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How does Rams roster compare to best in the conference?

Does draft status really make the difference?

NFL: Los Angeles Rams-Sean McVay Press Conference
How does the Rams braintrust compare to the NFC’s best?
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

For the Los Angeles Rams, the final games of the season are a balancing act of sorts. There are important games to play and monitor in the thick of a playoff race, but in this rebuilding year, the future must kept in consideration.

The draft season has started, in earnest. College players are jockeying between transfer portals and draft considerations. The showcase games and their workouts are a month away. Deciding where and when draft capital needs to be spent is part of looking to the rebuilding future.

It got me to thinking, the Rams had a solid draft last go round after a few, what some fans would politely call, so-so draft sessions. A common narrative for 2023 is that the Rams have wasted away their early draft picks and pissed away all their cap space, thus, are bereft of talent. I compared the current L.A. roster with three of the NFC’s best teams to see how bad it really is. Keep in mind, the Rams are a season and a half out from the NFL Championship and this is the narrative.

Pro Football Reference provided the current rosters and draft status of players, I provided the thoughts.

Early rounds (1&2)

Eagles 21, Cowboys 17, 49ers 13, Rams 6

No surprises in the numbers here, since 2016 Rams General Manager (GM) Les Snead has played fast and loose with L.A.’s top picks. He’s shown an inclination to move those picks to bring in top outside talent. In the seven drafts since 2017, the Rams have had two selections in the Top 50 and only five in the first two rounds. Add to that the L.A. purge of high draft status players and their coinciding contracts after the 2022 season. They jettisoned 10 Round 1 or 2 players off of last season’s roster and seven of those were hired on from other teams.

Eagles GM Howie Roseman is considered at the top of his profession and been on the job since 2010. He’s drafted 11 of his high choices and added 10 others through trades. While all four of his Round 2 picks have been since 2018, his seven Day 1 players are split between his early years, 2010, ‘12, ‘13 and the past three, ’21, ’22, ’23.

For the Cowboys, it’s Jerry Jones world. As owner/GM, he accumulated the second-most top round talent. It’s split evenly, nine drafted and eight brought in from outside. The return on draft investment for those 17 players has been iffy, of 204 possible starts, the group has 113 (55.4%).

I think most fans would think the 49ers would have the most top draft picks. GM John Lynch took over in 2017 and in his first five drafts, had five Top 10 picks and all 10 possible Round 1 and 2 selections within the Top 50. They haven’t had a Day 1 pick in the two years (’22 and ’23) with #61 being their earliest.

Mid rounds (3&4)

Rams 16, Cowboys 14, 49ers 12, Eagles 8

The Rams apparent comfort zone. nine starters, five regular contributors and 33% of the roster. As much as GM Snead has a reputation for stockpiling those Round 6 and 7 picks, he mines these two rounds for starting talent. Round 4 is where you can start to take shots at players with athletic upsides and while Snead has his misses, he has plenty of solid hits as well.

Late rounds (5,6, &7)

49ers 20, Rams 19, Eagles 12, Cowboys 9

Not surprised here, both the Rams and 49ers have scheme-driven offenses and quite often how an individual players fits into that scheme is just as important as top-end talent. They prefer to spend their money on a few top difference makers and fill around them with versatile, hard-charging players that are football smart and willing role players. Not that the Eagles and Cowboys don’t follow suit, but looking at the their rosters, they appear to want more highly-graded, experienced backups than the Rams/49ers.

Undrafted

Cowboys 13, Rams 12, Eagles 12, 49ers 8

For L.A., this group is not all special teamer’s and bottom of the roster fill. They have five players, Coleman Shelton, Alaric Jackson, Michael Hoecht, Jonah Williams, and Christian Rozeboom as regular starters, along with specialists Alex Ward (LS), Lucas Havrisik (K) and Austin Trammel (KR).

The Cowboys have starting tackle Terrence Steele as the only real contributor. Philly has safety Reed Blankenship and linebacker Nicholas Morrow. The ‘Niners claim two starting defensive backs, Tashaun Gipson and Charvarius Ward, along with offensive lineman Jake Brendel.

Home grown talent

Rams 44, Cowboys 41, Eagles 33, 49ers 33

This is not of huge importance, roster building is roster building. But the argument that trusting your personnel department to bring in players that fit the system is a strong one. The narrative that the Rams are a team of mercenaries is bit overblown. Under the Snead/McVay regime the Rams have retained a high number of draft picks on the opening roster, Even the Super Bowl winning year of 2021-22, the year-long roster of 75 players only had 14 players, albeit many high-profile, not drafted by the Rams.

Who are the 2023 Rams and where did they come from?

Round 1

QB Matthew Stafford - Lions ’09, traded to L.A. in ’21 after 12 years in Detroit.

QB Carson Wentz - Eagles ’16, signed as free agent in ’23 passing through Philadelphia, Indianapolis, and Washington.

