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Rams will be looking at more than quarterbacks at combine

During more than two decades as a scout, player personnel director and general manager, Les Snead has watched the NFL scouting combine morph into an off-season spectacle, replete with television coverage and an overwhelming media presence.

Despite the potential distractions, the weeklong event remains purposeful for talent evaluators.

"It's our one chance when you've got 300 players in the draft in one place," said Snead, preparing for his fifth draft as the Rams' general manager, his first with the Los Angeles Rams.

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A Rams contingent of about 65 people, including Snead and Coach Jeff Fisher and his entire staff, will be present this week to observe and interview prospects at the combine as part of the run-up to April 28-30 draft.

The Rams have the 15th overall pick.

After finishing last season with a 7-9 record — and the NFL's worst passing offense — the Rams are expected to take a long look at quarterbacks and receivers this week at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Case Keenum replaced Nick Foles as the Rams' starting quarterback for five of the final seven games last season, and Fisher and Snead have said that Keenum, who is set to become a restricted free agent next month, would go into training camp as the starter. Former Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion also is on the roster.

But Fisher said last month that "We're always looking," so the Rams could seek alternatives via trades, free-agent signings and the draft.

Asked if his focus this week would be on quarterbacks and receivers, Snead said the Rams would not be limited.

"We'll look at QBs, we'll look at wide receivers, but we'll look at every other position as well," he said during a phone interview last week.

California's Jared Goff, North Dakota State's Carson Wentz, Memphis' Paxton Lynch and Michigan State's Connor Cook are part of a quarterback class that also includes Mississippi State's Dak Prescott, Stanford's Kevin Hogan, Oregon's Vernon Adams Jr., Ohio State's Cardale Jones, and USC's Cody Kessler, among others.

Snead observed Wentz and others during workouts leading up to last month's Senior Bowl, but this will be an opportunity to see Goff, Lynch, Cook and the complete class for the first time in the same setting.

"It's a deep class," Snead said. "There's more numbers, from top to bottom, that have the ability to find spots on a roster."

He added that "95% of where they're at on your board is from what they did" during their college careers. But combine performance and interviews, for all players, "may help you break a tie" when deciding who might be selected and when.

"There's going to be one QB we're not talking about that's going to end up starting for someone," he said. "It happens every year. I tell our staff, 'Tell me which one that is.' "

Identifying a playmaking receiver could also be a priority for the Rams.

Tavon Austin, a 2013 first-round pick, had a team-best 52 catches last season for a receiving corps that otherwise lacked production.

Mississippi's Laquon Treadwell, Baylor's Corey Coleman, Ohio State's Michael Thomas, Texas Christian's Josh Doctson and Notre Dame's Will Fuller are among the receivers in this year's draft.

The Rams, of course, have other holes to fill as they attempt to put together a winning season for the first time since 2003.

The team recently released middle linebacker James Laurinaitis, defensive end Chris Long and tight end Jared Cook, in part, because of salary-cap considerations. So the Rams might seek to augment those position groups through the draft. Cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson are among several key defensive players who are set to become free agents. The Rams are expected to make a push to keep both, but it would seem prudent to prepare for a possible departure.

Snead pointed to two recent examples of how information gathered at the combine translated to draft-day success.

Two years ago, Snead said defensive tackle Aaron Donald's outstanding performances in agility drills negated any lingering questions about size. "He had numbers that were close to some big corners and safeties in our league," Snead said. The Rams chose tackle Greg Robinson second overall and then selected Donald — who has become a two-time Pro Bowl player — with the 13th pick.

Last year, running back Todd Gurley was coming off knee surgery and did not participate in the on-field combine drills.

Snead said the Rams evaluated the results from his combine physical, interviewed him for 15 minutes, "and closed the book" on Gurley.

"We never talked to him again," Snead said, until the Rams drafted Gurley with the 10th overall pick.

Gurley finished third in the NFL in rushing, made the Pro Bowl and was voted the league's offensive rookie of the year.

Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on February 24, 2016, in the Sports section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Rams won't lock in on combine targets - Quarterbacks and receivers are needs, but Snead will try to improve his 7-9 team." — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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