By Jim Thomas

Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro breaks through TCU's protection to sack the quarterback on

First round • Rams select at Nos. 16 and 22

The NFL draft is upon us. Almost.

“A lot of hard work goes into this,” Rams general manager Les Snead said at Monday’s pre-draft news conference. “This week’s all about dotting some I’s, crossing some T’s, still talking about scenarios.”

And talking and talking, about scenario after scenario. The Rams are used to picking much higher than No. 16 overall. They usually don’t have to wait very long to make their selection, and not that much happens in front of them.

That’s not the case today. Barring the unlikely possibility of a trade up, the Rams can do nothing but sit and wait until about 9 p.m. or so while the first 15 selections are made.

“You try to anticipate what’s going to happen ahead of you,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “There’s no way that you’re going to be entirely correct. But we go through the different scenarios. That’s the process this week, is you go through and watch 15 guys come off the board and look at your options, at whoever’s left, and then you go from there.”

There are hundreds of permutations, and all it takes is one unexpected, or just different, move to trigger them. Just a few examples from a Rams perspective:

• Will zero, one or two quarterbacks go in the top 15?

• How many 3-4 defensive ends will be taken in that span?

• What about Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert, the best tight end in the draft? Will he go in the top 15, or later?

And after the Rams make their pick at No. 16, they must turn around and select again six picks later at No. 22 overall. That’s the pick they acquired from Washington in the so-called “RGIII” trade, which led to the Redskins taking quarterback Robert Griffin III at No. 2 overall last year.

Complicating matters for the Rams —and everyone else — is the simple fact that this looks to be one of the most unpredictable drafts in memory. It’s possible there could be no skill position players taken in the top 10. It’s also possible there could be no running backs taken in the first round for the first time in nearly a half-century.

“It’s hard to predict, but we have a good feel for it and we feel like we’ve got a good board right now,” Fisher said. “We have a number of players that we think can help us there (at No. 16).”

That was certainly the case in the annual Post-Dispatch writers’ mock draft.

In this year’s mock, the No. 1 wide receiver in the draft, West Virginia’s Tavon Austin, was not available at No. 16. He went to the New York Jets at No. 9.

Even minus Austin, there was an impressive list of players available to the Rams at No. 16: offensive guard Jonathan Cooper of North Carolina; defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson of Missouri; safety Kenny Vaccaro of Texas; linebacker Alec Ogletree of Georgia; offensive tackle D.J. Fluker of Alabama; running back Eddie Lacy of Alabama; and wide receiver Cordarelle Patterson of Tennessee.

That’s so many prospects that the Rams would be guaranteed of getting any two of those seven in picking at No. 16 and No. 22.

The Rams have high grades on Cooper and Richardson. But it’s difficult to see the Rams expending a high pick on Cooper. (Besides, when the “real” picks are made tonight, Cooper’s not expected to be there.)

At guard the Rams already have veteran starter Harvey Dahl; promising second-year man Rokevious Watkins; Shelley Smith, who played decently in six starts in 2012; and Chris Williams.

Williams recently was re-signed to a one-year, $1.376 million deal that includes a signing bonus of $451,000. That’s not the kind of money you pay to a roster-filler. It’s the kind of money you pay to someone you think has the potential to start, especially when you consider the deal includes playing-time incentives that could add nearly an additional $1 million to the deal.

As with Cooper, Richardson isn’t expected to be there tonight when the Rams pick at 16. But he would truly be more of luxury pick for the Rams with so many more pressing needs elsewhere.

So our Rams pick at 16 is Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro in a case of value meeting need. With only three safeties on the current roster, two of which were undrafted rookies a year ago and barely played, the need is obvious.

As for value, the Rams at one point had Vaccaro rated as the top safety on their board, followed by Florida International’s Jonathan Cyprien and Georgia Southern’s J.J. Wilcox. Whether those ratings have been tweaked over the final couple of weeks is uncertain.

At No. 22, the Post-Dispatch pick is Alabama running back Eddie Lacy. Fisher likes big backs, and the Rams need one now that Steven Jackson is gone. What’s unknown is how the Rams feel about Wisconsin’s Montee Ball in particular, but also Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell.

If they are confident they can get one or both in the second round, and they like them well enough, the Rams could pass on Lacy in Round 1.

But with Vaccaro and Lacy the picks in Round 1, the obvious question becomes: What about wide receiver? There was a time when the Rams’ two highest-rated wideouts were Austin and Keenan Allen, according to league sources. But all indications are that Austin will be gone before the Rams pick. And with a mindset that they want to get faster and more explosive on offense, how do the Rams feel about Allen’s 4.7 times in the 40 at his workout?

Cordarrelle Patterson, the Tennessee wideout? Any time a player attends three schools after graduating from high school, it raises a red flag. Why all the stops? He didn’t interview well at the Combine, and there are some character concerns as well. Despite all of his talents, Patterson is so raw Brian Quick is almost polished by comparison.

So under this scenario, there is still good value in the second round at wide receiver, and that’s where the Rams would look to make their pick.