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Grading Rams 2018 draft class

Which players are contributing two and a half seasons later?

NFL: New York Giants at Los Angeles Rams Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the bye week for the LA Rams, so I’m using this extra time to grade the current season but I also want to use these days off take a look back at some recent Les Snead draft picks. It doesn’t make sense to grade a draft pick right after it happens and even though I wrote about Cam Akers and Van Jefferson’s progress on Wednesday, it’s still too soon to judge the rookies for anything beyond what they should have been expected to do by now.

The 2018 class, while young, has had many more opportunities to prove themselves. It’s been two and a half seasons since Snead and Sean McVay built their second draft class together and they made 11 selections that year despite not making their first selection until pick 89.

How are those 11 players (plus) doing today?

1.23 - Traded to the Patriots with pick 4.136 for WR Brandin Cooks, pick 6.215

Snead traded a first for a wide receiver who would help McVay open up his offense as the team had envisioned it would with Sammy Watkins a year before. Cooks caught 80 passes for 1,204 yards and five touchdowns and the Rams made the Super Bowl in 2018. I can’t fault them for dealing a first rounder for a player who would be that productive for them, even if only for one season.

If not for trading for Cooks, could they have made the Super Bowl? That’s something that McVay and Snead will probably stick to believing because here are the receivers who went right after pick 23: D.J. Moore and Calvin Ridley.

Over his last 16 games, Moore has caught 82 passes for 1,334 yards. He’s been playing with Kyle Allen and Teddy Bridgewater in that time.

Over Ridley’s last 16 games, he’s caught 85 passes for 1,228 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Are we going to say that there’s no regret in trading for Cooks rather than testing out the draft class? The second round offered Courtland Sutton and D.J. Chark, as well as Christian Kirk, James Washington, Anthony Miller and the recently-released Dante Pettis.

Cooks gave them what they wanted and then returned a second round pick in trade from the Texans, so the only real “loss” for the Rams of note is the amount of money they wasted on Cooks’ extension. However, a potentially poor evaluation of the options in the draft could be the main culprit in why LA went with Cooks instead of Moore or Ridley (as well as they type of receiver they were looking for, don’t get me wrong, but wouldn’t McVay make Moore or Ridley viable too?).

Grade: C+

2.56 - Traded to the Bills with CB E.J. Gaines for WR Sammy Watkins, pick 6.195

The Rams didn’t pick until the third because of their desire to add a talented receiver. I’ve already mentioned which receivers they could have drafted in ‘18 that they didn’t. At 56, they could have picked Washington or Chark, while Michael Gallup was drafted at pick 81. This despite the fact that most people were aware that the 2019, 2020 and 2021 wide receiver classes were supposed to be “historically good.”

Snead and McVay didn’t draft a receiver in either 2018 or 2019. This is confusing to me.

LA would rather pay a wide receiver a top-10 salary than attempt to extract value from an incoming talent pool that would soon include DK Metcalf, A.J. Brown, Terry McLaurin, Darius Slayton, Deebo Samuel, Marquise Brown, Hunter Renfrow, Diontae Johnson, Travis Fulgham and more in 2019. Then they made Van Jefferson their first receiver pick since 2017 and with extensions handed out to Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods this year, there likely won’t be a notable selection at the position in 2021.

I don’t think that’s the way that I would build an offense in 2020, to go expensive at receiver rather than pulling from a group that only seems to get more talented every year. So my judgment of these first two picks is maybe going to be more harsh than your judgment.

Getting Watkins makes even more sense to me than getting Cooks because at the time the Rams were still expected to be one of the worst teams in the league and that move was a reasonable shot at doing something exciting. Watkins caught eight touchdowns. But he’s also had a long career of being underwhelming.

Grade: C+

3.89 - Joseph Noteboom, OL, TCU

LA moved down two spots and acquired a sixth rounder from the Raiders before selecting Noteboom. I think it is encouraging that Noteboom has twice won a starting job out of camp, but discouraging that he’s only made eight career starts and next season will be the last of his rookie deal. Noteboom could be depth rest of season if he returns from his calf strain. He could compete for a job again next year, though the only free agent is center Austin Blythe.

The next offensive lineman off the board was Chukwuma Okorafor, the current starting right tackle for the Steelers. Then Alex Cappa, the current starting right guard for the Bucs. Then Mason Cole, the current starting center for the Cardinals. Then ...

Grade: C-

4.111 - Brian Allen, C, Michigan State

The Rams swapped sixth round picks and sent Robert Quinn to the Dolphins to acquire this pick used on Allen, the next offensive lineman off the board after Cole. The team would eventually land Austin Corbett, the 33rd overall pick and the third “center” off the board, but here they went with Allen. Few fans are pleased with that choice of center now, but Allen remains as Blythe’s backup.

Grade: D

4.135 - John Franklin-Myers, DE, SF Austin

Between Allen and Franklin-Myers, the Ravens drafted future Rams linebacker Kenny Young. But here LA went with Franklin-Myers thanks to the comp pick sent to them by Bill Belichick in the Cooks trade. Franklin-Myers played in 301 snaps as a rookie with two sacks but was waived last September after only one season with the organization. He’s played in over 200 snaps with the New York Jets this season.

