Rams plan a patient approach in draft

Thursday, April 18, 2002

ST. LOUIS -- Draft day promises to be a lot quieter this year at Rams Park.

The NFC champions had three first-round picks last year, splurging for a defensive overhaul. They have only one this year, the 31st overall, and if they don't move off that selection it'll be several hours on Saturday before the Rams, 14-2 last year before being upset by the Patriots in the Super Bowl, select their first player.

"Drafting where we're drafting, you sit there," coach Mike Martz said Wednesday. "And you watch the whole thing go off the board."

Lessening the angst is the fact the Rams aren't in need of an instant starter. They filled a need for the third wide receiver slot to replace the departed Az-Zahir Hakim earlier this week, trading one of their three sixth-round picks to Indianapolis for Terrence Wilkins.

Martz also is confident offensive tackle John St. Clair, a third-round pick two years ago who has seen zero action, can step in for another defector, Ryan Tucker. The Rams also lost guard-tackle Rod Jones, who signed with the Redskins.

Martz said St. Clair can be better than Tucker or Fred Miller, who left for Tennessee two years ago. He also would fit the Rams' recent mold of filling vacancies on the line from within, as they did with Tucker and center Andy McCollum.

"I don't worry in the least about John St. Clair, I promise you that," he said. "It's a can't-miss deal."

Martz is confident the Rams can pick up some line depth in the middle to late rounds. They've got eight picks, including a pair of third-rounders.

"Typically, most of our good offensive linemen come from middle to late rounds unless it a left tackle, and then you've got to reach up there and go get one of those guys because they're freaks of nature," Martz said.

Topping the list of needs, from a depth standpoint, is linebacker. Since the end of the season, the Rams released Mark Fields and lost Brian Allen, a third-round pick in last year's draft, in the expansion draft to the Houston Texans.

Martz said the Rams definitely won't take a defensive tackle -- they grabbed two in the first round last year -- or a quarterback in the first round. He said the first pick could tap virtually any other position.

Two years ago, coming off their first Super Bowl since coming to St. Louis in 1995, the Rams drafted for pure speed when they took running back Trung Canidate at the end of the first round.

"It could be a running back that's unusual or it could be a receiver or a corner that we like," Martz said. "It's kind of a nebulous thing, but it's accurate.

"There's more scenarios because we don't have such a great need."

The Rams could make a little noise before draft day. They're negotiating with outside linebacker Donnie Edwards, released by the Chiefs after leading them in tackles four straight years, in a deal Martz said would have to be made before Saturday or not at all.

And by Friday, they must decide Friday whether to match the five-year, $5.5 million offer sheet fullback James Hodgins signed with the Denver Broncos. They're trying to figure out a way to make that contract, which features a $1.1 million signing bonus, work after next season.

"He's not gone," Martz said. "He's the best fullback in the league probably right now. As lead blockers go, there's nobody in that category."

If the Rams don't match on Hodgins, there's a huge hole at that spot. But Martz said there won't be no pressing need to pick a fullback early.

"We would never draft a fullback the first day," he said. "It's not that kind of value. They never touch the ball."

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