How important is the draft? This year's playoffs should give you a pretty good idea. The Patriots have long been noted for using the draft to keep their team among the league's upper echelon. The Giants and the Chargers, as this article reminds us, owe much of their success this season to the decision made in the 2004 draft with the Eli Manning trade.
(I still think the Manning family looked ridiculous in that whole thing, but I digress.)
And what about the Rams drafts?
Let's start with 2004.
Of the six picks the Rams made that year, two players were with the team this season, Steven Jackson (1st round) and Brandon Chillar (4th round). With no second round pick, the Rams pick in the third round was Anthony Hargrove, since exiled to Buffalo as a depth player.
You can argue whether or not the return on the investment for the Rams first round pick of the 2005, Alex Barron, has paid off at a level consistent with expectations from a first round pick. Ron Bartell was the second round pick, who hasn't exactly made the Rams elite at CB...and is not even a starter, he looked much better later in the season than when he filled in for Brown and Hill early on. Third round pick OJ Atogwe is easily the best player acquired in the 2005 draft. Fellow third round pick Richie Incognito joins Atogwe and Barron as the only members of the 2005 draft starting with the Rams in 2007. Of the three, it's hard to imagine anyone but Atogwe ever earning a Pro Bowl nod. Other highlights from the '05 draft include S Jerome Carter (a RFA that won't be tendered highly this offseason), Claude Terrell (the malcontent that contributed nothing and was ultimately released after a domestic violence arrest), TE Jerome Collins (cut and signed to the Giants practice squad), WR Dante Ridgeway (now on the Saints' practice squad), P Reggie Hodges, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, and FB Madison Hedgecock.
Lest the 2005 draft strike you as a successful one, think about this. The Rams had 11 draft picks that year, four of the players selected are still with the team. (Footnote: Jerome Carter started the season as a part of the Rams special teams but went on IR Oct. 9.) Three are starters, and only one could be considered among upper echelon of talent in the league at his position (Atogwe).
The old regime, coaching regime at any rate, gets much of the blame (and credit) for the two drafts mentioned above. The relative success or failure of the Rams '04 and '05 drafts explains a big part of the team's current fortunes, especially contrasted with the teams who were still playing football over the last three weeks. Blame assigned, there's not much anyone can do about it now except hope that the personnel changes being made by the Rams now will extend to the way they run the draft this year. In a post last Thursday, we cited an article from Pro Football Weekly mentioning that there the possibility remains for the Rams to bring in a personnel expert run the draft and rework the roster. Such a move would certainly help the Rams solidify at least one important part of their future. The 2007 draft was a reasonably successful one, but there's plenty of room for improvement.