He doesn’t quite play the same position, but under-the-radar defensive lineman Bilal Nichols went shortly after Franklin-Myers and he’s a regular on Chicago’s formidable defensive line with Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks.

Snead acquired this pick and an upcoming sixth when he traded Alec Ogletree and a seventh to the Giants.

Grade: D

5.147 - Micah Kiser, LB, Virginia

I wouldn’t want to overreact and give this selection a hugely positive grade only because a series of circumstances eventually led Kiser to start seven games this season and to lead the team in tackles because he’s the inside linebacker. Kiser is doing a fine job. That’s what he’s doing. But if the Rams said, “We’re bringing in someone to compete to take his job,” I don’t think that would be all too surprising.

Kiser didn’t play any defense over his first two seasons, getting injured in 2019, and he has one more year left on his contract after this one. To get one or two seasons of starting out of a fifth round pick is nice, but this selection isn’t making a sizable impact on the outlook for the team.

If I give Kiser anything better than a C+, then what grade would I be able to give a player who had played some in his first two seasons? Snead did acquire another extra sixth before moving down to this spot for Kiser.

Grade: C+

5.160 - Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, DE/OLB, Oklahoma

Not a hit. A miss. Okoronkwo has 2.5 sacks and has never been able to get to and stay on the field. On injured reserve, may never return for the Rams. Maybe somewhere else.

Wyatt Teller, a guard for the Browns who up until being injured in Week 5 was discussed as an “outside the box MVP candidate” this year, went shortly after Kiser and Okoronkwo.

Grade: D+

6.176 - John Kelly, RB, Tennessee

The three running backs drafted after Kelly who at least went on to do something are Boston Scott, Bo Scarbrough and Justin Jackson. Kelly is currently on the Browns practice squad and they’ve been protecting him from getting scooped up by another team. I don’t want to harshly grade sixth round picks but also it’s surprising when the Rams aren’t able to find backs who can find success in McVay’s offense.

Grade: D

6.192 - Jamil Demby, OL, Maine

Not a player who has been able to contribute in the NFL. Went two picks ahead of receiver Russell Gage.

Grade: F

6.195 - Sebastian Joseph-Day, DL, Rutgers

He’s ... SOMETHING! Joseph-Day, the eighth player of this draft class, is by far the most important to the Rams after 2.5 seasons. And he didn’t even play in 2018.

Joseph has played in every game since the start of 2019 and he’s made 67 tackles and two sacks next to Aaron Donald; zero sacks this season and zero tackles for a loss this season, however. When A’Shawn Robinson is healthy, Joseph-Day’s playing time (39% of the snaps) should decrease.

Five picks after Joseph, the Falcons took linebacker Foyesade Oluokun, maybe the best player of the sixth round that year. Which isn’t saying a lot but linebackers would be useful to the Rams.

Grade: C+

6.205 - Trevon Young, DE, Louisville

Another player the Browns eventually added to their practice squad, Young was waived by the Rams shortly after his rookie season started.

Grade: D

7.231 - Travin Howard, LB, TCU

While there were moments of optimism, like the fact that Howard would probably be a starting linebacker today if he didn’t tear his meniscus in training camp, the result is that Howard was cut as a rookie and spent the year on the practice squad, then he got in 102 snaps last season. He will miss all of this season. He’ll be getting his fourth opportunity in 2021. It’s encouraging for him that he’s even stuck around this long but LA isn’t getting much juice out of this pick.

It’s only a seventh rounder. But it’s not like I can give the pick a B because he’s surprisingly stuck around on the reserve lists.

Grade: D+

7.244 - Justin Lawler, DE, SMU

Just in case you were worried it had been longer than one second since I mentioned a player in the Rams 2018 draft class who has missed entire seasons with injury ... Lawler also sticks around on reserve lists. He didn’t play in 2019 and he won’t play in 2020. He played in 33 defensive snaps as a rookie, with one tackle for a loss.

Grade: D

One More Look

Taking into account the fact that Snead didn’t have a pick in the top 88, it’s understandable that the Rams didn’t exit the 2018 draft with a star player. Even picking 11 times, it’s difficult to get “star” players in general, but especially on day three.

Unfortunately, even if you re-set the bar to “role player,” Snead and McVay have come up almost empty with this class. Out of 11 selections — and two receivers acquired via trade who didn’t last long — you should expect a few capable starters and a few regular rotational players.

Out of these 11, Kiser might qualify as a long-term starter (but this is unclear even after 2.5 seasons) and Noteboom has shown a glimmer of hope but is not a starter now. Joseph-Day qualifies as a rotational piece. Okoronkwo barely qualifies as that.

I think 2.5 seasons is enough to sit back and judge what’s happened and a good time to evaluate how to proceed. The LA Rams won’t be preceding with many of these players on second contracts. In fact, there might not be a single second contract player in the bunch.

Overall Grade: D+

The Rams made the Super Bowl with Cooks. He also cost the franchise a lot of money and opportunities (no fault of his own, they made the extension decision and opted to not test the talented rookie class) and didn’t last long. Watkins didn’t last long. Few of these players seem to last long. It’s not worth panicking over one bad draft class. Bill Belichick isn’t doing anything special in the draft. But I think this is a fair evaluation. Tell me where I’m wrong though and I’m open to updating.


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