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Rams 3-round mock draft: Prioritize depth over perceived 2021 needs

My one and only mock draft for the Rams

NCAA Football: Oregon at Southern California Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

We are one day away from the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft and two days away from the first round of the 2021 Rams NFL Draft.

“We pick in the first round every year. Our first round.” Rams general manager Les Snead, as he casually places his hand on Sean McVay’s shoulder and smiles as he tells him about his latest trade.

I’ve compiled a mock draft for what the Rams could hope to accomplish with their first three picks this year. We don’t know who will be available after day one, let alone after the first 56 picks, but I think there would be some rational reasons to go into the draft with a plan like this one.

2.57 - Walker Little, OT, Stanford

NCAA Football: Stanford at Oregon Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Reuniting Walker Little with college offensive line coach Kevin Carberry is the match that we probably should be focusing even more on than we already are. Sean McVay talked up Carberry’s experience with the offensive line class in this draft and if Carberry endorses anybody from Stanford, you’d think that carries a lot of weight. And if Carberry didn’t feel comfortable endorsing a prospect, that probably carries even more.

Who knows how high the Rams are on Walker Little in reality. But let’s instead scratch this pick from the record and pick up the phone to accept a trade.

2.57 - Walker Little, OT, Stanford

In an ideal world, the Rams trade back and an additional day two and/or fourth round pick, because the limited talent pool makes it even more imperative to secure the six or seven players who could really restock some free agent losses. Not having to completely bypass spending a little “fun money” on the prospects you want regardless of position doesn’t hurt either.

I don’t like mock draft simulators, I can do a plenty good job of imagining what random players projected around 57 could be gone or available on my own, so let me lay out a scenario for you that’s plenty defensible without using one.

The Vikings have two third round picks and four fourth round picks and two fifth round picks, but they don’t have any selections between 14 and 78. The Rams pick 57 and if there are no “pool party grade” players on the board, definitely quantity over quality is the agenda.

Minnesota wants to trade down in the first and shore up that big gap between 14 and 78, but if one of their top-rated players falls further than they anticipated and is in their laps, they’ll need to consider ways to trade up from 78 and they’ll know at 14 that they have that option because of all the additional picks they own in rounds four and five.

Rams are on the clock at 57, Vikings call and offer picks 78, 119, 157. I don’t read any trade value charts, that’s just going with my Lestimation.

Yes, LA falls back another 21 spots but there probably aren’t going to be many points in the draft, after the top 40 or 50 picks, where 21 makes a monumental difference of a prospect. And now the Rams would be picking eight players instead of six. So let’s try this again.

3.78 - Spencer Brown, OT, Northern Iowa

Syndication: The Des Moines Register Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Register via Imagn Content Services, LLC

I wrote about Spencer Brown on Tuesday and the community was overwhelmingly in favor of him as a piece of the Rams future. Who am I to ever argue with a community? Do I look like Dr. Frankenstein? The famous community arguer.

I think it is completely fair to assume that Little could go 20 spots ahead of Brown, even if I can’t guarantee that Brown won’t go 30 or 40 spots ahead of Little. These things are not predictable by anyone other than a GM who is currently sitting at his desk, scribbling on a cocktail napkin stained with whiskey, that “i’ll draft spencer brown at 23 even if it kills me.” That could be a bit ahead of Little.

This move gives LA a perfectly sizable left tackle prospect to spend a year learning the NFL. Having seen what it cost the San Francisco 49ers to re-sign Trent Williams, the draft picks that they and the Seattle Seahawks sacrificed to acquire left tackles, the money that over-30 and over-35 and over-38 players at the position are able to command, I just don’t know how anybody can think it’s a “waste of a pick” to potentially secure a future starter at the position when you know for a fact that the Rams don’t have first round picks in 2022 or 2023.

It’s exceedingly difficult to find good left tackles outside of the first round of the draft and while that does mean that Spencer Brown or Walker Little could surely fail to pan out — and the probability of any day two or day three tackle becoming a star is always low — this particular draft is going to be one of Les Snead’s best opportunities to get lucky.

