The Rams need a new quarterback.
Now, before you get all upset, thinking I'm getting ready to bust on Marc Bulger, I promise that's not what this is about. There will be plenty of time for that the rest of the season, when Bulger is throwing picks or holding onto the ball too long and taking a loss of seventeen yards.
In fact, I'll go so far as to say this about Marc Bulger: he's actually been pretty good lately. He was pretty good against Detroit, though Steven Jackson did the heavy lifting. Bulger was actually a little better than pretty good against New Orleans, though he did contribute to the collapse of that last gasp drive the Rams put together at the end of the game. He was pretty good this past Sunday, as well, putting up some fairly solid numbers against Arizona. (Of course, he did also fail when it came to crunch time again, doing absolutely nothing at the end of the game, when the Rams had the chance to tie it up, but we'll just kind of let that go, kay?)
No, I don't mean the Rams need to make a change at quarterback. What I mean is the Rams desperately need to figure out who their next quarterback is going to be, and that means the draft. You look at the Rams, and they aren't a good team yet, by any means, but you can see the outline of what a good Rams team might look like. What they need now is to find the guy who will pull all that together.
If the Rams want to get back to here, they're going to need to find someone special to call the plays.
What do I mean by the outline of what a good Rams team might look like, you ask? What I mean is this: the Rams are still thin on talent at a fair number of spots. However, there are a few players present right now who look likely to be cornerstone players for quite a while, and that's why I say the outline is there.
James Laurinaitis has to be tops among them, the sort of middle linebacker who could anchor the Rams' defense for the next decade. He's tough, smart, and he makes both the plays he should make and the occasional play he shouldn't. The wide receiver corps is both young and incredibly inexperienced, but there also just happens to be a ton of talent there. Donnie Avery looks to have turned around his early-season struggles, Brandon Gibson looks like he might just be the real thing, and while Danny Amendola may not have the best hands in the world or a ton of discipline in his routes just yet, he does have off-the-charts speed and elusiveness. I think he looks a bit like a slot receiver in the making, sort of a Wes Welker type weapon. Add in the fact Laurent Robinson was the Rams' most productive receiver early in the year before he got hurt, and the Rams appear to have a very talented group of players at wideout. There's always the chance any or all of those players might fail to continue developing, but the talent is undeniable.
Jason Smith may not be lighting the world on fire in his rookie campaign, but he looks like a productive player for years to come, with plenty of upside remaining. Oshiomogho Atogwe is one of the better safeties in the game, a takeaway just waiting to happen. I haven't even mentioned Steven Jackson yet; I think he pretty much goes without saying. There are probably still a couple high-quality seasons in him, at least. The Rams may not have a foundation yet, but they have the beginnings of a foundation.
Now next on the shopping list of players to find has to be the quarterback position. Even if Marc Bulger were still playing at the level he did earlier in his career, the fact is Bulger isn't getting any younger. He's taken an awful lot of abuse in his career thanks to both Mike Martz' slow-developing play madness and an offensive line which has had roughly the consistency and stopping power of swiss cheese the past few years. The Rams are trying to build something special, and getting a special quarterback is probably going to be their next big need.
So here's a quick rundown (hey, that's the name of the blog, isn't it?), of a few of the top quarterback prospects for the 2010 draft. Of course, it's always possible the Rams will try to grab a guy later in the draft, a la Tom Brady, or even try to develop a guy like Keith Null, who they took in the sixth round last year. Nonetheless, if the Rams want to get their next big quarterback, chances are they're going to need to use a pick somewhere near the top of the draft to get him. Luckily, seeing as how the Rams are almost guaranteed at this point to pick somewhere in the top five, the top guys should be available.
Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame
The Good: Clausen is the best pro-style quarterback in the draft, and there really isn't a ton of competition. He has the size (6'3", 215), arm strength, and football IQ to be an elite NFL quarterback. Clausen has outstanding throwing mechanics, with a remarkably quick and powerful release.
Clausen has been on the map since his teenage years, and has lived up to most of the hype. He also plays under center in a pro-set offense, so there won't be a huge learning curve for him to adjust to the professional game. He's also spent the better part of his career in a West Coast-style offense, which just happens to be the offense Pat Schurmur and the Rams run.
The Bad: Clausen isn't always the easiest individual to get along with, as he has been described as "abrasive" at times. His footwork has been sloppy in the past, but that has improved as time has gone on. Went to Notre Dame. (I can't stand Notre Dame.)
The Bottom Line: If Jimmy Clausen is available when the Rams go on the board in 2010, I think there's every likelihood they take him. He has all the tools necessary to play the quarterback position at an elite level, and shouldn't have nearly the learning curve of many of the spread QBs we've seen come out of the draft in recent years.
Sam Bradford, Oklahoma
The Good: Sam Bradford is a hell of a quarterback. He won the Heisman trophy last year, beating out both the number one overall pick in the draft, Matt Stafford, and the Chosen One, Tim Tebow. It wasn't a fluke, either, as Bradford's numbers were almost literally too good to believe.
Bradford doesn't have the rocket arm of a guy like Clausen, but he is probably the most accurate passer in the draft. When he was healthy, Bradford was a production monster, putting throw after throw on the money. He has good size at 6'4", with room to bulk up a bit more. His decision-making and awareness of the game around him are top-notch.
