Quick experiment. I’m sure the Jared Goff trade has been discussed many times before, but again with four years of hindsight, what could we surmise from the alternate history?
What if they hadn’t?
The Titans used this pick to move up to eight for tackle Jack Conklin in a trade with the Cleveland Browns. The Browns selected receiver Corey Coleman. The Rams could have theoretically drafted Coleman too.
The receivers for LA at the time were Kenny Britt, Tavon Austin, Brian Quick, and others. Wes Welker was also on the roster. If not Coleman, Will Fuller, Josh Docston, and Laquon Treadwell were also drafted in the first. Other than Fuller, not good.
Best case - Taylor Decker, OT
The Detroit Lions drafted Decker 16th and he’s been a solid player for them, even if not a star like Conklin, Ronnie Stanley, and Laremy Tunsil out of that draft. LA had Greg Robinson and Rob Havenstein, but neither would’ve prevented a welcome addition of Taylor at the time.
Center Ryan Kelly could have replaced Tim Barnes at center.
Safety Keanu Neal would’ve been an upgrade in the short and long-term. Would his health concerns have always followed him wherever he had gone?
Worst Case - Paxton Lynch, QB
If the Rams don’t grab Goff or Carson Wentz to showcase as the QBOTF to Los Angeles, then would they have reached for Lynch like John Elway did? It’s a much different future if the team fires Jeff Fisher and then has no QB to deliver to Sean McVay or the next head coach like they had with Goff. But that doesn’t mean pick 15 was the only way to grab a QB.
Pick 43 and 45
Tennessee picked defensive tackle Austin Johnson and running back Derrick Henry here. LA would not have taken Henry, having selected Todd Gurley in 2015. Any defensive lineman also seems unlikely. Outside linebackers, inside linebackers, safety, cornerback, quarterback, receiver, tight end. Almost anything other than defensive tackle and running back, honestly.
Let’s say they pick Decker at 15.
Best Case - Michael Thomas, WR
Going 47th overall to the New Orleans Saints, the Rams could’ve had two opportunities to take him out of Ohio State that year. LA would’ve been able to plug Thomas in and give him 80 or so targets instead of the 106 that went to Austin.
Best Case - Cody Whitehair, OG
Other good players in this range are Jarran Reed, Nick Martin, Deion Jones, Tyler Boyd, Sean Davis, and Kevin Byard, though Byard went 64th at the top of round three.
Worst Case - Christian Hackenberg, QB
Again, the worst thing would’ve been to waste a pick on a QB with no future. And in the NFL QBs drafted in the first or second round typically have one of two futures: really good player (at least) or wasted pick. There’s rarely a QB who gives you something but doesn’t start. So it’s always a risk, especially if you don’t grab one early, as the Rams did with Goff.
Other players who didn’t do much in this range are Jihad Ward, Jason Spriggs, Su’a Cravens, and Roberto Aguayo. Actually ...
Worst Case - Roberto Aguayo, K
Two picks, two worst cases.
Let’s say that the Rams select Thomas and Nick Martin, a good center for the Houston Texans.
Here is where the Browns selected Shon Coleman, a tackle out of Baylor. The Titans used so much of the deal to move up for Conklin, the Rams could’ve also done this. And then they’d have Conklin and would’ve kept much of their draft capital, including the 2017 first round pick.
Best Case - Joe Thuney, G
The New England Patriots took Thuney 78th and he was their franchise tag player this year. Imagine the Rams rebuilding the offensive line with Decker, Martin, and Thuney. The offensive line in 2016 was Greg Robinson-Rodger Saffold-Tim Barnes-Cody Wichmann-Rob Havenstein.
These picks could’ve made the line, at some point at least: Taylor Decker-Rodger Saffold-Nick Martin-Joe Thuney-Rob Havenstein.
I know it sounds idealistic, but there are teams out there who have offensive lines as good or better than this. Teams almost never hit on their picks like I’m doing here. Shon Coleman sounds like a very “Rams-y” pick to me. But I am blatantly experimenting with best case scenarios here.
Daryl Worley is a decent corner who went 77th. Austin Hooper went 81st, but the Rams ended up drafting Tyler Higbee in the fourth round anyway. Safety Jordan Simmons went with the last pick of round three. A not-horrible option at QB would’ve been Jacoby Brissett, who the Patriots drafted 91st.
Worst Case - Coleman
He overcame a lot to get drafted but Coleman has never proven to be a professional-level offensive tackle.
Let’s say that the Rams draft Brissett in order to sell some sort of developmental project to the fans and a future head coach, but with the hope to find a diamond in the rough or that a fantastic player will fall into their laps after they’ve rebuilt the rest of the offense.
In these scenarios, the Rams don’t receive those two picks from the Titans, so they don’t select Pharoh Cooper, Michael Thomas, or Temmarick Hemingway now.
