Previewing the NFL Draft has not been a relatively exciting time of year for the Los Angeles Rams or their fans and 2023 is a slight but underwhelming exception. Though the Rams do not have a first round pick, picking 36th overall is their highest selection going into a draft since 2019 and their second-highest in any of the last seven years.
But it’s not a first round pick and people around the league just do not get excited for projecting the teams that do not have day one selections.
Trading up for a QB won’t happen and would be a huge mistake
Perhaps the most exciting Rams move that I’ve seen in a mock draft recently is Ryan Wilson of CBS Sports having L.A. trade up from 36 to 18 with their old friends on the Detroit Lions so that Les Snead could choose Kentucky quarterback Will Levis. This is not what I would expect to happen and this is not what I would advise Snead to do.
I do expect Levis to go much later than popular narratives (though his stock is rapidly falling to include fewer and fewer mocks that have him in the top-five or top-10) but I would go by the rule that if a quarterback is not good enough for the Washington Football Team, he’s probably not good enough for your football team.
When Levis slides out of the top-15, just let him continue to slide. Rare is the quarterback prospect who goes in the 15 to 36 range and becomes a star or even a starter. Since Aaron Rodgers in 2005, the only standouts are Derek Carr and Lamar Jackson.
More importantly though, trading up for Levis is acting as if the L.A. Rams have the luxury to overspend draft resources on a middling first round quarterback prospect when they both have holes all over the roster and as if they won’t be in position to draft a quarterback with a higher pick in 2024. The Rams will have a pick higher than 18th in 2024, but Wilson’s trade proposal tries to fit a “need” (situating a quarterback behind Matthew Stafford for the future) by sacrificing a 2023 third and a 2024 second.
If the Rams finish with one of the worst records in the NFL next season, that 2024 second round pick could be very close to a first round pick. We just saw the Chicago Bears trade the 32nd overall pick for Chase Claypool, even though it was a “second rounder” at the trade deadline.
The Rams can’t take wild risks this year
Wilson’s trade up for L.A. also has Snead bypassing a lot of better football prospects left on the board while also losing the 77th overall pick which could be used on potentially a better football prospect than Will Levis. This isn’t even a hot take: The only reason that Levis is getting first round buzz is because of his boom-or-bust potential at the game’s most important position, not because he played football at a high level through five seasons of college experience.
That’s fine if a team wants to take the risk on Levis, but the Rams are not in any position to take risks this year in the draft. They have to take players who can immediately fill roles because L.A. isn’t retaining or replacing anyone who has left this offseason...and a lot of players have left.
I hate to even be so hack as to criticize a mock draft because I’m sure Ryan Wilson also knows that mock drafts are just internet fodder to get fans from the end of the season to the first round. But if there’s an opportunity to fight against faulty reasoning for a decision involving the Rams by explaining why it’s almost certainly doing the exact opposite of what the Rams need to do and should do, then I’ll answer that knock by a mock.
And also add to the internet fodder, I guess.
NFL Mock Draft QB Drafted— CFB Home (@CFBHome) March 26, 2023
1. Panthers- CJ Stroud (OSU)
2. Texans- Bryce Young (Alabama)
4. Colts- Anthony Richardson (Florida)
18. Rams- Will Levis (Kentucky)
50. Bucs- Hendon Hooker (Tennessee)
What the Rams Need
The Los Angeles Rams need players, period. Even with 11 draft picks this year—but eight of those are on day three—Snead has no room to get cute by doing something like trading up for a quarterback who wouldn’t be good enough to go in the top-15 picks. I could give a long list of reasons for why Levis isn’t a great prospect for the first round, but let’s just make a general statement: The Rams need to set a foundation for the quarterback who they add in 2024 or 2025 because they are in no position to waste a pick on a quarterback who could even be available to them in the draft in 2023 when the roster has been stripped down to the bare bones.
Right now, I’d say the Rams only have about 35 players who could even make the roster next season. Nearly all of their free agents are gone, which is fine, but at some point the Rams need to start making moves to replace them and field a 90-man roster that becomes a 53-man roster and 14-man practice squad.
They aren’t even close to that right now!
Can’t trade down either
The truth is that even with 11 draft picks, a franchise just isn’t going to come away with 11 players who make the team. That’s just not how that works. The Rams had 11 picks in 2018 and though they had a few guys who stuck around—Joe Noteboom, Brian Allen, Micah Kiser, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Sebastian Joseph-Day, Travin Howard, but an early departure for John Franklin-Myers—they didn’t even land one great player. Snead didn’t pick until 89th that year and L.A. has three picks in the top-80 this year.
