The Los Angeles Rams are preparing for the NFL Draft which begins Thursday, April 28th and spans the better part of three days. LA isn’t slated to make their first selection until 104 overall, and even then they could decide to trade back and acquire additional draft capital.
Yes, there are some holes in the starting lineup for Los Angeles - but no - they probably won’t be able to fill these holes given their slot in the draft lineup.
Instead, the Rams typically think years ahead when they turn in their draft cards - and this year is likely no different.
Which positions should LA consider as their most significant priorities heading into the draft?
Jordan Fuller was a steal by general manager Les Snead in the sixth round of the 2020 draft. Taylor Rapp has been a steady presence in the starting lineup since he was taken in the second round in 2019, and his draftmate Nick Scott emerged as a capable starter during the second half of last season.
But Rapp and Scott and entering contract years and will become unrestricted free agents after the season. The team also has third-year safety Terrell Burgess under contract for one more season; however, it’s difficult to discern what the coaching staff’s plan for him is.
Knowing that the Rams are also thinking multiple steps ahead, they likely understand that they will need replacements for at least one of Rapp or Scott. Injuries also happen - and LA needs individuals that are capable of stepping in should any of the aforementioned names miss much time.
Jalen Ramsey somehow raised his level of play in 2021 and continues to perform as one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL.
But the Rams have significant questions at cornerback opposite Ramsey, and they also need someone who can capably play in the slot when the star corner moves out to the boundary.
David Long, Jr. and Robert Rochell will be asked to step up after the team lost Darious Williams to free agency. Los Angeles likely won’t find a day one starter in this year’s draft, but it’s important that they draft a corner who has the potential to eventually grow into a starting role.
Rochell is entering just his second season. Long is heading into his fourth year, so he’s slated for free agency in 2023. Even if Long plays well in an increased capacity, there are still significant questions around if the Rams could or are willing to retain him.
Donte’ Deayon, who has been with the team through the last several offseasons, remains unsigned as an unrestricted free agent. Deayon could immediately step in as a known commodity should the Rams not find what they’re looking for in the draft.
Veteran tight end Tyler Higbee has been an important, albeit unheralded, part of the Rams offense since head coach Sean McVay took over in 2017. Higbee has dealt with nagging injuries during the last couple of seasons, though he hasn’t missed many games. Kendall Blanton stepped up admirably during the playoffs in Higbee’s absence, and Brycen Hopkins showed promise during the Super Bowl when both Higbee and Blanton were injured.
But the promising contributions of Blanton and Hopkins aren’t enough to keep Los Angeles from investing in the position during the draft - and the time to groom Higbee’s replacement could be drawing nearer.
Cam Akers should be fully recovered from his 2021 Achilles tendon injury and back in full force this season, though he recently expressed disappointment in his postseason production.
Darrell Henderson was used in the complementary role that was always intended for him during the team’s Super Bowl victory - and he was one of LA’s better receivers in that game after injuries to Odell Beckham, Jr. and Blanton. Henderson is entering a contract year, and establishing himself as a dynamic change of pace back with the Rams could earn him a relatively nice payday in free agency next offseason.
But there are questions heading into 2022 surrounding the depth behind Akers and Henderson. Veteran back Sony Michel is still unsigned in free agency. Jake Funk seemed to impress the team as a rookie, but his opportunities were scarce. LA is also returning Xavier Jones and Raymond Calais from season-ending injuries.
If there’s a skillset the Rams are missing at runningback, it’s a bruising-type runner. Los Angeles may benefit from having a bigger back that can specialize in short yardage - and rookie RB’s can contribute early even if acquired in the later rounds of the draft.