2016 draft class:
With these picks, the Rams have Michael Thomas at receiver instead of Mike Thomas. They start him opposite of Britt instead of pumping it to Austin. However, I suspect that the construction of the offensive line takes time and the Rams are no better at QB with Brissett and Case Keenum as they were with Keenum and Goff.
I could definitely see this team also going 4-12 with Fisher getting fired.
Biggest difference is that LA goes into the 2017 offseason with a need at QB. This is where speculation about alternate histories get ugly, because the best case scenario is frighteningly good.
The top four picks in 2017 were Myles Garrett, Mitch Trubisky, Solomon Thomas, and Leonard Fournette. The Titans picked receiver Corey Davis over Mike Williams and John Ross. Jamal Adams went sixth and Christian McCaffrey went eighth. But these Rams have Sean McVay as a new head coach and two notable QB prospects left on the board after Trubisky:
Best Case Scenario: Patrick Mahomes, QB
It’s undeniable. If the Rams hadn’t traded up for Goff and even if they had selected Brissett would’ve been the team perhaps most linked to a QB in the 2017 draft and they almost certainly would’ve had a top-10 pick. I could also see McVay being interested in Mahomes, as he is friends with Kliff Kingsbury, the former head coach at Texas Tech. The trio had dinner last April.
A Rams team that had built up its offensive line and then drafted Mahomes or Watson would have been very interesting.
Adams would’ve changed the defense. Marshon Lattimore went 11th, a very good corner that could’ve saved them some future trades.
Worst Case Scenario: Davis, Williams, or Ross, WR
Had LA managed to get Goff and retain their first round pick, they likely would’ve wound up with one of these receivers. Mike Williams is pretty good actually but he wouldn’t have come to LA and made an impact in the W/L column, I don’t think. And he’s not a McVay type receiver. Ross maybe. Which is even worse than Davis or Williams.
Let’s just do it. Rams pick Mahomes.
The Rams next picked TE Gerald Everett at 44, WR Cooper Kupp at 69, and S John Johnson at 91. I think these would all still be needs, even with Michael Thomas and a free agent addition of Robert Woods.
The last draft pick to concern ourselves with here, the Titans picked tight end Jonnu Smith.
Keep in mind now that at this point, the 2017 team had signed Andrew Whitworth (probably not necessary in my scenario, but definitely a better player than Decker), Robert Woods, John Sullivan (Martin instead with my non-trade scenario) and at this point I’d see their major needs being linebacker, cornerback, and defensive tackle.
Best case scenario: Tarik Cohen, RB/PR
The best player in this range is safety Eddie Jackson, but in my scenario the Rams have just picked John Johnson and will start Lamarcus Joyner next to him. I’m not re-drafting for LA exactly, I’m only focusing on the picks involved in the Goff trade. They made the Johnson pick and it was a pretty good one.
The Rams could’ve also considered RB James Conner to backup Gurley instead of just Malcolm Brown. Not unusual to see Snead grab a RB in the third round.
But now without Pharoh Cooper, the Rams turn return duties over to Cohen, who can also backup Gurley and catch passes out of the backfield. Perfect weapon for McVay at a third round cost. There was also Trey Hendrickson, Dede Westbrook, and Carl Lawson in this range.
Worst Case: Brandan Langley, CB
LA didn’t do too bad in this range anyway. They selected WR Josh Reynolds at 117 and OLB Samson Ebukam at 125.
2017 draft class
A 2017 alternate history offense:
QB - Patrick Mahomes*, Jacoby Brissett*
RB - Todd Gurley, Tarik Cohen*, Malcolm Brown
WR - Michael Thomas*, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Josh Reynolds
TE - Tyler Higbee, Gerald Everett
OT - Taylor Decker*, Rob Havenstein
OG - Rodger Saffold, Jamon Brown
C - Nick Martin*
2017 alternate history defense (same as it ever was):
DL - Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers, Ethan Westbrooks
LB - Mark Barron, Alec Ogletree, Robert Quinn, Connor Barwin
CB - Trumaine Johnson, Kayvon Webster, Nickell Robey-Coleman
S - Lamarcus Joyner, John Johnson
My alternate history of not trading up for Goff actually changes the defense nil. That was my choice to see offense as the path to greatest success at these particular draft spots. The offense, as you can tell, is quite different and obviously gets a seriously new look if we’re talking about Mahomes and Thomas as Rams instead of Goff and Watkins.
It may seem improbably good, but let’s not forget that the whole point of the trade was that the LA Rams gave up a lot to move up for Goff. Forget about the players that the Titans picked. That has nothing to do with what the Rams would have done. And if they didn’t get Goff or another first round QB in 2016, there’s an unavoidable reality that they probably would’ve been heavily linked to Mahomes and Watson in 2017.
Now that you hate me for even writing this, what paths make the most sense to you? Which alternate realities do you believe would’ve actually happened if not the trade for Goff? Do they make all the wrong picks or all the right picks? Do they trade up for Conklin? Do they trade up for Trubisky?! And is it really unlikely that the Rams would’ve wound up with Mahomes or Watson?
Drag me, fam.