BY BILL COATS Thursday, April 21, 2011 12:00 am

The St. Louis Rams introduced quarterback Sam Bradford as their selection with the first pick in the 2010 NFL draft.

For the first time in four years, the Rams will have to cool their heels at the start of the NFL draft.

They have the 14th overall selection, and if those teams selecting ahead of them generally take the bulk of the 10 minutes permitted between picks in the first round, the Rams will have to wait about two hours before making theirs.

"In those two hours ... a lot of things can happen," coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "A lot of phone calls, guys go off the board. Every time one guy goes off the board, it changes something. Is there a guy there you still want? Is there four guys there you still want?"

Added general manager Billy Devaney, "There are more scenarios that we're playing with at 14. But we have a decent feel for the possibilities. We'll just be ready to react however it falls."

The Rams landed the 14th spot by improving to a 7-9 record last season after finishing a league-worst 1-15 in 2009.

Devaney hasn't ruled out a move up or down in the draft order. "But chances are, we're going to stay right at 14, and we'll be fine," he said. "We have a really good feeling that there will be a couple of guys there that we'll be thrilled to have. It's probably not worth our while to give up picks to make a move to go get a particular guy."

The Rams kicked off last year's draft, taking Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford with the No. 1 overall selection. The Rams were in the No. 2 slot the previous two years, nabbing Baylor tackle Jason Smith in 2009 and Virginia defensive end Chris Long in '08.

Those picks all were made within the opening 15 minutes of the draft.

Selecting so high those three years made it fairly easy on the Rams' talent evaluators. They could narrow their research to just a handful of players. Last year, for example, the Rams quickly zeroed in on Bradford, plus defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy.

"In this case, there's obviously a lot more than three possibilities. You've got to be ready for all sorts of different scenarios," Devaney said. "The last thing you want to happen is there's a couple of surprises and a guy is there at 14 that we didn't spend enough time researching and talking about.

"That's a cardinal sin. That's not allowed to happen."

Other than having more players on their board for consideration with their first-round pick, the Rams are sticking with their usual draft strategy.

"We're going to take the same approach we've taken in years past: pick the best player available," Devaney said. "And we're going to let our board drive us to that player, take us there."

"I'll bet you every scout, every coach, anybody that's looking at tape, I think the work is the same" throughout the NFL, Spagnuolo said. "Where it's different is the number of scenarios. When you're at two or three or top five, conventional wisdom says you only have to evaluate, or be ready for, five possible (players). Here, it's 14; it's a little bit different.

"And then you've got all the things that go with it: going up, going down, taking a player there."

The Rams will make educated guesses on what players the teams drafting ahead of them might target. That's a tricky prospect, Devaney conceded.

"You try to study and get a feel, some kind of idea," he said. "This is kind of a funky draft. Even at the top, there's all sorts of discussion going on. Who is the clear-cut No. 1 guy? Who's the No. 2?

"There's not as much clarity at the top, and that just trickles down. If it's so unsure up there, you can imagine what it's like when you get down to around 14. There's a lot of uncertainty."

Further muddying the water is pending free agency, delayed because of the lockout. Teams don't know when free agents will become available or even what the definition of a free agent will be once an agreement is reached between the owners and players.

"We're not really sure what rules we're going to be under, so you don't really know who's going to be in the pool of free agents," Spagnuolo said.

Still, Devaney said the free-agency questions have had "zero effect" on the Rams' draft preparation. "In the early rounds, you're going to take the best player," he said. "You're not going to reach for a need in the first or second round."

Focusing on specific needs early in the draft, Spagnuolo said, "can get you into trouble."

"Other than really quarterback or maybe (middle) linebacker, you start talking about the first round, we can improve our team anywhere," he added. "I think that's the right way to go about it. When you start reaching for guys, you're making first-rounders that really aren't."

Despite all the rampant speculation and unanswered questions, the draft is the most anticipated event of the offseason. That's especially true this year, when labor strife has dominated the NFL headlines.

"This is fun. This time of year, this is what these guys, and scouts all over the league, what they live for," Devaney said. "All those hours on the road and hotels and crappy food. And now we're a week before the draft.

"Everybody around the league is geeked right now.