We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – the St. Louis Rams have complete and total control over how the first half of the 2012 NFL Draft will look.
Heading into draft day, the Rams will need to choose between keeping their No. 2 pick or trading it down. You could easily justify either of those options, but the road not taken will also ultimately have serious ramifications for the franchise going forward. If the powers that be running the Rams decide to stick with their selection, then the question becomes: Justin Blackmon or Matt Kalil?
Blackmon is hands down the best wide receiver in a draft that doesn’t have much in the way of top-tier receiver talent. Kalil is hands down the best tackle in a draft has some, but not a lot in the way of top-tier offensive line talent. Regardless of what St. Louis does (in terms of picking Blackmon or Kalil), they’ll still end up going some ways in accomplishing their primary offseason offensive objective of getting Sam Bradford some help.
If the Rams decide to trade down then they will shake up how the entire first round of this draft will look. The obvious question if they trade down is: who do they trade with? The general assumption going into draft day is that Baylor superstar Robert Griffin III will not last past the Cleveland Browns’ fourth pick. With that in mind, if they want RGIII, either the Washington Redskins or Miami Dolphins have to try to leapfrog the Browns and swap picks with the Rams. Or, in theory, the Browns could preemptively strike against that by trading with the Rams themselves.
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Aside from the St. Louis-caused drama, the other early first round storyline to watch is what happens to Alabama’s Trent Richardson and Dre Kirkpatrick.
Richardson’s stock is questionable at this point in time not because of concerns about his talent or character, but rather because of how cold GMs are on selecting running backs high. On paper, Richardson is the ideal draft pick and will likely provide an offensive boost to any team that gets him. Unfortunately, there is a very anti-investing in running backs sentiment that's prevalent in the league right now, and Richardson will just happen to be the first youngster to suffer because of it.
Kirkpatrick’s stock is falling because he was caught with weed. Some are trying to suggest that this will cause him to dip low in the first round. It won’t. He’s the second corner available, and he’ll be sought after accordingly.
The final thing to keep an eye on is what happens to the small selection of talented offensive line players that will be available in the first half of the first round, and the bevy of pass rushers that improved their stock by virtue of their Senior Bowl showings. These players will ultimately play a large role in the proceedings (literally) and set the tone for how the rest of the draft will look.
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With all that in mind, here is how we foresee the first fifteen picks turning out: