Most people know that the last player who was drafted by the LA Rams in the first round was Jared Goff in 2016. That was long enough ago that the player was able to sign his rookie deal, play a few years, reach a Super Bowl, sign another contract, and get traded to another team, all well before the Rams would draft their next first round player. That might not happen again until 2024, at the soonest.
But do you know who the last player was to be drafted by the Rams in the first round with LA’s original first round pick, no trades involved? He has an eerily similar trajectory to Goff.
Yes, that player is Todd Gurley, Les Snead’s first round pick in 2015. And the year before that, the Rams selected Aaron Donald. It’s not that Snead’s track record in the first round has been terrible by any means — we can sidestep Greg Robinson as it conveniences us, similar to a pass rusher facing Greg Robinson — but in spite of hits like Donald and Gurley, he has chosen to use draft selections as collectibles that are sometimes better to be sold than held onto.
Like Beanie Babies.
Snead isn’t the only NFC West general manager to operate the draft this way. John Schneider of the Seattle Seahawks has traded his first round pick in nine of the last 10 years, with the only exception being linebacker Jordyn Brooks in 2020. Schneider sat out the 2021 first round, and will do the same in 2022, because of a trade with the New York Jets for Jamal Adams last year. Meanwhile, Snead and John Lynch, GM of the San Francisco 49ers, will sit out the 2022 and 2023 first rounds because of deals to acquire Matthew Stafford and the draft pick that would become Trey Lance, respectively.
Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim loves using first round picks on prospects, and he often has early ones to spend ... and the Cardinals are projected to finish in fourth place.
Which of these strategies has worked out the best over the last five years? I’m going to quickly run down the “first round hauls” for all four teams, dating back to Sean McVay’s first year on the job in 2017. That was the first year that LA did not have a first round pick of their own to use, but we must always keep in mind when those picks are unavailable because of a commodity who is already on the team. That’s what the asterisks will be for.
I caution against nitpicking the finer details of my process here. We could find an argument for why I “should include (PLAYER X) because of (TRADE Y)” or whatever, but I chose not to use that methodology. If you would like to run this experiment with a different methodology, I encourage you to share your findings in the comments section or in our fanpost section, and I’ll happily read it and could even share it on the front page.
Rams 1st round pick: Jared Goff*
49ers 1st round pick: DE Solomon Thomas
Cardinals 1st round pick: LB Haason Reddick
Seahawks 1st round pick: None (traded down to 2nd round, picked DL Malik McDowell)
49ers 1st round pick: LB Reuben Foster (traded up with Seahawks)
Sum: If a team trades down and out of the first round, I will choose to represent their top pick as their “first rounder” and I will be ignoring the extra day two and day three picks who also came with them. I’m only focusing on the closest thing to a blue-chipper. But if the team uses the first round pick to trade for a player, I will focus on the veteran player and ignore that team’s “first pick” from that particular draft. Makes sense?
If a team has two first round picks, either because they traded a veteran for one, or they traded back into the first round for one, I will include both first round players as part of their haul.
Seattle and San Francisco made a deal that allowed the 49ers to move back into the first round for Foster, a talented linebacker who was released after a season and a half because of off-field issues. He was picked up by Washington, but hasn’t played since because of a torn ACL and injury setbacks. Foster is a free agent. Lynch recently spoke about making that selection and what he learned from it:
“I think an example – and I don’t say that anything is a mistake, but I had so much belief in Reuben Foster and my ability to get to him. ‘OK, if he’s got some issues, I can help this young man out. I can be the one. I’m not playing anymore. I’m in the GM seat. I can put resources around him’ and all those things. But I think, probably, I’ve learned some tough lessons that it’s going to be hard to have that kind of influence and have that kind of connection because I’m not his teammate anymore. I’m actually in a different role.
“And Reuben’s a fine young man. Went through some tough things. I don’t mean to put him out there on that. But that’s an instance where I probably, my experience, feeling like, ‘You know what? I can get to him’ — sometimes you can’t. Or you can’t make a situation better because of the dynamics involved.
But the Seahawks trading down multiple times and choosing McDowell went even worse than the Niners’ situation with Foster. McDowell was injured in an ATV accident during his first offseason and he never really made it to an NFL training camp. But he’s making a comeback attempt this year and will be in camp with the Cleveland Browns.
Solomon Thomas was one of the worst draft picks of all-time. People can say what they want about Thomas the player, but a QB-needy 49ers team chose Thomas over Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. And Thomas isn’t much of a player.
Rams 1st round pick: WR Brandin Cooks*
49ers 1st round pick: OT Mike McGlinchey
Cardinals 1st round pick: QB Josh Rosen (traded up)
Seahawks 1st round pick: RB Rashaad Penny (traded down)
Sum: The best of these four moves actually is Brandin Cooks. Even the one good season with Cooks, that led to a Super Bowl, is enough to move the needle over three okay years of McGlinchey as San Francisco’s right tackle. Rosen is back in the NFC West, serving as a potential third-string quarterback for the 49ers next season, his fourth team already. Penny played in three games and had 11 carries for 34 yards last year.
Rams 1st round pick: None (traded down, top pick was S Taylor Rapp)
49ers 1st round pick: DE Nick Bosa
Cardinals 1st round pick: QB Kyler Murray
Seahawks 1st round pick: DE L.J. Collier (acquired via KC for Frank Clark. Seattle traded out of first round with other pick, eventually selecting S Marquise Blair)
Sum: Being at the back end of the first round, Snead’s first trade down helped him pick up David Long in the third round, and his second trade down helped him acquire picks that would lead to the selection of Bobby Evans. So some of what we’ll be seeing in training camp this year, including multiple starters, could have resulted from Snead’s moves down in the 2019 draft. I’m only going to include Taylor Rapp though, the 61st overall selection and LA’s top pick in 2019.
Arizona made a selection that not many teams would have made, if only because of the Rosen pick one year earlier. San Francisco made a selection that every team would have made by choosing Bosa right after Murray. It’s a question I know that at least I’ve never asked but it should be on the table: Should the Cardinals have just picked Nick Bosa? I guess Kyler Murray will answer that question next season.
The Seahawks had two first round picks, choosing Collier with one, and moving the other one down until they landed on Blair. Collier has three sacks in 27 games, while Blair missed virtually all of 2020 with injury and is thus far only a reserve, though eventually he could replace Quandre Diggs at free safety.
Rams 1st round pick: CB Jalen Ramsey*
49ers 1st round pick: DT Javon Kinlaw (traded down one spot, pick acquired from IND for DeForest Buckner)
Cardinals 1st round pick: LB Isaiah Simmons
Seahawks 1st round pick: LB Jordyn Brooks
49ers 1st round pick: WR Brandon Aiyuk (traded up)
Sum: We get into territory now where the Rams should have a significant advantage: they already know that Jalen Ramsey is an impact player and he’s had a huge affect on LA’s defense over the last two years. That’s not the case with Kinlaw, Simmons, and Brooks on their respective defenses. Aiyuk was really ballin’ out prior to his latest injury: he had been targeted 69 times in one six-game stretch, catching 45 passes for 568 yards and four touchdowns in that period of time.
But Ramsey is the cornerback most often cited as the best at that position today. Sacrificing two late first round picks for him, that seems like a defensible move.
Rams 1st round pick: CB Jalen Ramsey*
49ers 1st round pick: QB Trey Lance
Cardinals 1st round pick: LB Zaven Collins
Seahawks 1st round pick: S Jamal Adams*
Sum: We don’t know yet how Lance and Collins will perform at the NFL level. Adams needs to do more to prove himself in Seattle than Ramsey does to prove himself with the Rams, as we’ve already seen Ramsey prove himself. Adams is a great player in his own right, but we already know that Ramsey is a fit with the LA defense and he’s helped guide them to the number one ranking in the NFL. The Seahawks have fumbled around nearly all of their veteran trade acquisitions under John Schneider and Pete Carroll, so they have a lot more ground left to cover.
The 2017-2021 Total Haul:
Rams: Jared Goff, Brandin Cooks, Taylor Rapp, Jalen Ramsey
Cardinals: Haason Reddick, Josh Rosen, Kyler Murray, Isaiah Simmons, Zaven Collins
Seahawks: Malik McDowell, Rashaad Penny, LJ Collier, Marquise Blair, Jordyn Brooks, Jamal Adams
49ers: Solomon Thomas, Reuben Foster, Mike McGlinchey, Nick Bosa, Javon Kinlaw, Brandon Aiyuk, Trey Lance
If looking ahead to 2021, then these are the players who still remain with those teams:
Rams: Rapp, Ramsey
Cardinals: Murray, Simmons, Collins
Seahawks: Penny, Collier, Blair, Brooks, Adams
49ers: McGlinchey, Bosa, Kinlaw, Aiyuk, Lance
For Seattle, only Adams has a guaranteed spot as a starter next season. Brooks could still be anything after only one season in the league. Penny and Collier are on borrowed time, but not finished.
San Francisco’s major get there is of course Bosa. Kinlaw and McGlinchey have not quite proven to be top-15 pick “type” players yet, but there is time left. Aiyuk, if he stays healthy, looks like a really good weapon for the 49ers.
I’m sure that Arizona is elated to be building around those three players — most people would be — but they have yet to prove themselves. Any of them.
Los Angeles doesn’t know if it has a starter with Rapp, but they do know they have a Defensive Player of the Year candidate with Ramsey. Maybe only Nick Bosa has proven to have that level of talent among the other players on these lists.
Of course, there is also the presence of Stafford, though to include him, we’ll need to look ahead to the 2022-2023 drafts. And looking ahead to future drafts is not something that the Rams have done lately, unless it’s when talking to other teams about a blockbuster trade.
How would you grade Les Snead’s usage of first round picks from 2017-2023? (Including Stafford)
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