EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams could easily throw a curveball tonight with the No. 2 overall pick or in a trade down from that spot, but for now most signs point to the team using their early selection on one of the draft's top offensive tackles.
It's a group that includes Auburn's Greg Robinson, Texas A&M's Jake Matthews and Michigan's Taylor Lewan, perhaps in that order. All three are rated highly, and one NFC personnel director told me he believes all three players are better than any of the players that went in the tackle-heavy top five of the 2013 NFL draft.
Robinson has been openly compared to Hall of Famer Larry Allen. Matthews has, of course, been compared to his Hall of Fame father. Lewan has drawn comparisons to current Rams tackle and four-time Pro Bowler Jake Long. Heady company across the board, especially in the case of the first two.
So if you are the Rams and you are almost certain to have your choice from that trio at No. 2, how do you go about choosing which one is best?
For most of the pre-draft process, Matthews has been labeled the polished player with some upside, essentially making him the "safest" choice of the group. Robinson is considered the player with the highest ceiling, an athletic, dominant run blocker with the tools to become a good pass protector, but with the knowledge that he'll take some time in that area. Lewan is a sort of happy medium between the two, possessing outstanding athleticism for his size, and a certain amount of polish as well.
So let's operate under the assumption that the Rams have those tackles graded closely. How do they weigh upside versus polish?
“That discussion would be solved by looking at your depth chart and your roster, where your holes are, where your spots are," Fisher said. "You’ve got a guy that you want that, as you say, is more polished, I’m not putting words in your mouth but you would assume that he would come in and play sooner than the other one that may need a redshirt year, need some time. If you’ve got two guys that would vary a little bit, it would be really dependent on the need spot on your roster.”
In the case of the offensive line, the Rams could use someone capable of playing right away. Entering an important 2014 season, they need more than just contribution, they need production, especially from a potential No. 2 overall pick.
The Rams remain hopeful that Long will be ready to go at the start of the regular season, and they have Joe Barksdale available for the right tackle spot. Rodger Saffold will play one guard spot and Scott Wells is penciled in at center. That leaves a guard job open, but a top tackle could also play the right side to start.
Robinson and Matthews both project as capable of handling guard duties for a year or two before moving to tackle, similar to what Baltimore did with Jonathan Ogden. Lewan is a more natural tackle, but could also probably play inside if he had to.
From there, there are connections to be drawn to all of the tackles with the current Rams regime. Obviously, Fisher goes way back with Matthews, having coached his father in Houston/Tennessee. Robinson played with Fisher's son Trent at Auburn, which doubles as the alma mater of general manager Les Snead. Lewan maintains a close relationship with Long.
All three players figured to land in the top 10.
“I think there’s a chance," Fisher said. "I would assume that those three players, they’re going to be productive and somewhat high picks.”
In the ideal scenario, the Rams could trade down and land one of the tackles after picking up some extra picks. Robinson will likely be drafted first of the three, and if the Rams wanted Matthews they would probably not be able to go any lower than No. 6, though he could go as high as No. 4 to Cleveland. Lewan figures to linger a little longer and would be a solid prize if the Rams got a big offer to move further down.
Determining who the Rams favor here is a guessing game, but in the end, the Rams' preference for taking upside over the safe pick, as they did with the likes of Michael Brockers, Brian Quick and Janoris Jenkins, seems likely to win out leaving Robinson narrowly edging out his competition.