There’s little doubt that over the last five years, Los Angeles Rams general manager Les Snead has been among the best in the NFL at what he does. He’s changed the way some teams approach the draft and what teams are willing to do to get star players.
Calling Snead a pioneer in this aspect might be a stretch. Big trades in the NFL have happened before. However, it’s also fair to say that Snead has had some influence around the league when it comes to making moves of this magnitude.
For Snead, it’s been all been about being aggressive and capitalizing on the current window that includes Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, Aaron Donald, and Jalen Ramsey. That’s why the Rams enter the 2023 offseason at a crossroad. They need to have the current window in mind while also having an eye towards the future.
When Snead first arrived with the Rams organization in 2012, it was a team depleted of talent. While they never made the playoffs in the Jeff Fisher era, Snead drafted plenty of talented players.
As the Rams improved under McVay, Snead’s draft strategy changed. It went from needing to draft starting caliber players that could contribute right away to drafting players that could contribute as depth and then develop and fill specific roles later.
Heading into the current draft, the Rams need much more of the former than the latter. They are on the presipice of needing a rebuild. A good draft that produces starting caliber players allows the Rams to continue on the current path. Contrarily, a bad one would almost certainly expedite a rebuild.
Simply put, over the last three drafts, the Rams have not done well. In that period, the Rams have drafted 3-4 starting caliber players if you consider Cobie Durant, Ernest Jones, Cam Akers, and Van Jefferson. However, even that might be generous.
2020 third round picks Terrell Burgess and Terrell Lewis are no longer on the roster. It’s well-known that the Rams passed on Creed Humphrey for TuTu Atwell. 2021 fourth-round pick Jacob Harris didn’t make the initial 53-man roster and spent time on the practice squad last season. It’s hard to have a definitive answer on Logan Bruss, but his reps during the preseason didn’t look very promising.
It’s well-known that the draft is a crapshoot. Teams aren’t going to hit on every single pick. While Lewis was cut this season, it’s hard to blame the Rams for drafting him at the time given his projected ceiling. Some picks with context are better misses than others.
Still, with the Rams lack of high draft picks, the repercussions for missing on higher picks is felt even more. While they are among the teams that have had the most draft picks since 2017, many of those have come in the later rounds. There’s a difference in quality and quantity. The Rams have had a high quantity, but the quality of those picks hasn’t been high.
That’s the case once again this season where many of the Rams draft picks will come in the sixth and seventh rounds.
With the lack of high picks, hitting later on is that much more important and the Rams haven’t done that. Given where the Rams currently stand, teetering on the verge of competing or rebuilding, the 2023 draft might be the most important draft of the Snead era.
However, one really good draft can pay immediate dividends. The 2017 draft that included Gerald Everett, Cooper Kupp, and John Johnson played a key role in the Rams making the Super Bowl in 2018. In the same way, the 2019 class that produced Taylor Rapp, Greg Gaines, David Edwards, and Nick Scott led to a strong playoff run in 2020 and Super Bowl title in 2021.
Looking around the NFL, the Seattle Seahawks were thought of as a team that was set for a rebuild this season. Instead, they drafted Charles Cross, Kenneth Walker, Abraham Lucas, Coby Bryant, and Tariq Woolen. All of these players performed at a high level as rookies and will be building blocks for the future. Only Cross was a top-40 pick.
Now, not only did the Seahawks surprisingly make the postseason last year, but they also have a top-5 pick that was given to them by the Denver Broncos.
The draft is important for every team in the NFL. Teams that draft well often separate themselves from a success standpoint when compared to teams that don’t. With that said, the Rams need the 2023 draft more than most.
There are teams that won’t miss a beat if they have a bad draft in April. After that, there’s another group who could use a good draft, but it won’t significantly hurt them if they don’t. With limited cap space and without the ability to bring back players or sign a lot of new players in free agency, the Rams heavily rely on the draft when it comes to their team building. If the Rams have another draft like they have the past two or three years, it will have a significant negative impact.
Over the past 3-5 years, Snead has had an “F Them Picks” mindset. While that’s not completely accurate, it is in the sense that the Rams haven't had a top-50 selection since McVay’s first season in 2017. No team has relied on hitting on late draft picks more than the Rams.
The Rams sit at a crossroad this offseason. One direction is a path that leads to the ability to continue competing as a top team in the NFC. The other direction leads to a path of rebuild. Which direction the Rams are forced to take hinges on how well the Rams draft come April. That’s why this draft is the most important of the Les Snead era.