DT Aaron Donald - ‘14

Round 2

OL Rob Havenstein - ‘15

WR Tutu Atwell - ‘21

OL Steve Avila - ‘23

Round 3

CB Ahkello Witherspoon - ’17 49ers, signed as free agent after four seasons in San Francisco, a cup of coffee in Seattle, and two years in Pittsburgh.

WR Cooper Kupp - ‘17

S John Johnson - ‘17

RB Royce Freeman - ’18 Broncos, signed as free agent in ’23 after tours in Denver, Carolina, and Houston

OL Joseph Noteboom - ‘18

TE Hunter Long - ’21 Dolphins, traded to Rams in ’23.

ILB Ernest Jones - ‘21

E Byron Young - ‘23

DT Kobie Turner - ‘23

Round 4

WR Demarcus Robinson - ’16 Chiefs, signed as free agent in ’23 after stops in Kansas City, Las Vegas, and Baltimore

TE Tyler Higbee - ‘16

OL Brian Allen - ‘18

OL Kevin Dotson - ’20 Steelers, traded to Rams in 2023.

TE Brycen Hopkins ‘20

DL Bobby Brown ‘21

CB DeCobie Durant ‘22

Round 5

DT Larrell Murchison - ’20 by Titans, came to L.A. as free agent in ’22.

DT Earnest Brown - ‘21

RB Kyren Williams - ‘22

WR Puka Nacua - ‘23

TE Davis Allen - ‘23

E Nick Hampton - ‘23

OL Warren McClendon - ‘23

Round 6

S Jordan Fuller - ‘20

CB Derion Kendrick - ‘22

S Quentin Lake - ‘22

RB Zach Evans - ‘23

CB Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson - ‘23

E Ochaun Mathis - ‘23

Round 7

OL Tremayne Anchrum - ‘20

WR Bennett Skowronek - ‘21

S Russ Yeast - ‘22

P Ethan Evans - ‘23

S Jason Taylor - ‘23

DT Desjuan Johnson - ’23

Undrafted free agents

OL Coleman Shelton - ’18 by 49ers, signed by L.A. in ’19 after tryouts with San Francisco and Arizona

ILB Troy Reeder - ‘19

E Michael Hoecht - ‘20

DT Jonah Williams - ‘20

ILB Christian Rozeboom - ‘20

WR Austin Trammel - ’21 by Falcons, signed in ’22 after Atlanta release.

OL Alaric Jackson - ‘21

CB Shaun Jolly - ’22 by Browns, poached from Cleveland practice squad in ’22.

ILB Jake Hummel - ‘22

E Keir Thomas - ‘22

LS Alex Ward - ‘23

K Luke Havrisik - ‘23

Past, present, and future

It is safe to assume that since 2017, these are the top four programs in the NFC, the Eagles are 68-41-1, 6-4 in playoffs, the Rams are 66-44, 7-3 in playoffs, the Cowboys 66-44, 0-3 in playoffs, and the 49ers 61-49, 6-3 in playoffs. L.A. and Philly have both made two trips to the Super Bowl, winning one apiece, while ‘Frisco has one and Dallas hasn’t gotten there.

Their roster building strategies may be different in the traits they look for, but the actual draft position make up of the rosters is quite similar. In the last year, the Rams had to make the tough decision to clear out a lot of accumulated early round players whose contracts had become albatross’s around their neck. The true cost of the Lombardi Trophy had come due.

The Eagles will face a similar situation next off season. The Eagles have 12 players who will be 30+ years old and 10 of those are from the first three rounds. They also have to navigate 20 unrestricted free agents. A long way to go, but Super Bowl wins make players take a long look at their current contracts.

Reaping the benefits of rookie quarterback contract and an undrafted QB contract at that, the 49ers, with their cap rollover from this year to next and pushing big contract payouts to 2025, should be in good financial shape. With a couple of caveats. They have to deal with 14 players 30 or over and five unrestricted free agents from Round 1 and 2. Again, those “good” contracts are re-examined for possible new deals after a Super Bowl run.

It will take some transactional hocus-pocus for the Cowboys, they’re in the red for 2024 cap space and have four starters, RB, CB, and two OL as unrestricted free agents. They have 11 returning players over 30, including three on the offensive line. QB Dak Prescott’s cap hit will be $59.5 mil.

After winning it all in 2017, it took the Eagles four seasons to rebuild, three middling and one stinker. After the 49ers lost the 2019 game, they dropped to 6-10 the next season and had a 10-7 third place finish in 2021. After making the playoffs in 2018, the Cowboys fell to 14-18 over the next two years. Rebuilding, re-tooling, or re-imagining is not a snap your fingers process.

It is easy to fall back on recency bias when viewing the Rams. After the Super Bowl win, 2022 became a three-dimensional intersection of problems and the high-profile contractual house cleaning followed. Pundits and fans alike warned of impending doom in 2023, things were going to get much worse before they got better. They had to pay for their wicked “win now” strategy. But the walls did not collapse, the Rams braintrust has figured out a way to make it work. It’s not always pretty, often to the point of aggravation and the hard work is now, getting over the “playing everybody close” hump and stacking wins down the stretch to the playoffs. Where anything can happen.