Last year, the selections of Cam Akers and Van Jefferson seemed to be direct responses to the recent losses of Todd Gurley and Brandin Cooks. But it could also be construed that the Rams picked Terrell Burgess to prepare for the loss of Troy Hill, Jordan Fuller for John Johnson, Brycen Hopkins for Gerald Everett, and Terrell Lewis for Samson Ebukam, or in the worst case scenario had LA not re-signed Leonard Floyd.
It’s a concept that most Rams fans are familiar with by now, so which positions might Les Snead target in 2021 if he’s looking ahead to 2022?
Among the five most important positions, the long-term needs at tackle stand out for the LA Rams. Andrew Whitworth will most likely decide to turn 40 in December and it seems like a corncob pipedream to expect him to play in 2022. Joseph Noteboom turned in no less than an adequate left tackle performance last season, but even if he upgraded his job title or Rob Havenstein moved over and was still good, Los Angeles would have clear issues of depth staring them in the face. More importantly, the Rams must first re-sign Noteboom, who is set to hit free agency in 2022.
Bobby Evans, Tremayne Anchrum, and Jamil Demby are remaining options with Whitworth and Noteboom out of the picture.
For the reason, the Rams still get mocked to some tackles with their first pick in round two. Going back to 2010, day two has provided three Pro Bowl “tackles” (some players drafted as guards moved to tackle later, and one of these three tackles moved to the guard in the NFL) in Terron Armstead, Orlando Brown, and Kelechi Osemele; two of those players were drafted by the Baltimore Ravens. That’s not to say that there weren’t other good linemen drafted on day two in that time: Mitchell Schwartz, Rodger Saffold, Jared Veldheer, Donovan SMith, Orlando Franklin, Cam Robinson, and Havenstein being among them.
The Rams drafted two of those players.
There are a number of interesting names in what could be a tackle class that does provide long-term starters after the first round. Stanford’s Walker Little has a connection to LA’s new offensive line coach (he comes from Stanford) and he was the top-rated prospect in the country a few years ago. Liam Eichenberg, Sam Cosmi, or Teven Jenkins could be available too, among many others.
We still can’t say with any certainty that Burgess can play slot corner — or even that he could start at safety — because he just didn’t play enough as a rookie. It does give the Rams competition at slot between him and David Long for now, but no corresponding move for a veteran was made to answer for the loss of Hill. That could still be coming, but with Darious Williams set to hit real free agency in 2022, the Rams might want to draft a corner anyway.
In fact, Long is the only cornerback who the Rams have drafted since 2015.
LA could target a slot player on day two if they picked someone like UCF’s Aaron Robinson, who the Rams have already met in the pre-draft process. But there would also be a bevy of options on day three and after the draft and the slot position is one where potentially you can find really good values, the deeper you look. Ohio State’s Shaun Wade might be one of those value picks.
On the opposite side of the corners, the Rams are set to field what is most likely the oldest wide receiver unit in the NFL: 29-year-old Robert Woods, 28-year-old Cooper Kupp, 35-year-old DeSean Jackson. Obviously Woods and Kupp aren’t turning 30 this year, but I’m not discriminating against players of their age so much as the NFL is.
The notable wide receivers who were older than 28 last season include Cole Beasley (31), Marvin Jones (30), Adam Thielen (30), Emmanuel Sanders (33), T.Y. Hilton (31), Larry Fitzgerald (37), and Julio Jones (31). None of them topped 1,000 yards, while only Jones, Beasley, and Thielen were able to top 800.
You’d think that Van Jefferson would then provide the youthful spark to bring down that average, but he’s already turning 25 this year, making him the same age as Curtis Samuel, Chris Godwin, and JuJu Smith-Schuster, three players who’ve already hit free agency at this point.
Why skip drafting a receiver in 2021 then? Especially given that this class will also provide a couple of lottery tickets that turn into really valuable weapons. Some potential late day two or day three receivers standing out so far might be Stanford’s Simi Fehoko, Louisville’s Tutu Atwell, Tennessee’s Josh Palmer, UCLA’s Demetric Felton, or Iowa’s Ihmir Smith-Marsette.
That’s not a comprehensive list — and if you spin it the right way, you can make any prospect stand out in a vacuum — but you’d think that given the likelihood of Jackson not having a long Rams career, Woods turning 30 in a year, and the need to increase the number of good Matthew Stafford pass-catching options that taking a receiver should happen at some point. Jefferson didn’t do anything (that we could see from here) to slow down the search for more help at the position.
If you put every Rams linebacker into a Boggle machine, then surely by the end you could land on three who make LA comfortable next season. Somewhere between Micah Kiser, Troy Reeder, Justin Hollins, Terrell Lewis, Travin Howard, Justin Lawler, Kenny Young, Christian Rozeboom, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, and Derrick Moncrief, should the Rams be able to find two players to start next to Leonard Floyd. And a fourth for when they need four linebackers.
That doesn’t seem like too pressing of an issue given that the Rams had the best defense in the NFL in 2020 in spite of injuries and a lack of athletic freaks at linebacker.
But much like how there’s a belief that Lewis gives LA a player with first round upside, so too could Snead and Sean McVay fall in love with a day two or day three linebacker who they believe has the potential to become the next “Cory Littleton” in their defense. Whatever that may mean to Raheem Morris’s defense.
There are a lot of strong linebackers in this class, and some day two options that get thrown around a lot are Nick Bolton, Jabril Cox, Baron Browning, Chazz Suratt, Cameron McGrone, and Pete Werner. There would also be an interesting list for day three.
With Kiser, Young, Howard, and Okoronkwo hitting free agency in 2022, and Reeder, Lawler, Moncrief as restricted free agents, adding another body to the group in the 2021 draft might make too much sense.
Out of these four positions, which should be the biggest priority in the 2021 draft?
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