The LA Rams had two second round picks headed into Friday night’s second round of the NFL Draft and rather than making any trades, GM Les Snead held firm at picks 52 and 57 and chose two young(ish) players to add to his roster. What surprised people was not that Snead chose two offensive players but that those players were not offensive linemen. And also that the first of those picks was a running back.
With the 52nd overall pick of the 2020 NFL Draft, the Rams selected running back Cam Akers out of Florida State. Akers is an elusive back who specializes in creating opportunities on his own and he was productive at Florida State in spite of a poor offensive line.
When looking at running backs chosen in the 40-60 range since 2009, these are the results, broken into tiers.
Content: Jeremy Hill, Miles Sanders, Carlos Hyde, Ben Tate, Toby Gerhart, Shane Vereen, Kerryon Johnson
Sad: Montario Hardesty, Mikel Leshoure, Isaiah Pead, Montee Ball, Bishop Sankey, Ameer Abdullah
Hurt: Derrius Guice
The first thought is obviously Dalvin Cook because of the Seminoles connection and if Akers was that explosive with the Rams, few would actively criticize it. Drafting a running back in the first round is criticized often these days but mid-second to the end of the third has been a sweet spot for those players.
I don’t worry too much about “need” because I think it assumes that a team should always be drafting players to help them immediately and that rookies are consistently able to do so. Just because they would have drafted a guard or center doesn’t mean that the player would have started right away or contributed next season. The need in 2021 may more clearly be on running back and if Akers is a good pick, he’ll be in much more of a stride at that time.
In that sense, I would comment Les Snead and Sean McVay on getting the running back who they must have felt best fit their offense. The fact that they chose Akers with their first pick makes perfect sense: the RB-needy Buffalo Bills were two picks behind them, the Baltimore Ravens chose running back J.K. Dobbins three picks behind them, and the Miami Dolphins were another team potentially looking for a running back at 56.
The Rams picked again at 57 and chose receiver Van Jefferson, when no teams picked a WR between 52 and 57, meaning it was probably their ideal scenario at that point, to get Akers and Jefferson rather than Jefferson and potentially their second choice at running back.
In doing so they passed on tackle Ezra Cleveland and receiver Denzel Mims, two players who some assumed they would have wanted but clearly that was not the case. Not as much as Akers and Jefferson.
With Jefferson, LA landed a receiver they clearly wanted too. The Rams could have waited but if you felt that Jefferson was as special of a receiver as, say, Cooper Kupp, then you wouldn’t wait. Not on a different receiver or on the belief that Jefferson would pass by another 27 picks. Receivers taken in the 45-65 range since 2010 include a number of really good players:
Michael Thomas, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Davante Adams, Jarvis Landry, Alshon Jeffery, DJ Chark, Allen Robinson, A.J. Brown, DK Metcalf, Torrey Smith, Tyler Boyd and Randall Cobb among them. There’s also Mecole Hardman, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Andy Isabella, Parris Campbell, Christian Kirk, Anthony Miller, James Washington, Paul Richardson, Cody Latimer, Aaron Dobson, Ryan Broyles, Reuben Randle, Greg Little.
In this unique draft class, Jefferson was the 11th receiver off of the board. But it is assumed that some mid-to-late round receivers in this draft will be special. Jefferson isn’t even mid-round, he went at the end of round two. He had a lack of college production though and if he has a lack of pro production, he won’t be considered a quality pick.
I don’t know if that’s going to happen which is why I don’t grade draft picks right when they happen.
As far as grading the process of drafting a running back and receiver in the mid-to-late second round in this draft class with other things on the board, I wouldn’t criticize it if the Rams felt they were getting adequate replacements for Todd Gurley and Brandin Cooks. That does not mean that Cam Akers and Van Jefferson are similar to Gurley and Cooks or that they have to succeed at the same levels as Gurley and Cooks. These are mid-to-late second round picks. Gurley and Cooks were basically mid-first round picks. That’s different!
But if McVay’s offense goes with these guys, then it’s a fantastic second round. If they don’t, questions about passing on offensive line or pass rush help or secondary help will haunt the 2020 second round.
As far as a front office doing whatever the hell they feel is right, I give the Rams an A.
As far as if they’re going to be right about thinking they’re doing something right, we won’t know that tonight.