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A review of the 3 Rams drafts under Sean McVay

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Los Angeles is trading at a higher pace, potentially in lieu of the high draft picks they had been used to

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The St. Louis Rams picked in the top-15 of the draft in every year from 2006 to 2016. In that time, they picked in the top-10 seven times and in the top-two five times, acquiring Chris Long, Jason Smith, Sam Bradford, Greg Robinson, and Jared Goff. The Rams’ power in draft capital during that decade was only outmatched by their inability to climb out of the top-15. Then the trade for Goff happened and less than a year later, Sean McVay became the head coach.

Those two moves have shifted LA’s draft strategy immensely, probably more than any other franchise in the last three years. After an 11-year period of living in the top half of the first round, the Rams have not drafted in the top-40 since their selection of Goff and as you already know, aren’t scheduled to pick this year until 52.

And in lieu of drafting early, general manager Les Snead has turned to making trades. A lot of them. At a rapid pace compared to what he was doing in tandem with Jeff Fisher.

In the three years prior to McVay’s hire, Snead made six trades:

  • 0 in 2014
  • 4 in 2015
  • 2 in 2016

These trades include:

  • A seventh for Case Keenum
  • Zac Stacy for a seventh
  • The Nick Foles-for-Sam Bradford deal that included four picks
  • Trading down from 41 to 57 and adding two picks
  • Moving down four spots in the fourth round
  • Sending two firsts, two seconds, and two thirds for the right to draft Goff, plus a fourth and a sixth

That’s it over the previous three years with Fisher, a total of six trades. In 2017, the first year of McVay, the Rams made seven trades. In 2018, they made 12 trades. In 2019, they made 10 trades. That’s now a total of 29 trades with McVay-Snead as compared to 16 trades total with Fisher-Snead. And much of what McVay-Snead do is in relation to the draft.

They aren’t always necessarily trading down or trading up or trading picks for players or players for picks. They’re willing to do it all as the moment calls for it and despite not picking in the top-40 for as long as they have, the Rams have still added 27 players through the draft over the last three years.

What is the expectation for 27 draft picks in three years?

How does that expectation change on a curve accounting for their lack of high draft picks?

How many above-average selections has Los Angeles made in that time?

Of course, we can’t fairly judge that last question for the 2019 draft class other than saying that seventh rounder Dakota Allen is no longer on the team, plus notes on feeling positively or negatively about a rookie season; but that does little to indicate what the following two to 10 seasons will look like really.

We can however look at the 2019 class as far as assessing needs.

And while the 2018 class has had just two seasons under the belt, we can start to eliminate some of those 11 picks from having a future impact with the team. The 2017 class, much more ready for judgment at this point.

Let’s review.

Of the 27, these five players are no longer with the LA Rams:

Sam Rogers, Ejaun Price, Trevon Young, John Franklin-Myers, Dakota Allen

It’s not a long list, which seems good, though Justin Lawler was saved on injured reserve and it would be surprising if he was in the plans for the future. The same goes for Micah Kiser, who has been in a similar situation. The only players from the 2018 draft class to play in more than 16 games are Joseph Noteboom and Brian Allen, both of whom have played in 22.

Let’s review the 22 players who remain on the roster from the last three drafts:

2017

There looks to be a great chance that this is the superior class of the last three years as Cooper Kupp (69th overall) stands out as the only legitimate star we know of yet. You can make ovations that others will become stars but Kupp is in his own class at the moment.

That being said John Johnson (91st), Gerald Everett (44th), and Samson Ebukam (125th) all appear to be good players and could become much more. Josh Reynolds (117th) too has had his moments and provides value that many fourth rounders do not. You may be able to successfully argue that there are five players in the 2017 class who are better than any player in the 2018 class.

That’s good news for 2017, not so good news for 2018.

The other players selected were Rogers, Price, and Tanzel Smart, who missed most of 2018 and seemed to play below expectations during 171 snaps in 2019. He too may be released before next season.

2018

Out of 11 players drafted, none have been a starter for both seasons, and only two have been starters for the majority of one season: Brian Allen (111th) and Sebastian Joseph (195th). At a time when LA must replace some key players on the offensive line, the Rams might not be able to rely on any of their three o-line picks from 2018.

Noteboom (89th) played very poorly during his 393 snaps at left guard last season. Allen wasn’t much better over his 583 snaps at center. Jamil Demby (192nd) needs to fight just to make the final roster again.

Then seven of their eight remaining picks that year went to players for the front-seven: Four defensive ends, two linebackers, one defensive tackle.

Franklin-Myers (135th) played 301 snaps as a rookie and sacked Tom Brady in the Super Bowl to force a fumble but spent 2019 on injured reserve for the New York Jets. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (160th) missed all of his rookie season and then showed potential in 115 total snaps last season. Trevon Young (205th) was cut midseason in 2018, returned, then again released in 2019, last picked up by the Cleveland Browns. And Lawler (244th) was their final pick.