But eight picks on day three is still eight picks on day three. Rookies are still rookies. Draft picks are still crapshoots.
“Oh we’re going to draft 11 players and sign 5 more who do great things for this team” is just not how it has EVER worked and it won’t be the case this time. So not only can Snead not waste picks by trading up, he can’t waste them on quarterbacks and he can’t even trade down too much and sacrifice potential opportunities to get one or two quality starters on day two!
When the Rams traded down all those times in 2019 and fell from 31 to 61 and picked Taylor Rapp, they not only lost out on a few stars: Deebo Samuel, Elgton Jenkins, A.J. Grown. They also missed out on a ton of good starters who could be on the team right now.
There’s no more time for that!
Can we nail down the picks by sticking to reality?
Snead holds picks 36, 69, and 77 on day two and like I always do, I’m going to try and telegraph what I think is the most realistic picture of what the Los Angeles Rams will do. I don’t care if the Rams or the Rams players “like me” like most other writers in this space, so I am not influenced by that like they are. I don’t pay lip service to fans, obviously, as you’ve told me many times! My only loyalty is to what I believe is the closest version of reality and that’s how we saw moves ahead of time in the past like parting with Jared Goff, trading Robert Woods, and trading Jalen Ramsey months before those moves happened and when everyone said “You’re wrong!”
Well, I guarantee that all mock drafts are wrong. Nobody is correctly guessing who teams are going to pick, and especially not on day two, and especially-especially not a month before the draft. We don’t know yet who is going to be available after day one...so how do we do this?
Let’s try a first version of this mock draft now and then we’ll come back again and look at it when we get closer to the real thing. But my methodology is simple because the Rams draft plans HAVE TO BE SIMPLE:
Number one: PICK. THE. BEST. PLAYER. AVAILABLE.
That IS the Rams “NEED” and that is their only “NEED”: You can’t find one position on the entire roster that doesn’t “NEED” a better player.
Number two: SET THE BASE FOR A QUARTERBACK.
Offensive tackle. Wide receivers. Guard.
Number three: THE HIGH IMPACT/HARD TO FIND DEFENSIVE POSITIONS
The Rams need defensive players at every position, but if we end up looking at defensive prospects with the day two picks then it has to be at PASS RUSHER and CORNERBACK. This is not the time for linebackers and safeties.
And sorry, Ryan...it is also not the time for a quarterback.
Now look, the best I can do is take a random shot in the dark at who will be the best available player at 36, 69, and 77. There’s nothing else to it and though I’m well prepared for the “He’ll be long gone by then!” comment, let me be the first to say...you don’t know what will happen. Not at 36. Unless I do a mock draft that has Will Anderson or Bryce Young as L.A.’s pick, let’s just all live in this plane of existence called reality.
Where you don’t know what will happen a month from now. None of us do. And I’m trying to project the best player available so by definition that means he’s a steal.
Round 2 - #36 - OT Darnell Wright, Tennessee
If the Rams still held the sixth overall pick, I’m a big fan of starting your rebuild with a top tier left tackle prospect. The semi-good news (I guess) is that there isn’t really one of those at the top of the draft this year. If L.A. had that pick, I’d think that they’d take the best prospect of Will Anderson, Jalen Carter, Tyree Wilson, or Devon Witherspoon who was available. Or trade down and then target a tackle.
Wright has all the makings for a player who is good enough to go in round one but maybe raw enough to still be available in round two, with some bust potential.
But Andrew Whitworth was once the 55th overall pick, so NFL teams don’t always get their offensive tackle projections dead-on correct. Whitworth is also a massive human, 6’7, 334 lbs at his combine and he ran a 5.16.
Wright or Ohio State’s Dawand Jones (who might be too big) are the closest version of that this year: Wright is 6’5, 333 and he ran a 5.01 in the 40-yard dash.
Darnell Wright is reportedly "the best" tackle Will Anderson faced throughout all of college, as he said in an interview earlier today.— NFL Rookie Watch (@NFLRookieWatxh) March 1, 2023
Wright played 507 pass blocking snaps this past season.
He didn't allow a SINGLE sack.
