The Los Angeles Rams are next set to have a first round pick in 2024, which is eight years after the last time they selected any player on day one. That was Jared Goff. Now might not be a great time for Les Snead to say “F- that pick” given L.A.’s current state of the roster.
Snead and company’s strategy to trade first round picks for proven veteran talent and then to surround them with “good-enough” players in between, that helped propel the Rams into winning the Super Bowl last season. I would, however, argue that the first Super Bowl appearance in 2018, with Aaron Donald, Todd Gurley, Goff, Rob Havenstein, John Johnson, Lamarcus Joyner, and Cooper Kupp before his injury that season, was more largely the result of good drafting.
Free agency is what brought in Andrew Whitworth, Robert Woods, Ndamukong Suh. Trading for Brandin Cooks helped a lot too. But that was slightly offsetting the underwhelming results of trading for Sammy Watkins a year earlier.
Given L.A.’s lack of obvious incoming talent on rookie contracts, now may be the right time for Snead and personnel executives Ray Farmer, Brian Xanders—those who have replaced the recently departed Brad Holmes and Ray Agnew, maybe a large reason for past success—to re-focus on the NFL Draft. Keep Them Picks.
Or... K*%# Them Picks, I guess.
With 2022 free agency now in the rear view, we know that only Joe Noteboom and Brian Allen are left from an 11-player draft class in 2018. Neither of those picks are especially helpful right now. Allen is injured. Noteboom does not yet feel like the guaranteed long-term replacement option for Whitworth, even if he has a new contract.
The only players drafted by the Rams prior to 2018 who are still on the roster are Kupp, Donald, Havenstein, and Tyler Higbee. That’s it.
Next up is the 2019 draft class, a group of eight players, seven of whom are still on the roster. The final pick for that year, linebacker Dakota Allen, is currently on the Cleveland Browns practice squad. But by next March, he surely won’t be the only “former Ram” from that group.
Taylor Rapp, Darrell Henderson, David Long, Bobby Evans, Greg Gaines, David Edwards, and Nick Scott all have key roles on the L.A. Rams this year. Emphasis being on “key roles” and not necessarily on them being “good starters.” They are starting because the Rams need someone to start in those positions right now based on the fact that the players who they’ve traded for like Matthew Stafford, Jalen Ramsey, and free agents like Leonard Floyd, Allen Robinson, Bobby Wagner, and A’Shawn Robinson, are taking up such a large percentage of the team’s cap space.
When you decide to build a 53-man roster around six or seven elite players, it requires that you also draft really well. Those rookie contracts need to do more than just allow a general manager to be able to fit bigger contracts under the cap. The players on those contracts also have to perform adequately, if not do really well.
The Rams are not getting great performances out of the players on those rookie contracts, so teams are able to avoid L.A.’s best players and exploit the weaker ones.
When 2023 free agency comes to pass, which members of L.A.’s 2019 draft class will still be on the roster? It seems safe to say that Rapp, Henderson, Long, Evans, and even Scott will be easier choices to let walk. The Rams parted with John Johnson, so would they really prioritize giving raises to Rapp or Scott on new deals?
The draft picks used on Terrell Burgess, Jordan Fuller, and Quentin Lake was meant to smooth out that transition, but so far the Rams can’t seem to trust any of those players to become starters. Fuller has been demoted, Burgess has never moved up the depth chart high enough to be demoted, and Lake has yet to practice with the team.
That leaves Gaines and Edwards as the only two members of the 2019 class who would seem to even be up for negotiation. But if the Rams let Austin Corbett go this year, will they feel pressured to give a new deal to Edwards? And Gaines, previously the most likely to be the breakout star of the group, has been quiet through four games. Gaines had 21 pressures and 4.5 sacks in the last 14 games (including playoffs) last season.
He has one pressure, no sacks, in four games this season. There is time to rebound. However, can he rebound enough to convince the front office that he’s different than all those other defensive linemen who played next to Aaron Donald and then were let go and never had the same success again?
It’s not impossible to say that the entire 2019 draft class will be gone by 2023, while even Brian Allen and Noteboom may have to keep proving themselves too. Allen’s contract doesn’t guarantee his 2023 season, while the Rams will have a big decision to make on Noteboom next March: He gets $8.5 million in salary guaranteed if he’s on the roster on the fifth day of the 2023 league year.
One thing we know for sure: He can’t block Nick Bosa.
Per @pff Joe Noteboom allowed 10 total pressures and 3 sacks last night.— HoldenCantor (@HoldenCantor) October 4, 2022
But struggles in drafting extend beyond 2018 and 2019. As mentioned, Burgess and Fuller have offered underwhelming returns on the 2020 class.
Cam Akers has missed basically half of his career so far. Van Jefferson is on IR and has not developed into the next Robert Woods, despite their reasons for comparison. Terrell Lewis has also missed a lot of time, predictably, and has one pressure this season. Brycen Hopkins seems to be hanging onto the roster by a thread. And the three seventh rounders that year were Clay Johnston, Sam Sloman, and Tremayne Anchrum.
Which, if any, of these players will earn a second contract?
So far the only standouts from the 2021 class are Ernest Jones and Ben Skowronek. Tutu Atwell may also be barely hanging on, Jacob Harris has already been let go, as has Earnest Brown IV, with both now on the practice squad. Chris Garrett is on the Vikings practice squad. Bobby Brown is still suspended, Robert Rochell has fallen behind this year’s rookies at cornerback, Jake Funk is a special teamer.
Finally, early returns on the 2022 class are that Derion Kendrick has played a lot in the last two weeks. He’s been thrown at a lot too. There are flashes of Kendrick and Decobie Durant potentially becoming good starters in the secondary one day. We also saw those flashes from Rochell, Burgess, and Fuller once. Will it hold this time?
Maybe what the Rams should be holding onto are them picks.
Give Snead all the praise necessary for strategizing the Rams into winning the Super Bowl last season. But this is this season and next year is next year. What the Rams really need moving forward is more players on their rookie contracts who are talented starters and the highest odds for finding talented starters come with first round picks. It doesn’t mean that every pick is going to work out, L.A. knows that as well as any other team, but six straight years without a first round pick, and only picking once in the top-50 (Gerald Everett), could potentially be taking its toll on the roster finally.
The Rams should be happy that they have Stafford and Ramsey, even if the cost was four first round picks. But between now and 2024, maybe Snead’s best strategy is to K*%# them picks after all.