Much has been made of the Los Angeles Rams' quarterback situation this offseason.
After a season in which the Rams finished at the bottom of the league in almost every major passing category, the questions about the position are certainly understandable.
That conversation has largely centered on the Rams' consistent votes of confidence for Case Keenum or constant speculation on potential additions from the outside. Every once in a while, Nick Foles' name is brought up, but that's usually more a discussion of his potential departure than his role in 2016.
However, there's still another quarterback on the roster who has been mostly ignored when talking about the future of the position. That's second-year signal-caller Sean Mannion, who was a third-round pick in 2015.
Despite playing in just one game and attempting only seven passes, Mannion still figures in the Rams' plans moving forward. At least, that seems to be the company line.
"I'm excited to watch him develop and move through that second year," coach Jeff Fisher said, "especially with some familiarity with the system. There were some minor system changes, but he's got a football brain, and processes it. Gets the ball out. He's changed his body a little bit."
The question with Mannion isn't whether the Rams see a future for him in the league so much as what that future is. Could he eventually earn the starting job? Do they see him as more of a long-term backup? Could he potentially be pushed out by a newcomer?
With such a small sample size to evaluate, there's really not an answer to any of those questions at this point. Relegated to the third quarterback spot most of the season, Mannion rarely got reps in practice. Even when Keenum was bouncing back from a concussion and the Rams found themselves in some meaningless late-season games, Mannion didn't get any opportunities save for the blowout loss to Cincinnati.
So most of what the Rams believe about Mannion's future is based on guesswork and projection. Still, they seem to like what they've seen when it comes to intangibles.
"I usually call rookies freshman, so if you're a sophomore, last year was your rookie year. Now you're a sophomore and you didn't play as much in your freshman year, especially with QB's, you're kind of a forgotten entity," general manager Les Snead said. "All the new guys that we're covering at the combine are the sexy new objects and they get talked about, but a guy like Sean Mannion is right now somewhere on this planet trying to get better. And he’s got a goal in mind to start in this league, and that's what he's doing while these guys are just getting started.
"You go back to what New England did with Tom Brady. There was a guy they drafted in the sixth round, and that's an awesome pick obviously, but if you look at the history of what they did with him and the courage it took to play him when they played him, especially in the first Super Bowl they won. I think the No. 1 thing is you kind of have to look and say 'We like this human being and we're going to have the courage to stick him in there and see what occurs after that.'"
The Rams didn't have that courage in Mannion's rookie season, which brings up a fair question about what they'll feel comfortable doing with him in season two. They haven't added any quarterbacks via free agency and the only look they'll have at Mannion before this month's NFL draft is strength and conditioning work he can do after the offseason program kicks off on April 18.
Mannion's understanding of a pro-style offense, combined with a strong arm, make him intriguing in the eyes of Fisher and Snead. But he has yet to have the chance to show it in a full game with something on the line.
Armed with three picks in the top 45, many believe the Rams will take a quarterback early in this year's draft -- perhaps as soon as their first pick at No. 15 overall. How they approach the draft should offer a better answer on just how bright they believe Mannion's future with the club is.
"He’s got a nice skillset, came from a pro-style offense," Snead said. "So doing what we do in the NFL doesn’t overwhelm him. He can read things pre-snap, he can get the ball out quickly, he’s less mobile than most but I think he was probably that way in high school, so he’s learned to get the ball out quick. The answer is, from freshman to sophomore year there’s a big jump in a lot of different things like experience, confidence; you’re not the new kid."