The 2018 NFL Draft is just more than 24 hours away and with it the major effort to replenish NFL rosters with the newest talents.
For the Los Angeles Rams, it’s an exercise in patience as they don’t pick until #87 overall, their only selection in the top 110. So while teams are looking at roster needs and talent injections that could impact 2018, the Rams have already assembled a fantastic roster that needs little improvement.
And I think there’s a fair question as to if it can even be improved for this season.
The consensus on the Rams’ roster needs going into the draft revolves around the linebacking corps. Having traded ILB Alec Ogletree and OLB Robert Quinn earlier this offseason and opting not to re-sign OLB Connor Barwin, the Rams are bringing just one starting LB back for 2018: ILB Mark Barron. So yes, by just promoting everyone on the depth chart up, it’s going to create space for a roster need.
But let’s look at who’s in the mix.
Samson Ebukam, Matt Longacre, Ejuan Price, Garrett Sickels, Carlos Thompson
The assumed starters here would be Ebukam and Longacre. Ebukam was a fourth-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft at #125 overall who featured often on defense in rotation with a couple of solid plays while working in as a mainstay on special teams. Longacre, on the other hand, scrapped his way up as an undrafted free agent following the 2015 NFL Draft who proved a bit of a breakout player last season. Longacre was tendered back in March in the early days of free agency, so he’s only under contract for 2018 while Ebukam is in just the second year of his four-year rookie deal. Price is an interesting candidate having bounced between the practice squad and 53-man roster last year. I’m not sure Sickels and Thompson are around for Week 1.
So the real question is if you could get someone to supplant Longacre and Ebukam. It’s possible, obviously, but I wouldn’t approach a level of assumption that a pick at #87 would automatically be handed a starting job. And anything beyond that third-round pick is certainly more involved in a training camp battle.
Mark Barron, Bryce Hager, Cory Littleton, Ramik Wilson
Things are perhaps more interesting here. Barron is locked in with the starters, but we might get a camp battle between Littleton, a 2016 UDFA, and Wilson, a fourth-round pick in 2015 whom the Rams signed a month ago.
At least here, you’ve got an established starter in Barron as opposed to the OLB slots. It makes this group feel a bit more solid than outside.
It’s worth pointing out here that the Rams have a very strong five-deep secondary. Having re-signed slot CB Nickell Robey-Coleman to a major contract extension, the Rams are loaded at the back with NRC flanked by the Rams’ new duo in CB Marcus Peters and CB Aqib Talib with S Lamarcus Joyner on a franchise tag with second-year S John Johnson III filling things out. And up front, the deadly DL trio of Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh and Michael Brockers is likely going to be an every down trio that only rotates for stamina issues.
That leaves just three linebacking spots in the starting eleven as long as NRC is out there in a nickel formation. We know Barron’s going to be on the field.
So really, this need just comes down to two openings. And with the draft approaching, the need is as simple as balancing a seesaw with Ebukam, Longacre and Littleton (or some combination of the names above as you see fit) with the potential of a guy at #87 or beyond.
And when you look at it like that with such a small sliver of space for the Rams on the roster needs sheet, it’s harder to see why the Rams need to draft a linebacker early.
Every roster has holes. The Philadelphia Eagles have roster needs going into the draft despite holding the Lombardi Trophy. That the Rams have an imperfect roster is a function of the sport’s structure. This ain’t soccer where you can just load up the best in the world and hand out transfer fees or college football where recruiting is as good as you make it or the old Steinbrenner-fed Yankees rosters of two decades ago (though they’re getting closer...). It’s the NFL. You only get so many chances to get your roster right.
The Rams’ biggest roster needs for 2018 might well be inside and outside linebacker. But it’s not a major need given the context of things overall. And with respect to their 2019 roster needs?
Perhaps the thing they need most is comfort knowing they’ve done the work they needed to already.