With less than three weeks remaining before the draft, the Rams are strongly considering taking a quarterback, and in doing so are casting a wide net at the position.
Tom Savage of the University of Pittsburgh has made a “top 30 visit” to Rams Park. The team has spent a lot of time with Connor Shaw of South Carolina, you know, the guy who prevented Missouri from having a perfect regular season.
On Wednesday, the Rams dispatched quarterbacks coach Frank Cignetti and director of player personnel Taylor Morton to Athens, Ga., where Aaron Murray took part in Georgia’s pro day.
Earlier in the pre-draft period, the Rams dispatched a scout to SMU’s pro day to watch Garrett Gilbert. There have also been reports that they either met with or worked out Derek Carr of Fresno State.
And don’t forget Clemson QB Tajh Boyd. The Rams got a look at him Friday when they held a private workout for wide receiver Sammy Watkins. (Boyd did the throwing.)
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And that’s just a sampling. San Jose State’s David Fales, Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo, Alabama’s A.J. McCarron, and Louisiana State’s Zach Mettenberger could all be in play for the Rams as well.
“I think they all have merit,” said Rick Venturi, the former Rams assistant coach who is now an NFL radio analyst in Indianapolis.
In a draft where it has been difficult to pin down the value of top quarterback prospects Brian Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel, some of the mid-round QBs may end up outperforming the “big three” when all is said and done.
New Houston Texans coach Bill O’Brien, who’s grappling with the franchise-shaping decision of whether to take a QB at No. 1 overall, doesn’t see much separation between the top three and everyone else.
“Somebody else might have a different opinion,” O’Brien said. “Just my opinion is that I see strengths and weaknesses with every one of these guys. I don’t see where there are one or two guys, or three guys, that are just light-years ahead of the rest of them.”
The consistent signal from Rams Park is that the team wants to take a quarterback in the mid-rounds, someone who isn’t a project and could compete for a starting job in a year or two.
“I don’t think there’s any question the Rams are taking a quarterback,” said Gil Brandt, the longtime NFL draft guru. “(General manager) Les Snead has been around looking at those guys.”
If that’s indeed the case, that would leave the Rams with Sam Bradford as the starter, veteran Shaun Hill as the backup, plus a rookie-in-training in 2014. Austin Davis also is on the Rams’ offseason roster.
Bradford has two years left on his contract; Hill signed a one-year deal in free agency, coming to St. Louis from Detroit after Kellen Clemens left for San Diego.
As O’Brien mentioned, there are pluses and minuses in just about every quarterback in this year’s class, whether it be the top tier of signal callers — or the second and third tiers.
“Carr is probably the best behind the top three,” Venturi said. “The guy that’s really rising and I do like him — but he can’t move — is the kid at LSU (Mettenberger). I think the kid at Alabama (McCarron) is solid, but I don’t think he’s great. I think he’s played with a lot of great players.
“Garoppolo, I really like a lot things about him. But I think he’s one of those kids that’s good at everything and great at nothing. I like Fales from San Jose quite a bit. And the guy who’s having the big offseason is Savage. ... He’s a workout phenom. Connor Shaw, he’s a competitor. He’s not a great talent.”
In the unusual case of Savage, there isn’t a ton of film to go on. He started out at Rutgers, then transferred to Arizona, and then transferred again to Pitt.
“You see someone transfer twice, your immediate thought is probably a red flag — there is something wrong,” Savage said. “Obviously, my journey has been a little different. It’s helped me mature as a person, and I wouldn’t want to do it any other way.”
Savage, 6-4, 228, was named offensive MVP at Rutgers as a true freshman in 2009, throwing for 2,211 yards and 14 TDs. But he lost his starting job to Chas Dodd in an injury-plagued sophomore season and didn’t take it well.
“The kid (Dodd) went in there and played great for the team,” Savage said. “Coach (Greg Schiano) went with the hot hand. I was a 20-year-old kid, bitter and ticked off. I thought I had all the answers and decided to leave.”
He transferred to Arizona, sitting out the 2011 season under college transfer rules. But decided to leave Arizona a year later without having thrown a pass in game action.
The native of Springfield, Pa., wanted to be closer to home. In addition, new (at the time) Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez employed a no-huddle spread offense, not exactly a fit for Savage, who’s a pro-style pocket passer.
After the NCAA denied Savage’s initial request to return to Rutgers without having to sit out another year under transfer rules, he ended up at Pittsburgh. Savage was so frustrated at the prospect of sitting out another year he thought about quitting football.
“Real close,” he said. “I walked on to Pittsburgh in camp. I was ineligible, doing the scout team for the second year in a row, paying my way to do scout team. I was kind of like, ‘I don’t think I can do this anymore.’ “
But he stuck it out, and for the first time since 2010 finally saw the playing field again in 2013.
“Before this season it was 1,000 days since I played an actual game,” he said.
Savage put up good but not great numbers in 2013, completing 61.2 percent of his passes for 2,958 yards, 21 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
He was much more accurate than his two seasons at Rutgers, where he completed 52.2 percent of his passes in 18 games. Some still question his accuracy. But at Pitt, he displayed a knack for hitting receivers in stride as well as very good arm strength and toughness in the pocket.
While Savage is light on experience, other quarterback prospects have plenty. Some are tall; some (like Shaw) are short. Some come from schools in power conferences, others (Garoppolo) don’t. The diverse QB Class of 2014 offers a little bit of everything.
“There are a lot of guys that have won championships, that have won a lot of games in tough conferences, that have brought their teams back with under two minutes to go,” O’Brien said.
“A lot of guys that have been through tough times, you know, have had to win the position, lost the position. Maybe some tough times off the field they’ve overcome. So yeah, as far as that position goes, it’s a very intriguing position.”