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Rams spend early picks upgrading puny offense
ST. LOUIS -- Choosing Sam Bradford No. 1 over a pair of highly-touted defensive tackles set the tone for the St. Louis Rams. They concentrated on improving the NFL's puniest offense all three days.
Five of the first seven picks went to upgrading an attack that averaged just 10.9 points per game and mustered a touchdown or fewer in 13 games with Pro Bowl running back Steven Jackson the lone threat. The early exceptions: South Florida cornerback Jerome Murphy to begin the third round and end Hall Davis of Louisiana-Lafayette in the fifth.
Indiana offensive tackle Rodger Saffold (second round) adds protection for Bradford after allowing just one sack his senior season. Prolific Cincinnati wide receiver Mardy Gilyard (fourth) fortifies the team's weakest position. Tight ends Michael Hoomanawanui of Illinois and Fendi Onobun of Houston were taken in the fifth and sixth.
"Was it perfect?" Rams general manager Billy Devaney said. "No draft is ... but I feel great about how the three days went."
After four years as a reserve basketball player at Arizona, the 6-foot-6, 250-pound Onobun transferred to Houston for his first taste of organized football since the seventh grade, totaling two catches for 33 yards and a touchdown. But he impressed a pair of Rams assistants at a workout last week.
"We're taking a flyer, we know that," Devaney said. "It's a project in its truest sense. But if you get a starter from the fifth round on, you're kind of lucky, to be honest."
The Rams were 29th overall on both total offense and defense a year ago, and devoted several late picks to the defensive side of the ball. End Eugene Sims of West Texas A&M went in the sixth, and Alabama cornerback Marquis Johnson, South Florida end George Selvie and inside linebacker Josh Hull were taken in the seventh to wrap up an 11-player class.
"I cornered Billy earlier today," joked coach Steve Spagnuolo, a former defensive coordinator.
Sims gives the Rams consecutive sixth-rounders from Division II West Texas A&M, joining quarterback Keith Null.
The Rams opened Day 3 by taking a player undaunted by long odds in the NFL given he's already rebounded from life's hard knocks. Gilyard worked four part-time jobs after losing his scholarship at Cincinnati in 2006, occasionally living out of his car.
Undersized at 5-11 and 179 pounds, Gilyard caught 11 touchdown passes in each of his final two seasons and added four scores on kickoff returns. That dazzling production had the Rams so sure of the pick they were on the phone even before the draft officially began Saturday.
"The grade took us there, honestly," Devaney said. "If it happened to be an offensive tackle, if it happened to be an offensive guard and he had the grade that Gilyard had on him, I probably would have gotten my butt kicked, but we would have taken a guard."
"What Mardy has shown is he can go through a tough time and persevere," Spagnuolo said. "He obviously wanted it bad enough. Now you've got a very competitive, hungry guy who has fallen once or twice and knows how to get back up."
Gilyard was in his car on his way to go fishing for crabs near his home in rural Bunnell, Fla., when the call came.
"They're not even going to fool around or beat around the bush," Gilyard said. "And I was just, like, stoked. Now I finally can get ready to go to work."
Perhaps more than most, Gilyard realizes how fortunate he is.
"It's like slim to none that kids actually get to go pro," Gilyard said. "My mom, she's bananas right now. She's going to call me about eight times in a row."
The 6-5, 270-pound Hoomanawanui caught only 10 passes for 114 yards and no scores and missed three games with a high ankle sprain. Devaney said he might have gotten lost in Illinois' wide-open offense and could develop into a three-down player after recovering from the injury and impressing at the Senior Bowl.
Devaney said the Rams became intrigued with Onobun about two weeks ago when reports of impressive workouts surfaced.
Davis grew up working in a funeral home, the family business, and intends to go into that line of work after he's done in the NFL.
"I pretty much know everything about the business," Davis said. "Right now, I just want to play football."