The best thing I can compare it to is a team that has a 39-year-old quarterback. If you thought you could get a quarterback with potential at pick 57 or 78, nobody would question the choice. Left tackle is often called the second-most important position on offense. Sean McVay arrived in 2017, but so did Andrew Whitworth.

In the press conference this week, as expected, most answers were vague and general and that’s exactly what you’d hope for. No reason to share any real thoughts going into the draft. But it did feel like McVay was preparing anyone who cared to listen for the team to not draft for “needs” and to not hope for the Rams to pick a Week 1 rookie starter on day two of the draft.

This will be Brian Allen’s fourth season with the team and that experience with the coaches and the offense could make him the de facto starter when offseason practice festivities begin. Unless one of the guards seems ready to supplant Austin Corbett, as McVay left it open that there would be interior players with versatility in the mix as well.

If LA’s top-ranked center is available at 57, then we could just be having a very different conversation after the draft. I am assuming that it won’t happen. That if there is a player in the draft who the league expects to just be a really good option from his rookie season and on, that he won’t fall to 57. Centers like that actually do not tend to fall to 57.

So there you have it. The Rams fall back 21 spots and pick a tackle prospect who might be just as good or better than the tackle prospect who I saw on the board originally. Now LA will have picks 78, 88, 103, 119, 141, 157, 209, 252. That pushes them out of the second round, but gives an additional fourth and an additional fifth.

88. Trey Smith, G, Tennessee

NCAA Football: Senior Bowl Practice Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

“I guess you don’t like big, aggressive guards, Lance? I know he has things to work on, but they can be coached up. The (history of blood clots) is a much bigger issue than anything on tape for me.” — Personnel executive for NFC team

Does that personnel executive work for the Rams, by chance, Lance?

McVay said that a guard could compete to start at center. He was probably referring to Austin Corbett. It doesn’t mean that the team would draft Trey Smith or any other guard to replace Corbett in 2021. But if Corbett moves to center, somebody has to start at guard. Somebody like Bobby Evans or Joseph Noteboom or Tremayne Anchrum. And with somebody moving up, somebody has to take their place as depth.

Free agents in 2022: Austin Corbett, Joseph Noteboom, Coleman Shelton, Jamil Demby, Brian Allen

Maybe you’d be fine with seeing some of those players leave, but LA needs to take its shots on replacements who you won’t want to see leave one day. I think the most likely scenario then would be Corbett moving to center, Evans competing to start at right guard, Smith and Brown getting their reps with the second team and waiting their turn. But it sounded like McVay could be hyping up Allen’s experience as a starter only to prepare the world for him going into another season as the backup. To Corbett.

More on Smith from Big Blue View:

Smith looks almost exactly like the player any offensive line coach would want getting off the team bus first. At 6-foot-5 1⁄2 inches, 331 pounds, with 33 1⁄2 inch arms, he has solid length and a thick, powerful build. That translates onto the field where he is a mauling run blocker. He even acquitted himself well at the 2021 Senior Bowl and was one of the more impressive offensive linemen on the property. Smith is the kind of player teams are usually happy to spend a Day 2 pick on.

But then there are those medical red flags. Smith was diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs in 2018 and again in 2019. The issue was treated and is believed to be under control, but could that still be enough to scare off NFL teams in a year in which they can’t have much contact with the prospects?

Projection: A starting guard in a power blocking scheme.

Smith, or any guard, could compete to start in 2021 but would be drafted with the idea in mind to provide depth for now, with hope for more in the future.

103. Jay Tufele, DE, USC

NCAA Football: Southern California at Arizona Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

I think the loss of Michael Brockers has flown under the radar and while the Rams may have accepted his departure a year ago when he signed with the Ravens, they also made a semi-dumbfounding move in re-signing him after his physical didn’t work out in Baltimore. Re-signing him for good money. Obviously every new defensive coordinator brings new ideas but to have no response to the loss of Brockers seems unlikely to me.

