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St. Louis Rams have top draft picks to fill roster holes

Tuesday, April 24, 2012 | 8:15 p.m. CDT
St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher, left, talks with general manager Les Snead, center, and Rams executive vice president of football operations Kevin Demoff during NFL football minicamp on April 17 at the team's training facility in St. Louis.

ST. LOUIS — During his year away from the NFL, Jeff Fisher fulfilled a bucket list item by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

Now comes Fisher's best opportunity to clear the foothills in his latest uphill venture.

The St. Louis Rams have three of the first 39 picks in the draft thanks to the blockbuster deal they pulled off with the Redskins, who were so desperate to land quarterback Robert Griffin III that they gave up the sixth overall pick along with their second-rounder, in addition to first-round picks in 2013 and 2014. More picks means more chances to add talent to the threadbare roster of a Rams team that went 2-14.

Fisher saw some college games last year, but wasn't watching that closely. The past few months, he's put in a lot of time on draft preparation.

"One might think I'd have an edge, but I didn't really watch it," Fisher said Monday night in an interview with The Associated Press. "I got away and stayed away. So this is just like any draft from a preparation standpoint. You have to do the work."

Fisher was hired in mid-January and didn't fill out his staff until recently. Last week's voluntary minicamp was something of an inconvenience for Fisher and general manager Les Snead, forced to multitask while prepping for the draft that begins Thursday night.

Now the board is stacked, and it's down to fine-tuning. That, and figuring out what to do with the No. 6 pick.

Running back Steven Jackson votes for a wide receiver. The two-time Pro Bowler believes the Rams need to fill a longstanding need and take Oklahoma State University wide receiver Justin Blackmon, whom he described as an "unbelievable talent," as a complement to quarterback Sam Bradford.

"You know what, that doesn't surprise me," Fisher said. "He's coming from the perspective of helping Sam, and it's something that would help his position, too."

The 6-1, 215-pound Blackmon had 121 catches for 18 touchdowns his senior season, with a so-so 12.6-yard per catch average the lone knock.

Even with slot receiver Danny Amendola back from a dislocated elbow that cost him most of last season and Steve Smith aboard with a low-risk free agent deal, the Rams are thin at wide receiver.

Jackson had 1,000 yards rushing for the seventh straight season, but often carried the offense on his back. A combination of injury and lack of a supporting cast led to a sophomore slump for Bradford, the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2010.

The defense just missed a franchise worst for yards allowed, and was iffy beyond end Chris Long and middle linebacker James Laurinaitis. Four of the top five cornerbacks landed on injured reserve, including top cover man Ron Bartell, sidelined in the opener and released in the offseason.

A lack of depth was evident on special teams that were horrid.

"I think wide receiver is going to be a position we're going to look at," Fisher said. "Along with a lot of other positions."

The last time the Rams had the sixth pick in 1999, they took Torry Holt (seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver), and opting for Blackmon wouldn't be out of character in a league that emphasizes prolific scoring. Last year, A.J. Green went to the Bengals with the fourth overall pick and Atlanta took Julio Jones at No. 6 and both had big rookie seasons.

The Rams have won just 10 games the last three seasons, so they can use help all over. They've addressed some deficiencies in free agency with cornerback Cortland Finnegan, center Scott Wells and defensive tackle Kendall Langford signed to multiyear deals. Kellen Clemens was signed as Bradford's backup.

Fisher is keeping his options open. If Blackmon is gone, the Rams could take offensive lineman Matt Kalil, cornerback Morris Claiborne or running back Trent Richardson as a future replacement for Jackson. They could trade down for still more picks if there's a team willing to offer a nice price, and if they feel they can fill their needs with or without the sixth pick.

"Sometimes there's a deal you just can't pass up," Fisher said. So, it remains to be seen."

The Rams believe there's plenty of talent at the top of the draft, but Fisher expects to find potential starters the last two days, too.

"The more picks you have," he said, "the more chance you have of filling your roster and building for the future."


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