Just lose, and Rams picking first in draft
AP Sports Writer
ST. LOUIS (AP) – The last time the St. Louis Rams had the No. 1 pick of the draft, they traded up for the rights to select future seven-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle Orlando Pace.
A decade later they’re on the verge of getting a top pick they truly earned. Just lose one more time to the San Francisco 49ers in the finale Sunday, set a franchise record for futility at 1-15, and the lowly Rams will be on the clock for months instead of minutes.
It’s a spotlight they’ll try their best to avoid, even if it costs them a shot at Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh.
A victory Sunday that could hand the top pick to the Lions (2-13) for a second straight year if Detroit loses at home to Chicago isn’t wholly unlikely. The 49ers (7-8) shut out the Rams 35-0 in October, although it was only 7-0 at halftime. San Francisco has a six-game road losing streak and was a touchdown favorite against a team that’s lost by an average of 16 points, but has been a lot more competitive at home.
“Do I wish we didn’t have the first pick? Certainly,” general manager Billy Devaney said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Selfishly, I hope Detroit gets it. Either way, in reality if you’re picking one or two, it means you had a pretty crappy year.”
That was the case in 2008 with the Dolphins, who took offensive tackle Jake Long at No. 1. And with the Raiders in 2007 (quarterback JaMarcus Russell).
Only one team has had the No. 1 pick twice this decade, the Texans in 2002 (quarterback David Carr) and 2006 (defensive end Mario Williams). But this is the third straight year the Rams have come close.
Kevin Demoff, Rams vice president of football operations, said picking first rather than second would cost the Rams about $1 million per season for the life of the contract unless it’s a quarterback. Money considerations aside, coach Steve Spagnuolo wants to go out a winner and so do players.
Center Jason Brown wanted no part of a conversation about a loss Sunday being a plus for the franchise, saying “Next question.”
Whether it’s the first pick or the second, the Rams say it’s way too early to be in the predicting business. Demoff pointed out many scouts had Suh and Oklahoma’s Gerald McCoy “neck and neck” as the top defensive tackle in the nation before Suh’s dominant outing against Texas in the Big 12 championship game.
Demoff expects the gap between the players to close in the next few months, unless Suh dominates again at the Senior Bowl and the NFL combine.
“Handicapping the draft in December is one of the most futile exercises,” Demoff said. “Everything changes over four months.”
Devaney said the Rams haven’t even begun to put a draft board together and guessed they might have as many as five finalists for the top pick – if they don’t trade it away.
“I think it’s awesome there’s so much talk about the draft,” Devaney said. “Suh is what everybody says he is, he’s the real deal. But will there will be other real deals? Who knows?”
The Rams have plenty of experience at the top of the draft lately, going a sorry 6-41 since 2007 under three head coaches who each had his own method of judging talent. St. Louis picked second the last two seasons, taking Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith in April and Virginia defensive end Chris Long in 2008.
They believe they hit the mark with both players, even if it hasn’t helped the record yet.
“No one player can come in and change everything,” Long said. “Certainly not quickly, especially. It’s a team sport and we all have to just continue to try to get better and trust in the things that coach Spags is doing.”
Long has been the Rams’ best defensive lineman against the run most of the season and has lately stepped it up in the gaudier aspect of his position, pass rushing. He’s second on the team with five sacks, one more than his rookie season, and has come close countless other times with team-leading totals for quarterback hits (13) and quarterback pressures (7).
Devaney is completing his first season as GM, but had a say in Long’s selection. He said the decision was unanimous on the staff.
“He played well early on but wasn’t getting the sacks and that was the focus, and rightly so,” Devaney said. “He’s played the run outstanding all year and now his game has become complete.”
Smith returned to practice Wednesday after missing five games with a concussion, but is unlikely to play in the finale. Before the injury Nov. 22 at Arizona, Smith had established himself on a unit opening holes for Pro Bowl running back Steven Jackson.
“We had a little personality and things started to click for him,” Devaney said. “He’s going to be a heck of a player, and he showed everybody what he’s capable of.”