With the curtain set to open on the 2011 NFL Draft at 7:00 CDT, the St. Louis Rams find themselves in a novel position: out of the Top 10. With the 14th overall pick they'd been expected originally to pick a wide receiver like Julio Jones, Justin Blackmon, or Michael Floyd, but when Blackmon and Floyd dropped out (that is, didn't drop out) and Jones had a superb performance at the NFL Combine their focus seemed to shift to defense.
Recent picks Sam Bradford and Chris Long show that it's important to give a pick a year or two to mature before passing judgment, especially in the first round. Bradford, the first overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, is an example of instant success, relatively speaking; all year he chased rookies like Peyton Manning and Matt Ryan, and his presence was a major part of the Rams' improbable run for NFC West gold.
But Chris Long, who emerged in 2010 as the Rams' most dangerous quarterback hawk with 8.5 sacks, is an easy call for caution in evaluating busts and stars too soon. It was easy to expect Long, the second overall pick in the 2008 draft, to star immediately; he showed immense talent and had the bloodlines, as the son of Howie Long, to back it up. But it took two occasionally disappointing seasons for the 25-year-old to emerge as a defensive cornerstone.
Whoever the Rams pick in 2011, it's worth waiting until 2012 before we decide we know for sure how they've turned out. This is advice the Carolina Panthers, to Jimmy Clausen's chagrin, are less than likely to follow...