Kiser (147th) was selected in round five and he was placed on IR during final cuts last year. The other linebacker was Travin Howard (231st) and after not making the roster as a rookie, he returned to play in 102 snaps on defense and an impressive 329 snaps on special teams in 2019. Howard stands out as a more valuable seventh rounder than average, but that’s only saying so much and special teams value has its limitations as well.

The most valuable pickup of the class has been sixth round defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day (195th), who emerged as a starter alongside Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers after spending all of 2018 as a member of the 53-man roster but making zero game appearances. Joseph-Day was buried on the depth chart as a rookie but had enough potential for McVay to keep him around and then he got an invite to Von Miller’s pass rushing summit last offseason. Joseph-Day played 481 snaps on defense, recording 44 tackles, two sacks, five tackles for a loss, and five QB hits.

Consider that in 888 snaps during the previous season, Suh had 41 tackles, 2.5 sacks, seven tackles for a loss, and 14 QB hits.

The last player I’ve yet mentioned is running back John Kelly (176th) and in two years he’s bounced back and forth from the practice squad to the active roster, but has yet to look like an NFL caliber player. Even at the end of the 2018 season, when C.J. Anderson looked All-Pro like in the absence of Todd Gurley, Kelly failed to produce when given the opportunities. I don’t think this is a big deal, Kelly was a sixth round pick, and in fact most of these selections failing to contribute is not a concern in a vacuum.

The big picture is that out of 11 selections in 2018, only one has produced a positive season through the first two years since the draft: Joseph-Day. He has the most starts of the group (15), followed by Allen (9), Noteboom (6), and Demby (1). Seven of the 11 have yet to start an NFL game and there’s certainly a chance that Allen, Noteboom, and Demby don’t ever start a game again. So the macro outlook of the 2018 Rams draft class may be disappointing, but on a micro level, can’t we give Snead and McVay a break?

LA had zero picks until they got to 89.

They traded picks 23 and 198 for Brandin Cooks, which basically makes him their first rounder. That worked out very well in 2018.

They traded pick 56 for Sammy Watkins and pick 195, and not only was Watkins useful in 2017 as McVay was getting his feet wet, but pick 195 turned into Joseph-Day. Additionally, after Watkins signed with the Kansas City Chiefs, the Rams received a third round compensatory pick. While the outcome of each third round choice is muddled, we do know that Snead traded a third to receive Dante Fowler from the Jacksonville Jaguars and also used two thirds to trade up for running back Darrell Henderson. That freedom of additional thirds could be used to explain the Fowler acquisition, which worked out very well and could at least be another third round compensatory pick in 2021.

So while LA didn’t select in the first and second round, they acquired Cooks, Joseph-Day, and potentially Fowler because of the moves Snead made with those picks.

And before making the Noteboom pick, Snead traded down only two spots to add a sixth rounder from the Oakland Raiders, and then he packaged another sixth rounder to move up for Okoronkwo, who is potentially the second-best acquisition here after Joseph-Day.

Grading on the curve that the Rams were only a hair away from having zero picks on days one and two of the draft, I think the 2018 class is acceptable even though we may only see three or four of the 11 selections make it to year three on the roster. There would be nothing unusual about seeing a late third round guard or a fourth round center failing to have an impact on the professional level. Nothing to really criticize when a sixth round running back or a seventh round defensive end turn up on waivers. The New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks are two organizations that often go for quantity over perceived quality in the NFL draft and this has helped them build exceptional rosters in the past, but it has also burned each with talent droughts.

That comes with the territory of success.

2019

That leaves only one more class under the McVay-Snead regime to discuss so far and that’s the eight-person draft of 2019. Coming off of a Super Bowl loss, the Rams were in position to make their highest pick since 2016, but first opted to trade down from 31 all the way to 45, swapping a sixth for a third with the Atlanta Falcons. They then went from 45 to 56, adding a third from those Patriots. And then next went from 56 to 61, scooping a fifth rounder from the Kansas City Chiefs.

The final tally: Drop from 31 to 61, lose a sixth rounder, add two thirds and a fifth.

Snead is not stupid. He knows that when you drop from 31 to 61 there will be a handful of names that will always make fans wonder, “What if?” It is impossible that there wouldn’t be some exceptional players in that range and while I could list rookie standouts (A.J. Brown chief among them), it is still too early to tell if maybe some of the offensive linemen they passed on (Kaleb McGary, Jawaan Taylor, Cody Ford, Dalton Risner, Erik McCoy) may be the biggest regrets ... but perhaps there will be no regrets at all given what they came away with.

