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Rams need a WR or RB but will go with best on the board

ST. LOUIS -- Here's evidence that the NFL draft works, eventually. The St. Louis Rams are not, repeat not, on the clock.

Last April, the Rams clicked with the No. 1 overall pick, taking quarterback Sam Bradford. Offensive tackle Jason Smith in 2009 and defensive end Chris Long in 2008 were both No. 2s overall.

All three are building blocks for a franchise that appears to be on the rise. The Rams made a six-victory leap last season, going 7-9 and just missing out on a playoff bid in the weak NFC West.

This year, they will pick 14th, right in the middle of the pack. General manager Billy Devaney won't mind waiting a couple hours until it's the Rams' turn to choose.

"The real goal is to get down to 31st and 32nd all the time," Devaney said. "But at least 14 is a big jump from 1. So I think we're headed in the right direction."

There's still plenty on the wish list heading into Year 3 under Devaney and coach Steve Spagnuolo.

A true No. 1 wide receiver would help Bradford, the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, flourish under new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. The Rams have made do with free agents and practice-squad graduates, with Danny Amendola developing into a reliable slot option, but the offense lacked a deep threat after Donnie Avery was knocked out during the preseason and Mark Clayton was lost with a knee injury early in the year.

Running back Steven Jackson has been a workhorse by necessity, gaining 1,241 yards last season. He might be carrying too much of the load, considering the Rams' second-leading rusher, Kenneth Darby, amassed just 107 yards, and that kind of disparity has been going on for several seasons.

So running back definitely is on the shopping list in next week's draft.

"We've been thinking about that for a while now," Devaney said. "Steven, he's incredible the workload he carries, and he loves it, too. We'll try to address that at some point before the season starts."

The defense needs help at linebacker beyond James Laurinaitis, who has led the Rams in tackles both of his seasons. Safety Oshiomoghe Atogwe, also one of the team leaders, left as a free agent.

There's not much proven depth across the board, for that matter.

Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones is a popular choice for St. Louis in mock drafts. His college teammate, running back Mark Ingram, the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner, is another.

Will Jones still be on the board? Would Ingram be a reach?

"You have a lot more scenarios that you have to prepare for, more players that are possibilities, and you just have to go through more things," Devaney said. "The past few years, it was pretty cut and dried.

"When you're picking 1 and 2, it kind of makes it easy figuring out who's going to be there."

No matter what happens earlier in Round 1, or whether they trade up or down, Devaney insists the Rams will opt for the best player available. Case in point: St. Louis drafted three defensive ends last year, although that was one of their stronger positions.

"You can't force the issue, even if it's true about wide receiver and running back," Devaney said. "If they're not the best player at that time, you've got to pass on them and go to another position.

"It may be when the draft is over and what's perceived as a need just didn't work out."

Bradford threw 18 touchdown passes in his rookie season, helping to revive a stodgy St. Louis offense, and answered any remaining questions about his durability related to a shoulder injury at Oklahoma. He usually appeared calm beyond his years.

Smith missed half of his rookie year because of concussion-related symptoms but became a fixture last season after shifting to right tackle. Long blossomed as a pass rusher last season after moving to left end.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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