The biggest winner from the combine wasn't Georgia Tech WR Stephen Hill or West Virginia DE/OLB Bruce Irvin or Memphis NT Dontari Poe. It was Jeff Fisher and the St. Louis Rams, who have the opportunity for a monumental draft, a franchise-altering draft, a draft that allows them to quickly catch up with the other NFC West teams that began to pull away last year.
The mechanism for doing so is Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, who went into the combine with a healthy amount of buzz but came out of it with even more. Griffin did everything right in Indianapolis, running faster than any quarterback had before (in Indy, at least) and acing the interviews and strategy sessions as well. At the very least, Griffin confirmed to quarterback-needy teams that though they may not have shot at Andrew Luck, the consolation prize should be coveted as well.
Fisher was clear that the Rams would not be parting ways with their current quarterback, Sam Bradford, which means they are open for a trade. The Browns, Redskins and Dolphins are the most obvious trade partners, but other teams are likely to inquire as well. The Rams conceivably could trade the No. 2 selection for multiple picks and players and still end up drafting the player they would have at No. 2, Oklahoma State wideout Justin Blackmon.
"It's a great opportunity, and it will define the immediate and hopefully the long-term future of this franchise," Fisher said. "We have a lot of options and we're going to be prepared to do whatever."
The fact that the rookie contract for the No. 2 draft pick is not as exorbitant and prohibitive as it used to be also promises to drive up the cost of trading for the pick. The 49ers have to be happy that they won't be facing Griffin twice a year (unless the Rams trade with quarterback-needy Seattle, which seems unlikely).
But they also have to wonder about the haul Fisher and the Rams potentially could bring in. In 1989, the Cowboys traded running back Herschel Walker to the Vikings for a mess of draft picks that were used to draft Emmitt Smith, Darren Woodson and Alvin Harper among others. The trade helped fuel the Cowboys' championship teams of the 1990s'.
That transaction has become a cautionary tale for teams ever since. Still, RG III promises to be very tempting, and the Rams hope to use him to kick-start what has been a sputtering franchise.
Speaking of Stephen Hill, he seems to be everything the 49ers are seeking in a wide receiver. Then again, you have to wonder whether the 49ers, at pick No. 30, even will have a chance to draft him. Here's what NFL Network's Mike Mayock had to say about Hill:
"Stephen Hill killed it. I had a bunch of scouts tell me before the combine this kid might blow the roof off of it, and he did. The tough thing with Stephen Hill is coming out of that option offense, he's hard to evaluate. We went through this with Demaryius Thomas (Ga tech WR picked 22nd overall by Denver in 2010). But (Hill) ran officially I think a 4.36. He jumped 11-feet, 1. I forget his vert, but it didn't matter, it was out of the gym. I might have been 41 (inches).
"But the point is his acceleration, his burst, his quickness and even more important to me, OK, now you've shown me you're an athletic track star. When he got on the field and caught the football, he didn't double-catch balls. He made hands catches out in front of him.
"From a football perspective, every team in the league now has a lot of homework to do. He's a hard guy to figure out, just like Demaryius Thomas was because you don't see real routes. All you see are verticals and crosses and play-action and jump balls. You've got to do your homework on this kid. And trust me, he's kind of pushed himself right
up in the forefront of this wide receiver thing."
-- Matt Barrows