By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Friday, Dec. 14 2007

With a 3-10 record and Green Bay (11-2) and Pittsburgh (9-4) on tap over the
next six days, the Rams are almost assured of a top 10 pick in the 2008 draft.
If the draft were held today, St. Louis would have the No. 3 pick.

The Rams haven't drafted in the top 10 since 1999, when wide receiver Torry
Holt was taken No. 6 overall. It looks as if the Rams will be in a similar
neighborhood come April. So while this season winds down, the preparation for
the draft and free agency period is ramping up at Rams Park.

"We're pretty much in the phase of stacking the top 100 (college) players,"
coach Scott Linehan said, speaking of the Rams' scouting and personnel
department.

It's an incomplete list until the underclassmen come out, a process that won't
be complete for several weeks. Even in the midst of preparing for each week's
game, there are times when Linehan has thought about the team's needs in 2008.
Not that he has a player, or even position, clearly in mind when it comes to
the team's first-round pick.

"Right now, it's hard to say because we have so many guys out," Linehan said.
"We need everything. We needed a quarterback last week. Really."

When you're drafting that high, Linehan is a firm believer in selecting for
value, regardless of need or position.

"When you start talking about that pick, you've really got to put aside need,"
Linehan said. "In that case, you've just got to take the best guy. Regardless
of where you think you've got a guy coming back. You can't have enough
difference makers. You're talking about true blue-chip players."

Using that logic, even with Steven Jackson on the roster, the Rams presumably
would find it hard to pass on Arkansas running back Darren McFadden, who is
expected to turn pro after the Cotton Bowl.

Some scouts think McFadden could be the best prospect in the draft.

"I think he's better than the guy that Minnesota got last year," said Tom
Marino, a longtime NFL scout now working as lead NFL analyst for Scout.com.
"He's bigger; he's more explosive."

Marino was referring to Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who was taken No.
7 overall last season.

Besides McFadden, other potential top 10 picks next April include defensive
tackles Glenn Dorsey of LSU and Sedrick Ellis of Southern California;
linebackers Keith Rivers of Southern California, Dan Connor of Penn State and
James Laurinaitis of Ohio State; quarterbacks Matt Ryan of Boston College and
Brian Brohm of Louisville; offensive tackle Jake Long of Michigan; and
defensive end Chris Long of Virginia.

Of the group, only McFadden and Laurinaitis are underclassmen. More
underclassmen figure to work their way into the top 10. And any draft rankings
in December are likely to change perhaps dramatically over the course of
the bowl season, the college all-star games, the NFL Scouting Combine, the
campus pro days and the pre-draft visits.

For example, last year at about this time, Michigan defensive tackle Alan
Branch was in everyone's top five. He ended up going to Arizona with the first
pick of the second round.

It seems unlikely that players such as Dorsey, or both the Longs, will slide
out of the top 10. Dorsey has won the Nagurski Award as the nation's top
defensive player, plus the Outland and Lombardi awards for top line play. He is
the Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year and will be playing in
the BCS title game in less than four weeks.

After apparently hitting on defensive tackles Adam Carriker and Clifton Ryan in
the 2007 draft, the Rams would seem to have greater needs at other positions.
It could be at defensive end, with James Hall turning 31 in February and
Leonard Little, 33, coming off toe surgery next year. If that's the case, Chris
Long could be a consideration.

"He flies around, he's an intimidator, he's tough as a $2 steak," Marino said.

The son of Hall of Famer Howie Long, Chris Long was the Atlantic Coast
Conference defensive player of the year. Long's not as big or strong as
Carriker, but like Carriker, his ideal position might be as an end in a 3-4
scheme. Although not a game-changing pass rusher, Long did register 14 sacks
this season at Virginia.

Michigan's Jake Long is the front-runner to be the first offensive lineman
drafted. He might be a strong consideration for the Rams if they have concerns
about Orlando Pace's viability as a starter following his second consecutive
season-ending injury. Even if Pace is fine, the Rams still need a third tackle.
But if that's the case, do you invest in a top 10 or top five pick in someone
who wouldn't be a starter right away?

These are all considerations the Rams must work through between now and April.
No matter which player the Rams end up taking, Linehan wants him to have an
instant impact.

"You're going to be able to take a player that's a pretty high-profile player,"
Linehan said. "You don't want to miss on them."

Of the five top 10 picks the Rams have had since the move to St. Louis, only
running back Lawrence Phillips was a bust. They hit on Pace, Holt and defensive
ends Kevin Carter and Grant Wistrom.