams will have to answer over the next three days and those answers might ultimately lead to the conclusion that the team once again puts drafting a quarterback on the back burner.