Jay Tufele would probably do little if anything to replace the presence of Brockers by next season, that wouldn’t be the expectation for any rookie and Brockers did a lot more for the Rams over the last nine years than just play defensive end, but the team has to start somewhere.

There have been few picks at the position since selecting Brockers, in large part because of the fact that they had Brockers. The three-year contract implies that they expected Brockers to be around in 2021, so they didn’t draft a defensive end or defensive tackle. At the moment, Aaron Donald, Sebastian Joseph-Day, and A’Shawn Robinson are backed up by Greg Gaines, Jonah Williams, Eric Banks, Michael Hoecht, and Marquise Copeland. It’s hard to guess how many games Robinson will be active for each season, leaving LA with little depth and the only backup who was even drafted is Gaines.

This is considered to be one of the worst defensive tackle classes of the century and that doesn’t bode well for the overall evaluation of Tufele, but he’s one of many prospects this year who is hoping to prove that his opt out decision didn’t impede his development towards becoming an NFL player.

Had Tufele chosen to play for USC last season, based on his first two seasons with the Trojans, his age (21), and athleticism that goes stride-for-stride with borderline first round pick Levi Onwuzurike, he might have been the headliner of the class.

Tufele is 6’2, 305 lbs, ran a reported 4.98 40-yard dash at his pro day, and his 30” vertical, 30 reps on the bench, and 8’9 broad jump are virtually the same as Onwuzurike and good among all defensive linemen. He was productive as a freshman and a sophomore at USC, recording 10 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks in 24 games.

He’s also been playing rugby since the seventh grade and that if it wasn’t for football, he would have been attempting to go pro in rugby. His play on the field is in line with the aggression most would expect from a rugby player. And of the one sack that Penei Sewell gave up in college, Jay Tufele had one of them.

Tufele doesn’t have great length, he’s just an above-average athlete based on pro day testing, but he doesn’t give off the vibe of a player who gets the same kind of energy while running drills as he does when the whistles blow and he’s padded up. Pro days are not where you want to test players like Jay Tufele and we know that the Rams are not especially interested in what happens at pro days.

He may not have the ceiling to become the next Michael Brockers but he also matches up well with Tyeler Davison, the 6’2, 309 lb defensive lineman who played in over 500 snaps in each of the last two years with the Atlanta Falcons. Raheem Morris knows how to utilize a player like Jay Tufele and he can definitely reach the ceiling of becoming the next Jay Tufele.

By moving down, the Rams now have five day three picks instead of three. I would expect one of those picks to be used on a return man. I would expect at least one pick to be used on a cornerback. I would expect one pick to be used on a linebacker. And I would expect one of the picks to be used on a center.

Consider how much easier those draft decisions begin to look once the team has eight picks instead of six. Snead can’t predict if an unbelievable opportunity will present itself and the team is compelled to stay at 57, but trading down seems ideal and Minnesota could be a potential buyer.

Summary:

2.57 - TRADE

3.78 - SPENCER BROWN, OT

3.88 - TREY SMITH, G

3.103 - JAY TUFELE, DL

Day 3

4.119 - UNDECIDED (FROM VIKINGS)

4.141 - UNDECIDED

5.157 - UNDECIDED (FROM VIKINGS)

6.209 - I DON’T KNOW YET

7.252 - COME BACK AFTER DAY TWO

I’ll spare you the horror of throwing names at an even deeper wall until after we know who is still available after day two.

Fun Fact: 78 and 88 would be the two highest-drafted offensive linemen for Les Snead since Rob Havenstein at 57 and Jamon Brown at 72 back in 2015. And Jay Tufele at pick 103 would be Snead’s highest-drafted defensive lineman since Aaron Donald in 2014. Terrell Lewis was the first front-seven player that Snead had drafted in the top 100 since Donald.