The Volunteers tackle is SPECIAL pic.twitter.com/vgw7Saw03r
A former top-10 recruit who is still only 21-years-old, Wright may end up as a right tackle or a guard in the NFL but either of those would suit the Rams just fine. They need it all, baby! Give him a redshirt year behind Rob Havenstein and let him work a utility role as other players start to get injured, which they will. New offensive line coach Ryan Wendell, who worked with another huge human in Buffalo over the last two years (Spencer Brown), has a full year to get Wright ready for whoever becomes the QB in 2024.
That’s got to be the objective with this first pick unless there isn’t a very good tackle prospect available AND/OR there’s just a very good defensive player who has slipped to 36. My second-best guesses here: Some have Clemson edge Myles Murphy falling out of day one, other Alabama defensive back Brian Branch, or TCU receiver Quentin Johnston.
Michigan DE Mazi Smith, Northwestern Edge Adetomiwa Adebawore or LSU edge B.J. Ojulari might also be there.
Round 3 - #69 - EDGE Keion White, Georgia Tech
A former tight end recruit who converted to defense and then transferred to Georgia Tech in 2021, White may just be starting to tap into his potential as a pass rusher and his comparison at NFL.com is a chance at redemption for Snead and McVay: John Franklin-Myers.
Athletic big man offering scheme versatility and projectable upside. White has good short-area quickness as well as speed in space. He lacks consistent early phase technique to control the rep, but his recovery talent, hustle and athletic traits put him in position to get in on the action. His pass rush is predictable and lacks focus, but he’s bendy and could take a big leap forward in this department provided the coaching catches up with the physical gifts. He’s still in the developmental phase, but his physical/athletic profile gives him a chance to become a plus starter as a 4-3 or 3-4 defensive end.
Despite just getting his start on defense, one anonymous AFC scout said White has “a high floor” and at 6’5, 285 lbs, with 34” arms, he has that unique length and athleticism to compete against NFL tackles early in his career. He also starred at the Senior Bowl, a regular spot for Snead’s picks:
“He came in as my top-rated Senior Bowl player, and I thought he improved every day. He didn’t have that wow moment that jumped out to everyone, but he was steady. White has big-time power, as we saw in some of the one-on-ones and the team period on Thursday. He’s a Round 1 player.”
As you can see, some say he’s a round one pick. Okay! But not a ton of people say that. White’s average mock position right now is around 50th.
White posted 14 TFL and 7.5 sacks last year but had no stats in 2020 or 2021. Perhaps that lack of evidence before 2022 will cause him to become available in the third round, so I’ll keep going “the best player to have fallen this far” strategy and pick Keion White as a very simple Week 1 option to supplant Jonah Williams at defensive end.
I’ve now set pieces on both the offensive and defensive line and I think you’re seeing why the only acceptable strategy for the Rams is...”Okay, who should not be available right now who is still available for some reason?” because they could use it all!
I would not hate another offensive lineman here—Cody Mauch, Steve Avila, or John Michael Schmitz if he goes much later than expected—but if someone like UNC WR Josh Downs makes it this far, a pick like that could also be a consideration because it’s so damn hard to find receivers now without giving up first round picks and/or lots of money.
Round 3 - #77 - CB Julius Brents, Kansas State
Like the last one, this one works out pretty damn well as far as comps go: Trumaine Johnson.
I considered a center or a guard, but I think that’s a pretty weak choice for “BPA” when a team has needs all over the roster. Apart from QB, which isn’t a choice this year, I’d focus here instead: OT, EDGE, DT (w/pass rush), CB, WR
This is a deep TE class, grab one in the fourth round. Take a couple interior linemen on day three. I wouldn’t stress out on receivers unless a gem fell to the Rams on day two, the dream of finding the next Tyreek Hill or Stefon Diggs on day three is just that: A DREAM!
It’s simple here to go with a cornerback like Brents and he’s already one of L.A.’s few known pre-draft visits with a comp to one of Snead’s best picks at corner in history.
He’s got all the size and athleticism that teams want, minus the speed. Not a replacement for Jalen Ramsey, but definitely a replacement for Robert Rochell! This is day one training camp competition for Derion Kendrick and potentially a solid starter for four years.
Without many players on the roster who have guaranteed jobs, coming out of day two with guys who at least have some traits like Whitworth, JFM, and Trumaine would be a win, setting a foundation for how to use the eight day three picks by looking for depth, special teamers (the Rams don’t have ANY of those!) and maybe a couple of high ceiling guys who could shock people with the right coaching and scheme and luck.
Don’t trade up, don’t trade down, just stick and pick the best player available.
And don’t pick Will Levis.