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ESPN’s Mel Kiper, Todd McShay drop three-round 2018 NFL Mock Draft that lays out path to Los Angeles Rams at 87

The ESPN duo goes through 100 picks for the first three rounds helping the Rams out at LB.

Vanderbilt LB Oren Burks tackles Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly on September 26, 2015
Vanderbilt LB Oren Burks tackles Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly on September 26, 2015
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

I missed a mock draft on Friday from ESPN’s Mel Kiper, Jr., and Todd McShay (ESPN insider subscription required) that I thought was worth circling back to. It’s a three-rounder that lays out the path to the Los Angeles Rams’ first pick at #87 and navigates the major hinges that will determine that path as Kiper and McShay alternate picks.

It’s a conventional top 10, though I still contend we’ll see three QBs to open things up on Thursday when the 2018 NFL Draft officially begins. Kiper & McShay (KipShay? McPer?) have it as Wyoming QB Josh Allen, Penn St. RB Saquon Barkley and USC QB Sam Darnold similar to Mocking the Draft’s Dan Kadar in his final Monday mock of the year.

Things get real interesting at the next hinge. The Miami Dolphins at #11, Buffalo Bills at #12 and Arizona Cardinals at #15 are all expected to be in the mix to draft a QB. Here, the Dolphins and Cards each get their guy in Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield and Louisville QB Lamar Jackson, respectively, while Buffalo misses out. McShay’s on the mic for the Bills and actually acknowledges that “this one is a tough sell to the Bills’ fan base.” That’s part of what will make it fascinating as we near the back of the top 10 to see if any of these three teams are so motivated to get a QB that they trade up to make it happen.

As for a position run from the first into the second, you’ve got two at running back and on the line. Running backs come off at 32, 33 and 37 while OL go at 34, 35, 40, 43, 44, 46, 48 and 52. The cornerbacks and defensive linemen, ripe for a potential run, are more spread out. And of course, those runs circle the fourth hinge in the early picks of the second which go RB-OL-OL-OLB-RB. There’s plenty of talent spread out all over the second round including Oklahoma St. QB Mason Rudolph who fills in that need for the Bills at 53. I do wonder if Rudolph becomes the consolation prize for whomever between that trio of the Fins, Cards and Bills goes without a first-round QB.

At what point do we start transitioning from passive draft viewers to active viewers? Is it as soon as the second round starts? Is it pick 43.5, halfway to the Rams at 87? Past pick 50? Once we get to the third? I don’t really have an answer, but I know I’m going to be looking at Kadar’s top 200 big board and NFL Network’s Mike Mayock’s top 100 with intent as soon as Friday gets going.

I see a couple of names that intrigue me personally beyond 50. Georgia RB Nick Chubb and San Diego St. RB Rashaad Penny are both in the third round that would be fine additions, though I might be partial to North Carolina St. RB Nyheim Hines who Kiper mocks to Arizona at #97. Fans who want a pass rusher have options. USC EDGE Uchenna Nwosu, Ohio St. EDGE Sam Hubbard, Ole Miss EDGE Breeland Speaks, Ohio St. EDGE Tyquan Lewis, Florida St. EDGE Josh Sweat and LSU EDGE Arden Key are all third-round picks here. Offensive line depth more your style? West Georgia OT Desmond Harrison, Arkansas C Frank Ragnow (who goes one pick after the Rams FWIW), Appalachian St. OL Colby Gossett and Ohio St. OT Jamarco Jones are all late Day 3 guys.

But the pick for the Rams at 87? Kiper’s on the clock, and he’s looking at the middle of the defense:

87. Los Angeles Rams: Oren Burks, ILB, Vanderbilt

Can you believe this is the Rams’ first pick of the draft? Burks is a versatile linebacker who could compete to replace Alec Ogletree.

Not a huge fan if only because it feels like the intent here was to cram a pick for need. It’s one thing to try it with a top talent early on. It’s another thing to do it at 87 with your first pick of the draft. The Rams’ roster is in fine shape. Yes, there are needs at linebacker, but the Rams largely created those with a combination of the trades this offseason of OLB Robert Quinn and Ogletree coupled with a lack of linebacker selections in recent seasons. You might have had a capable linebacker here had the Rams not drafted, say, G Cody Wichmann or OL Andrew Donnal or OT Isaiah Battle all of whom were added in 2015 in a panic push for OL talent, all of whom are no longer on the team. Replicating that approach by forcing needs through this year’s draft is just going to leave a hole to address in two years. It’s just too late to address the needs in a meaningful way.

The key is just to get someone who will be able to make the 53-man roster throughout his rookie contract. Now if that happens to be Burks? If the Rams look at the landscape as the draft wades into the 80s and he’s the player they feel offers the most talent and system fit who won’t be around at 111, their next pick when Round 4 and Day 3 kicks off on Saturday? Sure, pull the trigger. But don’t do it just because there’s a need and Burks plays the position. That’s the kind of decision that will see Burks off the team by the end of 2020 and the Rams will have nothing to show for it. Josh Forrest was a sixth-round pick. Those are fungible. But a third-round pick and the top pick of your class? You better get someone who can contribute over the next three years regardless of position.

So there. A thousand words on a damn ESPN mock draft.

I need this draft to hurry up and start already.