Rams trade up two spots to select draft's first running back

Sunday, April 25, 2004

ST. LOUIS -- Steven Jackson has the same agent as Marshall Faulk. Someday, the St. Louis Rams' first-round pick hopes to have Faulk's job as well.

The Rams traded up two slots Saturday, surrendering their fourth-round pick in this year's draft to Cincinnati, to get the 24th pick and take the Oregon State back. The 233-pound Jackson is the first offensive player taken in the first round by Rams' offensive-minded coach Mike Martz since 2000.

In the previous three years, they took five defensive players to shore up a unit that had been among the NFL's worst. During that time, the Rams' high-powered offense fell into the middle of the pack.

In the third round, the Rams chose Georgia Tech defensive end Tony Hargrove. St. Louis dealt its second-round pick to New Orleans last year in a trade for offensive tackle Kyle Turley.

Martz said the pick of Hargrove was not a reaction to defensive end Leonard Little's arrest early Saturday for driving while intoxicated in suburban St. Louis.

"This is a terrific value is what it is," Martz said. "It made it an easy pick."

Jackson ran for 1,690 yards and 15 touchdowns as a sophomore and 1,545 yards and 19 touchdowns as a junior before becoming the first Oregon State player to enter the NFL draft with eligibility remaining. He became a big receiving threat last season with 44 catches for a 10.7-yard average and three touchdowns.

The Rams had rated Jackson, 20, as a player who would have been picked much higher.

"As he started to get closer and closer we got more and more excited," Martz said. "It's the first time in all my years with the Rams that the whole draft room broke out in applause.

"It's something we all have goosebumps over, to add this type of talent to our offense."

Jackson's agent is Rocky Arceneaux of St. Louis, whose biggest client is Faulk. Jackson has met Faulk and Rams running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery and visited Rams Park, and said he felt immediately comfortable in that environment.

Faulk, 31, is entering his 11th season and is signed through 2008. Jackson is hoping to tap into that resource.

"I did want to go into a situation where I could go to a veteran and learn from him, learn some of the intangible things that some coaches just can't teach you," Jackson said. "Me playing behind Marshall is going to be great for me and my career."

And, a reporter added, then eventually you'll take his job?

Jackson broke into a long laugh, then stopped and said simply, "Yeah."

The Rams believe Jackson has the tools to take over the position after a period as the understudy.

"Of course when everyone describes their first-round draft pick, there's all these superlatives," Martz said. "But when you watch him on tape he's really a complete back for this league.

"All of the things that we ask a running back to do, you would have to grade this individual with high marks."

Jackson's arrival casts uncertainty on the future of backup Lamar Gordon, a third-round pick in 2002 who's had sporadic success while battling injuries. Last year Faulk led the Rams with 818 yards and 10 touchdowns, while Gordon had 298 yards and one touchdown.

"It adds a great deal of firepower to the offense," Martz said. "We've got a good situation at the running back position."

Jackson had expected to be picked earlier in the draft, and was perplexed when Detroit, Denver and Dallas all passed on him.

"It was a real long afternoon," Jackson said. "We didn't intend for it to be this long, but everything happens for a reason.

"I'm going to a team that's already established."

The 6-4, 274-pound Hargrove was academically ineligible last season, which would have been his junior year at Georgia Tech, and spent the year working full-time as a ramp agent for Delta Airlines and preparing for the draft. As a sophomore he had four sacks and 13 tackles for losses.

"The measurements were off the charts for a man his size," Martz said. "The tools are there. He's a high motor guy."

Hargrove was a quarterback and safety in high school, but added more than 50 pounds after being converted during his redshirt season.

"Oh man, that was crazy," Hargrove said. "I thought my days of football were done. My jaw hit the floor, I thought there was no way I'd make the transition."

The Rams had been poised to pick Virginia quarterback Matt Schaub with the 91st overall pick of the draft, but Atlanta took Schaub with the 90th pick.

After falling just short, Martz said quarterback wasn't necessarily a priority for the second day of the draft. The Rams have five selections left.

"It depends on who's there," Martz said. "Could we go through the draft and not select a quarterback? Sure."

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