The Bad: Bradford is out for the season, and if there's one thing you don't want to hear about a guy whose arm strength was already just adequate, it's the words shoulder surgery. Even when he was healthy, Bradford rarely made those throws that just make your mouth drop open. He's played a fair amount under center in his career, but will require more time to adjust to a pro-set offense from the spread.
The Bottom Line: It's really simple with Bradford: in all likelihood, he just isn't healthy enough to take with a top five pick. There are just too many questions surrounding his shoulder. If it were some other sort of injury, the long-term upside would certainly outweigh the short-term risk, but when you're talking about a shoulder, the equation changes. Bradford could still very well end up with a good career in the NFL, but I just don't see him going near the top of the draft. (Of course, if the Rams don't go QB in the first round and Bradford is around later, that's a different situation entirely.)
Jake Locker, Washington
The Good: Locker is this year's helium guy; he came into the year a big, physical quarterback with questionable accuracy and pocket awareness, but has shown big improvement in both areas and has moved steadily up the ranks of potential QBs for 2010.
Locker has excellent size and is built more sturdily than either Clausen or Bradford, and is more of a threat to use his legs to make a play as well. He has solid mechanics and makes most of the throws a pro quarterback needs to already. He calls a good game, and is a strong leader. Has nice touch on his short throws.
The Bad: Despite his size, Locker has only average arm strength. He doesn't fit the ball into small windows as well as someone like Clausen due to a little less zip. Throwing downfield and outside the numbers are both areas where Locket struggles a bit, and while he's made a ton of progress, he still forces throws at times when the play just isn't there.
The Bottom Line: In a perfect world, Locker would probably return for his senior year and continue to establish himself as a truly elite QB. With the spectre of a possible rookie pay scale being established soon, though, there are several players who may come out a year earlier than they might otherwise, and Locker is high among them. He's big, strong, and does a nice job of extending plays by moving his feet, but still isn't really an elite passer.
Tim Tebow, Florida
The Good: Well, he's Tim Fucking Tebow, isn't he? How can you question that?
Seriously, though, there's plenty to like with Tebow, who is one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in the history of college football. He can make plays with both his arm and his legs, and has outstanding size as well. Tebow has the same sort of two-way ability of a player like Donovan McNabb or maybe even Michael Vick, though he lacks Vick's elusiveness. He's made some strides with his passing, as well, becoming more accurate and efficient since being seen as strictly a college option QB early in his career.
The Bad: Tebow still isn't a particularly natural passer, and does most of his damage by moving around the field and forcing the defense to account for him. He's much less effective dropping back out of the pocket; his raw arm strength is decent, but he rarely shows it in games. Part of that is questionable mechanics, as Tebow has an extremely long release and gets too much air under the ball. He can throw the deep ball, but lacks even the most basic touch on most throws. His footwork when passing is still horrendous.
The Bottom Line: Personally, I'm not a big believer (pun most definitely intended), in Tim Tebow. Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden both love him, though, so maybe I'm just missing something. In the end, though, I think Tim Tebow's best fit in the NFL is either as a player in a wildcat-type offense, sort of the Pat White route, or maybe if some team wants to bring back a true option offense. He'll almost certainly go in the top 15-20 picks, but I'm not real sure I would want the Rams to pop him in the top 5.
Ryan Mallett, Arkansas
The Good: Ryan Mallett just might have the strongest arm of any of the 2010 quarterbacks. Think Joe Flacco or Kyle Boller, one of those guys who can throw a ball 50 yards from their knees. He also happens to be the most impressive physical specimen, standing 6'7" and tipping the scales near 240 lbs.
Besides the ridiculous arm, Mallett also has the size and strength to escape from tackles, moving around the pocket and shedding defensive linemen. He could end up being a better pro quarterback than he's ever been in college, as his development curve is pointing in the right direction, to say the least. After transferring from Michigan to Arkansas and sitting out the 2008 season, Mallett has shown much greater maturity and touch in all facets of the game this season.
The Bad: Mallett has struggled with his accuracy in the past, and doesn't have great feet. While he moves fairly well in avoiding tackles, his mobility is not a strong point outside the pocket. Appears uncoordinated at times, largely due to his great height. Due to the fact he played backup at Michigan and sat out a year after transferring, Mallett has much less experience than many of the quarterbacks on this list.
The Bottom Line: Ryan Mallett is a monster. He's a huge man with a huge arm. That being said, he's still very raw compared to many of the other top QBs in next year's draft and would likely require more development time. His size and strength have garnered lots of comparisons to Ben Roethlisberger, but he simply doesn't have the kind of mobility Big Ben has. Regardless, there's every reason to believe he'll go some time in the first two rounds, and has a ton of upside down the line.
In the end, I think if Clausen is sitting there when the Rams pick next April, they snatch him up, and gladly. If he's gone, the picture becomes much hazier. None of the other top quarterbacks in the draft really jump out and scream top five pick. Bradford's future is uncertain due to his injuries, Locker's upside isn't that of an elite passer, Mallett has a long ways to go, and there are still plenty of questions about how well Tebow's game will translate to the next level.
If Jimmy Clausen is available, I think he's the next quarterback of the Rams. If not, I think they take a guy like Ndamukong Suh, the monster D Tackle out of Nebraska, or Eric Berry, the safety from Tennessee, then take their chances a guy like Mallett will be available later. Or, if all else fails, maybe Keith Null really is the guy.
A lot can change between now and April, but I have to say, looking ahead right now, I'm not sure this coming draft is going to do the Rams as much good as they need it to.