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ESPN’s Kiper Has Three Round Blueprint For LA Rams In 2017 NFL Draft

ESPN’s lead NFL draft analyst has his “Grade A” mock for every team through three rounds. What does he think makes the most sense for the Rams?

Troy OT Antonio Garcia
Troy OT Antonio Garcia
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Grading NFL draft classes is an exercise in near-impossibility.

You’re projecting scheme fit, chemistry, health, development, level of difficulty and the unknown swells of the personnel tides often within days of the draft. But people click on it, so the world turns.

Here’s ESPN’s Mel Kiper (insider sub required), the undeniable king of the draft grade, 11 months ago as the Los Angeles Rams wrapped up their headlining 2016 NFL Draft class:

They traded a mint to move into place to get Jared Goff, and then they did a pretty good job of getting weapons in the passing game despite the fact that they didn't have any picks in Rounds 2 or 3. I'm a fan of Goff -- he is my No. 1 quarterback in this draft -- but this is not a slam-dunk future franchise quarterback. They'll need to be extremely patient and find ways to protect him. What they did do is hand him a couple of useful weapons in the passing game, a little reminiscent of how the Jags tried to add pass-catchers when they drafted Blake Bortles. Tyler Higbee is a second-round talent who got into trouble off the field and landed in the fourth. If you get the talent and not the drama, that's a steal. Pharoh Cooper could be a stud in the slot. He is sudden in his movements, competitive after the catch and should have been drafted earlier. Ultimately, this draft is all about Goff. They gave up SO much for him, it has to work.

Nothing wrong with the assessment, but you can see the fallacy pretty easily. A year removed and we’re nowhere closer to having any of the answers to the questions raised.

So with a week and some hours ahead of the 2017 NFL Draft beginning, Kiper has his “Grade A” mock up (insider sub required) with the best course of action for each of the NFL’s 32 teams. Here’s what he charts for the Rams:

Round 2 (37): Antonio Garcia, OT, Troy
Round 3 (69): ArDarius Stewart, WR, Alabama

With no first-round pick (traded to the Titans in last year's Jared Goff deal), a new coach and several holes on their roster, the Rams must hit on their first pick. Adding to the offensive line could be the safest bet here. Los Angeles brought in Andrew Whitworth and John Sullivan as short-term solutions at left tackle and center, respectively, after giving up the second-most sacks in the league (49) last season, but this is still a need. Garcia started 42 games on the left side in college, and I think he could start at tackle immediately in the NFL. Stewart, my eighth-ranked receiver, is undersized (5-foot-11, 204 pounds), but he's an all-around player and willing blocker.

It’s certainly comfortable to add a pair of offensive prospects coming out of a season in which you put up the NFL’s worst offense. Even with the signings of Whitworth and Robert Woods, the tackle and wide receiver positions for the Rams offer little long-term comfort. I don’t think there’s anything strange, then, with the Garcia pick. I’ve got a similar lack of criticism of the Stewart pick. Without a great build, he’s an impressive athlete who has some versatility across the field and on the boundaries.

What’s perhaps uncomfortable is the totality of Kiper’s mock when you look at it in order and not team-by-team.

Kiper has Clemson QB Deshaun Watson going 39th overall. I’m not saying it won’t happen, but that seems like the kind of slide that is going to make a lot of teams look very bad, the kind that happens every year. Miami TE David Njoku is someone we’ve consistently seen out of reach for the Rams with the 37th overall pick. Kiper mocks him at #44.

Into the third round past the Rams taking Stewart with the 69th overall pick, there’s just a ton of names we’ve seen go much, much, much higher quite frequently. At #70, Kiper sends Indiana G Dan Feeney to the New York Jets. Could the Rams pass on him twice? USC WR JuJu Smith-Schuster comes off three picks later. Ohio St. ILB Raekwon McMillan heads to the Arizona Cardinals at #77, a pick that would gut me. And Alabama OLB Tim Williams at #102 to the Seattle Seahawks?!

The draft never shakes out in line with projections. The opportunity costs for the Rams who hold just two picks in the first 111 selections of the draft feel overwhelming.

As Kiper’s mock shows, there are easy fits all over the place. Charting a course to turn around a franchise that hasn’t had a winning campaign in their last 13 seasons is going to take more than a pair of draft picks. But it’s going to be a hell of a starting point.