The first selection was Taylor Rapp (61st) and I don’t think anybody hates that. Rapp recorded 100 tackles, two interceptions, and eight passes defensed at safety last season and he pairs as a future there with Johnson.

Instead of picking 63rd, as they would have been scheduled to, Los Angeles dealt that to the Kansas City Chiefs for Marcus Peters a year earlier and he helped them reach the Super Bowl. They still get something else out of Peters: linebacker Kenny Young and an upcoming fifth round pick.

Next they select Henderson (70th) and he was held back for most of his rookie campaign. We can’t judge him one way or the other yet. Cornerback David Long (79th) came soon after and he ended up playing in 85 coverage snaps, most coming in Week 17. We can expect him to get a look at the slot next season.

Bobby Evans (97th) got more work than expected, 479 snaps at right tackle, and there were ups and downs. Looking at these three draft classes en total, Evans, Noteboom, Allen all figure to mix into competitions after the eventual outcomes of Andrew Whitworth, Austin Blythe, and potentially Rob Havenstein are decided. Maybe Demby too. The player who may have had the best showing so far is David Edwards (169th) who had 554 snaps at right guard and 138 snaps at left guard as a rookie in 2019.

But as we saw with players like Blythe and Havenstein, inconsistency is to be expected and planned for ahead of time. McVay and Snead can’t feel confident that they’ll have a line as good as they had in 2017-2018, but they’ve added 4-5 new options into the mix and can hope that 1-3 of them are quality low-cost contributors in 2020.

Snead made three other picks last year: Defensive tackle Greg Gaines (134th), safety Nick Scott (243rd) and linebacker Dakota Allen (251st).

Gaines may be a stout run defender, though the sample size is just 106 run defense snaps. He figures to be in the rotational mix for 2020 but perhaps will be limited in snaps behind Donald and Joseph-Day. Scott earned 16 game checks because of his play on special teams, where he got 378 snaps, most on the team; Scott, Marqui Christian, and Howard were the three snaps leaders on that side of the ball. Consider that this is where Cory Littleton thrived under McVay in 2017 before becoming a regular on defense in 2018. It may mean nothing, plenty of special teamers are phased out soon after, but it’s never bad to stick on the roster.

And as mentioned earlier, Allen is no longer on the roster.

For 2020, it appears the Rams may have come away with a starting safety, potentially a starting nickel corner, a running back who may play a vital role depending on the future of Todd Gurley, maybe a starting guard or key versatile backup on the o-line, a rotational defensive tackle, and a special teamer or two. For a draft that again didn’t feature a pick in the top-60, that would be a great haul — which still doesn’t account for whatever value they received from Peters.

2017-2019

All told, we see 27 draft picks, 22 still with the team, and zero drafted in the first round. Only two were taken in the second round — Everett and Rapp — six were taken in the third.

Everett, Rapp, Kupp, Johnson, and Joseph-Day should be highlighted among the 22 and fittingly, Everett, Rapp, and Kupp were the three highest-drafted. Johnson was not that far behind. Ebukam, Evans, Long, Smart, Henderson, Allen, Gaines, Okoronkwo, Edwards, Howard, Scott may all play key roles in 2020 and we can’t say for sure that some names I haven’t listed won’t either.

This may not feel like a three-year haul that is adequate to building a Super Bowl roster because thus far we’ve only really seen Kupp breakout on that level — and receiving value itself is somewhat limited — but we must consider the curve. Yes, during the Fisher administration, the team drafted Donald, Gurley, Goff, Trumaine Johnson, Alec Ogletree, Janoris Jenkins, Havenstein, Greg Zuerlein, Lamarcus Joyner, Tyler Higbee, Tavon Austin, and others, but consider three things:

  • That’s out of 43 picks, not 27
  • They’ve had more time
  • Goff, Austin, Gurley, Donald, and Brockers were top-14 picks, and Ogletree, Jenkins, and Joyner all went higher than any player picked by the Rams in the last three years. That’s eight of those 43 picks, not to leave out Greg Robinson and Brian Quick, two disappointing selections in that range.

There’s also the matter of opportunity.

When the team is bad, more of their draft picks can put in time. Now that the team is good, it is harder to earn snaps for young players over veterans like Donald, Brockers, Fowler, Clay Matthews, Littleton, Eric Weddle, Jalen Ramsey, and so on. With many of those names exiting the locker room next season, that’s where some of these 22 names will be called upon to step up.

And then another round of judgment begins.

Overall I’d say that given the cards they were dealt, both in being successful and thereby lowering their draft capital, and in making somewhat risky trades that bolstered the veteran talent on the team, Snead and McVay can be pleased with the results through three years so far. I think the spike in trades has been a positive for the organization and even if they don’t have another first round pick on the slate again until 2022, they should at least remain competitive until then.